NBA History
NBA History

Season Review: 1977-78

Violent incidents cast a pall over the campaign

NBA.com Staff

Aug 24, 2017 12:35 AM ET

Wes Unseld and the 44-win Bullets defy the odds to win their first championship.

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Two violent incidents cast a shadow over the game in 1977-78.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar punched Milwaukee rookie center Kent Benson, breaking his hand and drawing a $5,000 fine from commissioner Larry O'Brien. Abdul-Jabbar missed 20 games, hurting the Lakers' chances in the playoffs. Benson missed fewer games, but he never fulfilled the promise he'd shown as a collegian at Indiana.

An even more serious incident occurred in December. Kermit Washington, a powerfully built forward for the Lakers, got into a fight with Houston center Kevin Kunnert. As Houston's star forward Rudy Tomjanovich ran toward the combatants, Washington turned and swung his fist, inflicting massive injuries to Tomjanovich's jaw, eye and cheek. Washington was fined and suspended for two months, costing him more than $50,000 in salary.

The scoring title for the 1977-78 season went to San Antonio's George Gervin by .07 of a point. Gervin scored 63 points in the season finale to edge Denver's David Thompson 27.22 to 27.15. Just hours before, Thompson had scored 73 points against Detroit in his season finale.

Portland had won a league-high 58 games, but saw its playoff chances dwindle with injuries to several players, most notably Bill Walton. Instead, two Cinderella teams, Washington and Seattle, neither of which had won its division, advanced to The Finals.

Washington rebounded from a 3-2 deficit to defeat Seattle on its home court in Game 7.

The Bullets featured hard-driving coach in Dick Motta and 10-time NBA All-Star Elvin Hayes. Though they were vastly different personalities, in 1978 the two compromised their different basketball philosophies enough to secure the only NBA title in Bullets history. It would also to be the only championship for Hayes, who played in 1,303 NBA games, and Motta, who coached in 1,719 NBA games.

"We had such diverse talent on that team," Hayes said. "We had Mitch Kupchak, Larry Wright, Charles Johnson and Greg Ballard all coming off the bench. Any one of those guys would have been a great starter on another team. For starters, we had Unseld, (Kevin) Grevey, Tommy Henderson, Bobby Dandridge and myself. From the bench to the starters, we had great balance."

PLAYOFFS

Eastern Conference first round
New York defeated Cleveland (2-0)
Washington defeated Atlanta (2-0)

Western Conference first round
Milwaukee defeated Phoenix (2-0)
Seattle defeated Los Angeles (2-1)

Eastern Conference semifinals
Philadelphia defeated New York (4-0)
Washington defeated San Antonio (4-2)

Western Conference semifinals
Seattle defeated Portland (4-2)
Denver defeated Milwaukee (4-3)

Eastern Conference finals
Washington defeated Philadelphia (4-2)

Western Conference finals
Seattle defeated Denver (4-2)

NBA Finals
Washington defeated Seattle (4-3)

SEASON LEADERS

Points -- George Gervin, San Antonio Spurs (27.2)
Assists -- Kevin Porter, Detroit Pistons-New Jersey Nets (10.2)
Rebounds -- Leonard "Truck" Robinson, New Orleans Jazz (15.7)
Steals -- Ron Lee, Phoenix Suns ( 2.74)
Blocks -- George Johnson, New Jersey Nets (3.38)
FG% -- Bobby Jones, Denver Muggets (57.8)
FT% -- Rick Barry, Golden State Warriors (92.4)

AWARD WINNERS

Most Valuable Player -- Bill Walton, Portland Trail Blazers
Rookie of the Year -- Walter Davis, Phoenix Suns
Coach of the Year -- Hubie Brown, Atlanta Hawks
All-Star Game MVP -- Randy Smith, Buffalo Braves
Finals MVP -- Wes Unseld, Washington Bullets


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