Welcome to Phoenix!
The 1975 NBA All-Star Game Logo
The year was 1975 and the president of the United States was Gerald Ford. Arizona's recently-elected governor Raul Castro was still adjusting to his new position while Valley residents were adjusting to the price hike on gasoline, from 33 to 53 cents.
Happy Days, Mary Tyler Moore and The Waltons were the hits on television while Eric Clapton and Joni Mitchell were the stars of the music industry. Laker's fanatic Jack Nicholson won the New York Film Critic's Best Actor award for his roles in China Town and The Last Detail, and God Father Part II, which had won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1974 was a smash at the 17 local drive-in theaters.
On the sports hemisphere of the entertainment world, the Boston Celtics were the reigning NBA champions, the Oakland Athletics were enjoying their vacation after winning the 1974 World Series 4-1 over the Los Angeles Dodgers and Muhammad Ali and Chris Evert had just been named Pro Athletes of the Year.
Charlie Scott goes airborne to make the pass during the 1975 All-Star Game.
But football and golf would become memories on Jan. 14 when the basketball world turned their eyes to the Phoenix desert, which hosted the 25th Annual NBA All-Star Game held at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, then home of the seven-years-old Phoenix Suns.
"It was a very big event for us," said the Suns Vice President of Public Relations Tom Ambrose. "In those days the host teams were more or less in charge of the event unlike today where the NBA comes in to run the show."
A group of volunteers known as the "Suns Guns," worked with the young franchise to begin preparations more than a year in advance.
"We took a large group of people from our organization and the city up to Seattle in 1974 to see how they put on the game so that we could come back and make a better event here in Phoenix," Ambrose recalled. "Each year the NBA tends to set a new standard for All-Star games and that's the way it should be - always improving."
Although the All-Star Games of the '70s weren't the extravagant galas they are today, the silver anniversary of the match pitting East vs. West was tops at the time.
On the eve of the big event, 1,500 fans packed the Phoenix Civic Plaza to enjoy the inaugural All-Star banquet which included a multimedia, six screen tribute to the 24 All-Stars and then NBA commissioner Walter Kennedy, who would retire at season's end. Several celebrities also joined the party to entertain the fans in attendance, including then-part owner of the Suns, Andy Williams, TV star McLean Stevenson of M*A*S*H fame and comedian Foster Brooks.
Gail Goodrich and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar settle in at a pregame banquet during the All-Star Weekend.
"Walter was such a humble guy that he felt totally out of place in a Rolls but he and his family did get a kick out of riding around like visiting royalty," Ambrose laughed.
The commissioner, 200 NBA executives and 150 national media members filled the Del Webb Townehouse, the NBA All-Star hotel headquarters and the Clarendon Hotel. In contrast, the All-Star Games of the '90s greet nearly 2,000 NBA dignitaries and more than 1,500 national and international reporters.
Unlike this year's event in the Big Apple, in which tickets are more difficult to find than a empty street in New York City, the 1975 game did not sell out. Only 12,885 fans filled the "Madhouse on McDowell," although a nationwide audience watched the game broadcast on CBS.
Fans who sat in front of their TV sets across the country were introduced to a city many had never seen, as the NBA special opened with Andy Williams singing "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," and a five-minute piece on the Valley of the Suns.
"A helicopter gave the audience an aerial view of everything exciting in Phoenix with some amazing scenes of beautiful sunsets over the city," Ambrose said. "It was the ultimate chamber of commerce piece and Jerry Colangelo had to fight for that with CBS."
Just like today, the then-Suns General Manager wanted to help promote the city he'd come to love. "I think that the CBS introduction, along with the All-Star Game itself, not only helped establish the Suns as a credible entity but also put Phoenix on the map with the rest of the country," Colangelo said.
Following the glowing introduction, fans who were able to vote in the All-Star starting lineups for the first time since the game was introduced in 1951, got a chance to see the NBA's elite go head to head. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Nate Archibald, Rick Barry, Gail Goodrich, John Havlicek, Bob Lanier and Bob McAdoo were just of a few of the All-Stars who introduced basketball to many new fans that season.
Eastern All-Star Walt "Clyde" Frazier receives his MVP trophy after leading his team to victory in the 1975 All-Star Game.
The Suns were also represented in the big game as one of their own, Charlie Scott, was a member of the Western Conference squad.
"It's exciting to look back and say that I was 25 years old and got to play in an All-Star game on my home floor, in my home town and in front of my own fans," he said. "It was a very big thrill and a great opportunity for me."
For Scott and for Phoenix.
Reprinted with permission of Fastbreak magazine.