A weekend that featured a low-budget player's luncheon, a one-on-one contest, and a presidential halftime address, Sam Smith paints a picture of the 1973 NBA All-Star game in Chicago Stadium with help from the people who were there.
On January, 23, 1973, a mild mid-30s winter Tuesday night in Chicago, the NBA offered a gift to Chicago basketball fans, the 23rd NBA All-Star game. There was a good crowd of 17,527. It wasn't a classic in a 104-84 Eastern Conference victory. Which worried Chicago because even as the Bulls were becoming an elite contender averaging more than 50 wins per season from 1971 through 1975, basketball hadn't yet built a firm foundation in Chicago. The Bulls were playing some games in Kansas City because one of the investors, Lamar Hunt, lived there. There were talks in 1972 about the team being sold to a San Diego group and relocated there.
Chicago professional basketball had been regarded as something of a basketball graveyard. The Chicago American Gears (1944-48), Chicago Stags (1946-50) and Chicago Packers/Zephrys (1961-63) either disbanded or moved, and the Bulls weren't doing much better after a promising start in 1966. The NBA and Bulls owners thought an All-Star game might help, though it wasn't easy because the home team was responsible for the game and not the NBA. All-Stars were pretty much on their own, flying in on Monday after their Sunday games and out again Wednesday for their Thursday games. The appeal had been that extra few thousand dollars for the winners at a time most players were earning less than $50,000 annually. With the player raids from the American Basketball Association, salaries were increasing. But enthusiasm for the All-Star game was draining some given the hardship of leaving your team to travel back and forth in the midst fo a heavy schedule with little time off. With 17 teams in the league, every team was required to have at least one All-Star. So John Block of the 9-73 Philadelphia 76ers was an All-Star. Sports writers and broadcasters selected the starters and took three reserves and then the coaches added the rest of the reserves. There were 14 All-Stars per team. Fans began voting in 1975.
Box Score for the West All-Stars
ABC-TV televised the game with Chris Schenkel and Bill Russell the broadcasters. Schenkel was one of the premier broadcasters of the era, though known more for television bowling. Mutton chops sideburns were a common look. Gale Sayers were the celebrity in the audience mentioned on the TV broadcast. There were no All-Star contests, but there was a season long one-on-one tournament for a $15,000 prize. Players competed to win their team tournament and then throughout the season against players from other teams with a premier game to be shown at halftime of the All-Star game. Geoff Petrie eventually beat Jim Clemens for the title. In 1973, the one-one-one feature was shown after the All-Star game because President Richard Nixon requested airtime at halftime of the game. He announced the end of the Vietnam War.
There was no pregame show as ABC showed Marcus Welby MD until game time. The game competed with Maude and Hawaii 5-0 on CBS and on NBC with the Incredible Flight of the Snow Geese special. In New York City, the independent TV station showed the Nets/Pacers ABA game at the same time with Julius Erving against George McGinnis drawing rival ratings.
Box Score for the East All-Stars
The principal entertainment for All-Star weekend was a pregame luncheon for all the players Tuesday. Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley presided at the $25 per plate affair with Chicago Sun-Times gossip columnist Irv Kupcinet, a onetime football player and local TV celebrity, as host. Kupcinet insisted on calling Wilt Chamberlain "Wilt the Stilt," a nickname Chamberlain detested and perhaps contributed to his apathetic performance in his final All-Star game, two shots and two points. Chamberlain long held the All-Star record of 42 points until recent years when players in All-Star games didn't try to keep others from scoring.
Bob Love of the Chicago Bulls finished the All-Star game with six points and three rebounds off the bench for the West.
The Bulls were in the Western Conference then (they moved to the Eastern Conference in 1980). Chet Walker and Bob Love represented the Bulls in the 1973 game, both reserves. It also was the game when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was excused because of a shooting and seven murders at a property he owned and had donated to a Muslim group in Washington, D.C. There were security concerns regarding Abdul-Jabbar's attendance because it was believed the attack was by a Chicago Muslim group then known as the Black Muslims for the Chicago-based Nation of Islam. They denied responsibility. Organizers feared an attack on players during the game. Abdul-Jabbar, then with the Milwaukee Bucks, would have heavy security surrounding the arena for the rest of his games that season, especially in Chicago.
The NBA then scheduled All-Star games for Tuesday because teams made their most money for Friday and weekend game attendance and didn't want to give up those dates. There was little TV revenue for basketball in that era. No games were scheduled on Mondays and few on Tuesday. When David Stern became commissioner, the emphasis became a weekend All-Star game and seven days of NBA games. The NBA in the 1980s took control of the All-Star game and mostly eliminated home team involvement.
Pat Williams, Bulls general manager:
"We were responsible for it. I remember we put together a luncheon for all the players before the game on Tuesday. Always on a Tuesday because you didn't want to mess up a weekend of home dates. I'll never forget when David Stern came along and suddenly said it's going to be a weekend and you're going to lose a Friday, Saturday and Sunday home games. Teams were distraught. We had the luncheon (Regency Hyatt House) and afterward the late Bob Logan (Chicago Tribune Bulls writer) was upset. He was always upset about something. He comes up to me and says, ‘What a cheap luncheon. There's no wine at the table." I said it was a low budget league. We had to pay for everything. I left after that season (losing a power struggle with coach Dick Motta) and then went back to Philadelphia and what's sitting there is another All-Star game, for the bicentennial in 1976. Another luncheon and we thought the perfect guy was Bill Cosby. He was just getting big, Temple guy, loved basketball. The Temple p.r. guy got him. He said he'll come but we have to put $1,000 in paper money in a bag and hand it to him. I remember slipping it to him and he did 45 minutes and had that place in a frenzy. Someone said we had Buddy Hackett at that luncheon in ‘73, but I don't recall that. I may have been out looking for wine for Logan."
Professional basketball finally was expanding out of the East Coast like baseball had almost 20 years before. The Bulls were the 10th team in 1966 with Los Angeles still looking for those lakes after arriving from Minnesota in 1960. St. Louis has been the NBA's western outpost, though they would move East to Atlanta in 1968. The NBA expanded to San Diego and Seattle the year after the Bulls started and then to Phoenix in an expansion race triggered by the American Basketball Association going into the small and midsize markets. National media began to discover the NBA, which had been obscured by baseball, football and hockey; often also boxing and track. Sportswriters for the first time outside the East Coast began to be assigned to the NBA. At the Chicago All-Star game, the writers organized to form the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America, the America later dropped when the NBA expanded to Canada. Joe Gilmartin of Phoenix was the first president and Logan from the Chicago Tribune vice president. They were selected as compromise choices when the media from New York, Boston and Philadelphia would support only their candidates.
Bob Ryan, Boston Globe:
"I don't recall us (sportswriters) having extreme issues. Leonard Koppett wrote our constitution. He was our Thomas Jefferson. But it was a boring, terrible game. Dave Cowens was the MVP after he should have been the year before in Los Angeles, but West made a shot to win. The games had been good but were reaching a crisis point because guys didn't seem to care enough anymore. It hadn't been like that."
Tommy Heinsohn, 1973 East Coach:
"You really wanted to win it back then when we started. It wasn't about, ‘I'll get layups.' Play defense. Everyone got a chance to play, but when it came to the fourth quarter it was deadly serious. I remember a game with Pettit, Baylor and Wilt on one team, Twyman, me, Cousy, Russell and they were saying both would score 200 points. We beat their butts (115-108). It was about the prestige."
Chet Walker, Chicago Bulls:
"That extra money from the All-Star did come in handy. It was tough even though salaries were starting to go up. I was there in '64 when we were going to boycott the All-Star game because of the pension. That was the start of eventually the free agency we fought for and now everyone is making $100 million a year. Or is it more?"
Chet Walker of the Chicago Bulls finished the All-Star game with four points off the bench.
Wilt had begun to tire of the game, 1973 in Chicago his fifth straight All-Star game scoring in single digits after setting the all-time All-Star scoring record that Michael Jordan shot for and fell a basket short of in 1988. It was a new era for the NBA with the ABA draining off so much of the top talent and the era changing with Wilt, West, Oscar and Baylor toward the end and a new group coming with the likes of Sidney Wicks, Charlie Scott, Nate Archibald, Dave Cowens and Pete Maravich.
Spencer Haywood, West All-Stars:
"I remember a lot of guys went to get tailor made suits. There was a king size big and tall out of Boston. Everyone has these cool suits, wide lapels, platform shoes. I remember the one-on-one contest. I think I lost to Barry Clemens of all guys. He could shoot. I remembered I did outbound Wilt (10-7) in the Chicago game."
Lenny Wilkens, West All-Stars:
"There wasn't a whole lot of hugging and kissing in the games like there is today. You pretty much just came in for the game and went back to your team."
Bob Rosenberg, scorekeeper:
"It wasn't like 1988. It seemed like just another game. The players showed up and played. I remember Archibald was upset. His (West) team didn't play that great and he was mad. He thought the players weren't putting out. He was right."
Archibald starting for a West team that included Chamberlain and Jerry West led the West team with 17 points and five assists and attempted a team most 12 shots. He was a wizard with the ball before a serious knee injury, the only NBA player ever to lead the league in scoring and assists the same season. Jerry West had said about Archibald before the game, "He looks like a high school kid and plays like a superstar. One step and he's at full speed and gone."
Dave Bing, West All-Stars:
"It wasn't a memorable game, but I would say the best was the era, playing with some of the top players who ever played in the NBA, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West. They go down as the greatest to ever play and that includes since then. It's an honor to be in that game (more than 20 Hall of Famers in the 1973 game). I remember a few years later the game in Philly (1976) I won the MVP. I had just been traded to Washington. I was voted a starter but I should not have been. I remember calling Calvin Murphy and telling him he should have been the starter and not me. But I wanted to prove I still could play and the All-Star game did mean something."
Jack Marin, East All-Stars:
"I remember feeling validated with the Chicago game. That was my second All-Star game and so to be picked for two didn't mean you were a fluke. I didn't play as much as I did in L.A the year before. I thought that year I had a run at MVP, but didn't get to play the fourth quarter because I was a bench player. That was when I was with Baltimore. In '73 I was with Houston, which then got put in the Eastern Conference. I didn't play much, so the East won. There's your story."
As the game progressed to a desultory 50-47 East halftime lead, Schenkel announced the White House had asked for time for a message to be presented at halftime and that the one-on-one final would be delayed until after the game.
There were three primary network TV stations then and, at least in the larger cities, two or three so called independent stations. Each network had a primary anchor for its news, which was the premier non entertainment programming. Howard K. Smith was for ABC. He introduced President Richard Nixon for the TV audience.
Nixon appeared in filling up the tiny screen and read: "Today we conclude the agreement to end the war and bring peace with honor." Nixon announced a January 27 cease fire and mentioned "peace with honor" numerous times. He claimed all the conditions "I laid down were met." All prisoners of war would be released and South Vietnam would be an independent nation to "determine its own future as the Republic of Vietnam…without outside interference." Nixon said he was proud of a peace that didn't abandon its allies and that lives were lost so the people of South Vietnam could live in freedom and peace. Of course, it didn't work out exactly that way.
In addition to Abdul-Jabbar, Rick Barry sat out with injury and was replaced by Connie Hawkins.
Rick Barry, West All-Stars, injured:
"I hurt my ankle Sunday in Milwaukee. We'd just won in Chicago the game before that. So I couldn't play in Chicago, but I remember a lot of the All-Star games and they were fierce. My first time I played Cincinnati, I think I fouled out. Which means obviously I was trying to play defense. Obviously, I didn't play it very well because I fouled out. But one of the fouls I got called for they said you were warding off Chamberlain on a drive to the basket for an offensive foul. I said, ‘You're joking. I can put two hands on Wilt and I couldn't move him out of the way.' It was a bad call (Rick remembers all the bad calls)."
Abdul-Jabbar skipped the All-Star game to prepare for he funeral of the people murdered in the attack on the building he owned in Washington, D.C. Four children were drowned in the attack, one of the most heinous crimes of the era and the largest mass killing in Washington, D.C. Back then newspapers spelled the faith "Moslem." Abdul-Jabbar had purchased a large stone house in an upscale Washington D.C. neighborhood for a Muslim sunni group known as Hanafi Muslims. Its leader was in a dispute with a group then known as Black Muslims that was the Chicago-based Nation of Islam. They denied any connection with the slaughter. The Nation of Islam was advocating a white extermination in the U.S. that Abdul-Jabbar decried. Abdul-Jabbar was among several top collegiate players who had declined to play for the U.S. basketball team in the 1968 Olympics with comments that are similar to that of former NFL player Colin Kaepernick about white privilege, racism and violence against blacks. There was a famous Today Show interview with then host Joe Garagiola in which Abdul-Jabbar was given the typical for the era "America love it or leave it" suggestion for critics. The Olympic movement then still had strong Nazi sympathizers in president Avery Brundage. Tommie Smith and John Carlos had the famous power fist salute in that 1968 Olympics in the gold medal ceremony. Spencer Haywood, who was an All-Star in 1973, got his break replacing Abdul-Jabbar on that Olympic team. Abdul-Jabbar later became a teacher for Haywood in his Muslim studies. When Abdul-Jabbar played in Chicago that season, police were stationed at both ends of the corridor of his floor in the team hotel. Multiple police cars escorted the team to and from Chicago Stadium. Security guards lined the court.
Wayne Embry, Milwaukee Bucks general manager:
"It was no joking matter, but nobody wanted to sit next to him on the bench. There were constant threats. It was a rough time, extra security around the court wherever we played. It was pretty tense."
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Milwaukee Bucks was excused from the game to prepare for he funeral of the people murdered in the attack on the building he owned in Washington, D.C.
The Bucks still won 60 games and Abdul-Jabbar was second in the league to Archibald in scoring at 30 per game and averaged 16 rebounds. Archibald led in scoring and assists that season. Dave Cowens was MVP for the season and for that All-Star game.
Bobby Dandridge, West All-Stars/Abdul-Jabbar teammate:
"Chicago had a lot of Muslim factions, so when we played in Chicago we always were under heavy security. No one did want to sit near Kareem. The other thing was it really was the first time I remember seeing Chicago Stadium during the day time. Simply because when we went to the arena we rode a bus and were always getting into Chicago Stadium at night. For All-Star, we practiced in the daytime and it was the first time I really got a chance to see the neighborhood the Stadium was located in. From the riots in 1968, nothing was rebuilt. It was still like a war zone, things burned out. Your first All-Star game always is memorable. I was a reserve and a coach's vote, which meant you had to play well. Back then most of the coaches had basketball experience as former players, like our coach, Larry Costello. My first All-Star game was one of the goals I had set for myself. I remember the one-on-one contest. Bob Lanier took me down; kept backing me down. The other thing I recall is going into the locker room and all the big stars were smoking cigarettes. I mean everyone from Wilt Chamberlain to Bob Lanier and that sort of burst my bubble about the All-Stars, the top players in the league. It was the closest you ever got to knowing anything personal about your opponents because during that era guys didn't talk to each other. It was such an atmosphere of competitiveness. You could get fined for talking to a guy on the opposite team during pregame warmups. Your team would fine you. It almost took leaving the league before you developed a friendship with a guy if he was an opponent. I remember driving myself to the game from Milwaukee. Just 81 miles."
The 1970s became a fallow period for the NBA, remembered somewhat inaccurately and unfairly for supposed drug and disruptive issues. Though it was more a reaction to the civil rights issues of the day in a predominantly league of black star players, the Vietnam War and developing economic issues that roiled the country. Plus, the NBA faced its first serious competition from the ABA, which was recruiting some of the top college stars and All-Stars. Court fights were common and Rick Barry even had to sit out a season. ABA players were welcomed by fellow players because NBA salaries tripled as the ABA teams finally gave NBA players bargaining power.
Charlie Scott, West All-Star:
"It was my first All-Star game. I was just coming from the ABA with my first year in the NBA. It was special to me, vindication for Jerry Colangelo to get me and an opportunity to play with people I grew up idolizing, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain. You can't imagine the feeling of being in the same room with them. Practically everyone in the game ended up in the Hall of Fame. Spencer also was from the ABA and his case was a little different because it was so acrimonious, but the players loved having us there. It meant more money for everyone. I don't think the owners were as happy."
The big prize that season was the one-on-one tournament with one of the playoff rounds to be televised during the Chicago All-Star game. Players competed throughout the season for the $15,000 prize, Bob Lanier winning in 1972 and being handed a bag by Bill Russell with 15,000 $1 bills for the win. Players flew into New York during the season for the matches in generally empty gyms with the finals televised during a Knicks game so there would be a filled stadium.
Marv Albert, broadcaster:
"It was my first time doing TV, myself and Chick Hearn. I had been doing Knicks radio. We split the games and I did the championship. Geoff Petrie against Barry Clemens for the final. Roone Arledge and Don Ohlmeyer came up with it. We did some voice overs and some we did live. I don't think it was exactly the most exciting basketball. They were hoping for bigger names. Petrie was a tremendous player, but it as a little disappointing. The crowd watched at the Garden, but not with great enthusiasm."
Jim Barnett, one on one participant:
"I think we got $1,000 or $2,000 when we played one another, and we're making about $55,000 or $60,000 then and there was the pride on your team, so they were pretty competitive games. I was a good one-on-one player, but no one knew me. I played Rick Barry for the final spot for our team and there's no way I could beat Rick Barry. He was one of the greatest players ever, probably top 10 all-time. But people didn't like him so he didn't get as much credit. He beats me, but he didn't want to fly all the way to New York to tape the game. So he says, ‘You go, Jim.' They're expecting Rick Barry to play Elvin Hayes. I show up and this guy Chet Forte is taping a few of the games and he keeps denying my turn for my game. Finally Forte tells me it's supposed to be Rick and they're not filming me. I was so pissed and I'll admit on the plane back to San Francisco I was crying because they wouldn't let me do the game. I wasn't the star Rick was. But the players' association stood up for me and I went back. Flew all night for a second time after a game to do it. I'm playing Elvin Hayes and I knew I had a chance. Elvin is not really interested and I have him 10-4 at a break. Kevin Grevey is watching and says to Elvin, ‘This guy is embarrassing you. The game is going to be shown on TV.' So Elvin starts backing me down. He let me have 20 footers all day. It was two points per basket and you have to win by four. It gets to 20-20. The official was Jake O'Donnell and I get called for a push off late and Elvin beats me 26-22. It turned out they liked my game with Elvin and are going to show it at halftime of the All-Star game. I'm at home watching with my wife for my game at halftime and Nixon at all times takes the halftime show to announce the end of the Vietnam War. Nixon! He did it to me again. Then it's all disorganized after the game with Cowens the MVP and Schenkel can't hear, an awkward scene and he says let's go to the Gillette one-on-one game."
Dave Cowens of the Boston Celtics won MVP of the 1973 All-Star game.
The low scoring game was tied at 57 at halftime. The East had a 19-6 run in the third quarter and went on to pull away with a 28-19 fourth quarter. West and Chamberlain nearing the end of their careers combined for just eight points with the hustle of Dave Cowens carrying the East. Cowens had 15 points and 13 rebounds to win the MVP award. His hustle and grit transcending his style and panache defined a pair of Celtics championship teams in that era.
Dave Cowens, East All Star:
"You just separated from your team and left for the game. Fly in coach, go to a luncheon, get your picture taken, maybe a short practice, play the game and two days later another game. That was the All-Star game. Our games were played more like a regular season game than you see now. The way I always looked at it was I got to be an All-Star because I was playing well, so why not play your best? I think in Chicago they gave me Most Valuable Player because they felt bad they didn't give me it the year before even though we lost. I had like 14, 16 points and 20 rebounds in that LA game and the most rebounds anyone else had was 10. West then came down and made a shot and he got MVP. Those games were good street games. I rebounded; that was my ticket. Chicago was good, too. Lot of missed shots. Better for me."