The 1976-77 season was a time of change in pro basketball. Four teams from the disbanded ABA — the New York Nets, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs — became NBA franchises. A dispersal draft was used to allocate other ABA players, including 7-foot-2 Artis Gilmore, who went to the Chicago Bulls, and superstar Julius Erving, who was signed by the Philadelphia 76ers.
The NBA now had 22 teams, and the playoff system was restructured so that 12 teams qualified and each of the four division winners received a bye through the first round.
The Portland Trail Blazers snared Maurice Lucas from the ABA, and his addition helped propel the Bill Walton-led team to an unlikely NBA championship. The Portland franchise had gone six seasons without a winning record, but with Walton healthy and Lucas bringing toughness, rebounding and scoring, the Jack Ramsay-coached squad prospered.
Before 1977, many fans barely acknowledged that Portland had been fielding a team in the NBA. The Trail Blazers didn’t command respect, averaging 28 wins in six seasons and failing to earn a playoff berth. But in just one magical season, NBA fans everywhere were introduced to “Blazermania.”
The Pacific Northwest embraced the Blazers and Walton, their decidedly unconventional red-haired center from California.
In the playoffs, Portland beat Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles to reach The Finals, where they faced the Erving-led 76ers. Philadephia won the first two games at home. Then Walton cut his long red hair, and Portland reeled off four straight wins, spawning Blazermania and the term “Rip City,” from the sound a shot makes when it rips through nothing but net.
Eastern Conference first round
Boston defeated San Antonio (2-0)
Washington defeated Cleveland (2-1)
Western Conference first round
Golden State defeated Detroit (2-1)
Portland defeated Chicago (2-1)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Philadelphia defeated Boston (4-3)
Houston defeated Washington (4-2)
Western Conference semifinals
Los Angeles Lakers defeated Golden State (4-3)
Portland defeated Denver (4-2)
Eastern Conference finals
Washington defeated Houston (4-2)
Western Conference finals
Portland defeated Los Angeles Lakers (4-0)
Portland defeated Philadelphia (4-2)
Points — Pete Maravich, New Orleans Jazz (31.1)
Assists — Don Buse, Indiana Pacers (8.5)
Rebounds — Bill Walton, Portland Trail Blazers (14.4)
Steals — Don Buse, Indiana Pacers ( 3.47)
Blocks — Bill Walton, Portland Trail Blazers(3.25)
FG% — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers (57.9)
FT% — Ernie DiGregorio, Buffalo Braves (94.5)
Most Valuable Player — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers
Rookie of the Year — Adrian Dantley, Buffalo Braves
Coach of the Year — Tom Nissalke, Houston Rockets
All-Star Game MVP — Julius Erving, Philadelphia 76ers
Finals MVP — Bill Walton, Portland Trail Blazers