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Monday, March 26, 2007

Kobe's Streak Better Than Wilt's?

Kobe Bryant's streak has ended in Los Angeles, where just about everyone agrees it was time. Bryant's scoring binge served to refire the Lakers' slumping season, but once it served that purpose it quickly became a distortion of competitive basketball.
And it will remain that way — unless or until the Lakers need another similar explosion.
Some people like to point out that Wilt Chamberlain's record of seven straight 50-point games is better than Bryant's four-game streak of 50-point games.
Those people, however, don't know about Eddie Gottlieb, the old owner/manager/coach of the Philadelphia Warriors.
A legend in Philadelphia basketball, Gottlieb is a pioneer of pro basketball.
He is also remembered as one of the game's biggest tightwads.
Truth is, he couldn't have been one without being the other.
He was among the original owners and promoters when the Basketball Associaton of American formed after World War II. The BAA was the early version of the NBA.
Gottlieb had to make sure that his Warriors drew well because pro basketball teams died a quick death in those days.
As the late Paul Seymour once explained to me, Gottlieb knew that to sell tickets he had to have a superstar, somebody who could score an obscene amount of points.
In the 1940s, this somebody became Jumpin' Joe Fulks, a Kentucky hillbilly with one of the game's first jump shots.
In the league's first season, during the days of excruciatingly slow basketball, Fulks led the league in scoring at a whopping 23.6 points per game, huge numbers in those early years when the best shooters were lucky to hit 30 percent of their shots.
"Gottlieb always liked a big scorer," Seymour told me in a 1990 interview. "He figured that's what he had to have to draw the people."
So Gottlieb left Fulks in the game and told him to fire at will. Never mind that the game was a blow-out, the Warriors' job was to get the ball to Fulks and let him blast. He played nearly every minute of every game, because Gottlieb was sure that a high scoring average sold tickets.
In those days, pro basketball was only about survival. You had to sell enough tickets to last the season.
In 1959-60, Gottlieb finally got his hands on the ultimate "somebody," Wilt Chamberlain. He played heavy minutes as a rookie and averaged 37.6 points per game.
But that first year was nothing compared with 1961-62, when he averaged an all-time best 50.4 points a game.
Gottlieb made sure that Chamberlain played virtually every minute of the season, including all the blowouts. Of the 3,890 minutes the Warriors played during the regular season, Chamberlain spent just eight minutes on the bench the entire year.
As his average reveals, he took 3,159 shots, nearly one for every minute he played, and rang up a stunning 4,029 points.
Bryant's critics complain bitterly if he takes 36 shots over the course of a contested game.
Wilt, on the other hand, became the NBA's freak show.
Like Bryant, he seemed to have a hard time earning the love of the fans.
Nobody loves Goliath, remarked Franklin Mieuli, who bought the Warriors and moved them to San Fransciso. "Chamberlain is not an easy man to love. I don't mean that I personally dislike him. He's a good friend of mine. But the fans in San Francisco never learned to love him. I guess most fans are for the little man and the underdog, ,and Wilt is neither. He's easy to hate, and we were the best draw on the road when people came to see him lose."
Bryant, of course, has similar issues for different reasons. But which scoring streak came closer to happening in a competitive context?
Probably Bryant's recent streak fits that better.
On the other hand, does it matter?
If you're interested in the maximum limits of human performance, yes, it does.
But if you're interested in winning team basketball, well, it's championships won that cements the reputation of a great player.

Roland Lazenby is the author of The Show, a comprehensive oral history of The Lakers. He also has written Mindgames, a biography of Phil Jackson recently released in a special paperback edition by the University of Nebraska's Bison Books imprint.


Anonymous confusedindianguy said...

Hey, I thought you might be able to clear something up. In the past Phil Jackson has said he would refuse induction into the hall of fame unless Tex Winters was already inducted. Winters wasn't inducted last year (which is just ridiculous), and Jackson is probably likely to be inducted this year. Has Phil said anything about his previous stance as to whether he still feels the same way, or if he feels differently? Also this is one of the best blogs to read, keep up the good work!

2:15 AM  

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