He leads the NBA in scoring and the league's other top scorers in obscurity. He has sold no razor blades or deodorants on TV. He owns no bars and has never been asked to talk kids into visiting the Basketball Hall of Fame or out of using drugs. He is, finally, leading his team to the playoffs, but about the biggest accolade he gets is the line that Dan Neaverth, the P.A. announcer in Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, delivers to Braves fans a dozen or more times a night: "That's two for McAdoo!"
Bob McAdoo's problem is both geographical and personal: he plays in Buffalo and he has a genuine talent for remaining inconspicuous. When aroused he can be as spectacular as the colored lights on Niagara Falls. But mostly he is not aroused. He is, his wife Brenda says, "moody."
In his second season, McAdoo at 22 is still younger than all but four players in the NBA. Last year, as a forward, he was Rookie of the Year, averaging 18 points a game. This year his shooting percentage is up 10% to .545 and he is scoring 30.4 points a game. Both lead the league. He is third in rebounding (15), third in blocked shots (3.34) and third in number of minutes played. The Braves last year wound up 21-61. With nine games to go this year they were 38-35, comfortably ahead of Atlanta for the fourth Eastern Conference playoff spot.
McAdoo's fortunes, and those of the Braves, changed during the off-season when General Manager Eddie Donovan learned that the Lakers, with Wilt Chamberlain gone, were desperate for a big center. Opting for speed rather than size, Donovan began reshaping the Braves by sending 7'1" Center Elmore Smith to Los Angeles for Forward Jim McMillian. In the draft he grabbed Providence's small, quick Ernie DiGregorio—almost surely this year's Rookie of the Year—and before the season opened he obtained Gar Heard from Chicago. Finally, early in February, he got Jack Marin and Matt Guokas, two experienced operatives, from Houston. McMillian supplies poise and leadership to the new Braves and McAdoo, now playing center, gets the points.
March 17, 1974
"I hate to think I'd still be a forward unless a guy got traded," McAdoo says, remembering last season, much of which he spent in futile pursuit of smaller forwards such as John Havlicek, Bill Bradley and Lou Hudson. "Sometimes," he says sadly, "I wasn't even in it."
Today McAdoo roams the court head down, eyes up—a stringy package of endless arms and legs. His face appears too small for his 6'10", 205-pound frame; it is concave in profile and dominated by thick muttonchops and huge eyes. Fans sometimes mistake his low-key bearing for indifference.
McAdoo doesn't intimidate, but from 20 feet on in he cans basketballs as methodically as a South Buffalo guzzler downs his Genesee. He has enormous acceleration, vacating the high post in a one-step goodby that Donovan considers fastest in the league.
On defense he bangs down the lane, barrels into rebound position and springs over rims, backboards and unsuspecting forwards to get a hand on the ball or to swat it away from penetrating guards. "Near the basket," says the Knicks' Walt Frazier, "he's almost a Bill Russell." Says Braves Coach Jack Ramsay, "Because he's small he has trouble guarding big centers. And because he's small they have trouble guarding him."
Like the languid eyes that contradict the intensity with which he plays, McAdoo's lamppost demeanor is also misleading. Even his teammates know little about him. "He's just quiet," Ramsay says. "If I tell him something, he nods." Yet he is not without a certain quirkiness. He married former classmate Brenda Newsome one afternoon last season and played a game against the Knicks that night. Back home in Greensboro, N.C. he advanced to lead saxophone in the high school band, and then skipped the annual concert to high jump for the track team. He complains long and loudly about injuries, though he has missed only two games this season. And he utterly loathes flying.
On airplanes McAdoo pulls a knit cap over his ears and moans all the way. Once, returning from Seattle, he was holding a camera on his lap when the plane hit an air pocket. The camera flew in the air and McAdoo shielded his head with his hands. "When they told me that," says Brenda, "I decided that when we fly, I hold the baby."
As Little Mac's arrival approached last summer, Brenda coaxed Big Mac into attending natural-childbirth classes. At three one morning she woke him and told him he'd better check his notes. At the hospital in Greensboro, McAdoo donned a surgical mask and took up his post. "I was supposed to keep her calm and tell her how to breathe," he recalls. "I was the coach. A doctor was there, but only to catch the baby."
After three hours, Brenda remembers, Bob stopped coaching. She looked at him. He had fallen asleep.
Unlike most pro basketball stars, McAdoo wears no jewelry, patent-leather shoes or velvet walking suits. His hobby is music, and his Williamsville, N.Y. apartment contains a set of speakers as big as washing machines. He also has two Afghans, Girl and Scratch, whom he sometimes entertains by playing his saxophone. "I don't smile much," he says by way of explaining himself. "But I'm not sad. Just thinking.
"As a kid, I was the best in every sport," he says. But when he was 10 a neighbor taunted him about his height. He cried at that and didn't play basketball in school until the ninth grade. As a senior he was scoring 25 points a game, enough for Vincennes (Ind.) Junior College to offer him a scholarship. He led the Trailblazers to the national JC title his first year. "But all he talked about," a former teammate recalls, "was getting back to North Carolina."
McAdoo was dumbfounded when only nearby universities like Western Kentucky seemed interested in him after Vincennes. Then North Carolina Assistant Coach John Lotz visited him and asked, "Why don't you answer my letters?" "Never got them," McAdoo said. Lotz produced carbons and McAdoo packed for Chapel Hill, convinced then and now that someone had tampered with his mail. In 1971 the Tar Heels had four starters back from the team ranked 19th the previous season—plus McAdoo. Says George Karl, a guard on that club who now plays for the San Antonio Spurs, "McAdoo turned a good team into a great one." North Carolina won five tournaments and finished second to UCLA in the national rankings.
With a year of eligibility left, McAdoo was given a hardship waiver by the NBA (he had already signed with Virginia of the ABA). In the NBA draft, Portland had first pick but passed him over. Buffalo, with second pick, did not. Advised that the contract McAdoo had signed with Virginia was invalid because of his age, the Braves snatched him from the Squires. The case never went to court.
When the NBA playoffs begin at the end of this month McAdoo will have achieved the second of his two ambitions. One was to be a starter with the Braves and the other was to get them into the playoffs. As Dan Neaverth likes to say, "That's two for McAdoo!"