One of these crazy nights after Buffalo Bob—Hey, kids, what time is it? It's In Your Face time—McAdoo has scored 92 points, taken down 77 rebounds, blocked 54 shots, handed off 38 assists, made 22 steals, shoveled every snowbank and eaten every beef on kimmelweck in western New York, we may finally believe him when he says, "It be hard not to get buckets in this league. If I be doin' any less, people think I be doggin' it."
McAdoo speaks in earnest. If he is anything else besides the quickest tall man, the finest shooter and the most astounding outside scoring machine ever to play basketball, he is sincere, thrifty, brave and honest. Concentration, self-control and, above all, confidence have gotten him where he is. The Buffalo Braves' coach, Dr. Jack Ramsay, the only Ph.D. in the National Basketball Association and not a man to offer an opinion lightly, says that by the time Bob McAdoo is through he will be the greatest player in history.
McAdoo goes Ramsay one better. "That would be a nice goal," he says, "but it doesn't matter what any coaches or writers or any damn-body else thinks except me." Pause. "I think I'm the greatest already."
McAdoo says this quietly in the privacy of his own home. But it is indicative of his nature—and confidence—that he wants it known that he did say it. Two years ago when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won the Most Valuable Player award, McAdoo came out publicly for himself. He said the NBA players who voted against him had made a mistake. He himself refused to be caught in the same error. When Eddie Donovan, the Buffalo general manager at the time, reminded McAdoo he could not vote for himself, he replied, "Well, then, I guess I can't vote."
March 8, 1976
Last year, after he won the award, McAdoo said nothing, his silence presumably denoting approval.
Before this season, his fourth in the NBA, the 6'10", 215-pound McAdoo had won a Rookie of the Year award, two scoring championships with averages of 30.6 and 34.5, two CBS-TV Player of the Year awards and one shooting title—in 1973-74, while firing mostly from the vicinity of Buffalo's Peace Bridge, McAdoo had a field-goal percentage of 54.7. At once marvelously cool and enormously intent, he also has set records for nonmalingering and non-bitching at the referees.
The devastation McAdoo has wreaked on the court is etched in memory. Near the close of his second year in the pros, McAdoo whirled here, there and everywhere to score 52 points and cause grave embarrassment to a proud defensive congregation of soon-to-be-champion Boston Celtics. In the fourth game of Buffalo's playoff series with the Celtics that year, he scored 44, bringing the Braves from 10 points behind to victory with, among other things, three straight baskets from the deep corners, even though Dave Cowens, the best defensive player in the sport, was draped all over him.
Last April in Buffalo's chilling seven-game series against the Washington Bullets, McAdoo averaged 37 points and 13 rebounds with highs of 50 and 21 in one game. At the end of the season he had led his team to the third-best record in the NBA and had finished first in scoring, fourth in rebounding, fifth in shooting, sixth in blocked shots and way ahead of everybody in minutes played. Moreover, he had, as they say, "turned the franchise around."
By last week, with the Braves making another desperate run for first place in basketball's toughest division, McAdoo had, in his career, scored more than 50 points in four games, in the 40s in 41 games and in the 30s in 107 games. As they also say, McAdoo can do.
Were it not for the presence of McAdoo's teammates, the explosive guard, Randy Smith, and the smooth cornerman, Jim McMillian, who get their share of points, McAdoo already might have broken all of Wilt Chamberlain's scoring records as well as stolen all the rental cars from his suburban neighbor, O. J. Simpson.
Pro basketball having joined society's trend by embracing specialism, every player who comes out of college is immediately given a label and asked to meet its requirements. One man is a "strong" or "power" forward. Another is a "shooting" guard. The ideal is to have a "dominating" center. Then there is the "new breed."
Of McAdoo's adversaries, among whom only Abdul-Jabbar, Cowens, and Rick Barry, plus the ABA's Julius Erving and the new boy, David Thompson, can even be mentioned in the same breath in respect to the versatility of their talent, all play stereotyped roles except Thompson.
Barry and Erving are strong forwards, Abdul-Jabbar a dominant center, Thompson a combination guard-forward, a flying minstrel show. Even Cowens, who is considered the exemplar of the "new breed"—a center who is quick, active, mobile on defense, runs up and down all night, shoots outside, posts, screens, hands off and receives—is still only a center, albeit a magnificent one. The Celtics are most effective with him in the middle down low.
The point here is that there were others in the Kareem mold (Chamberlain, Bill Russell) and there are imitation Cowenses too—witness Denver's Dan Issel and Phoenix' Alvan Adams. But there never has been another Bob McAdoo. In competition, McAdoo does the same thing to Cowens that Cowens does to Abdul-Jabbar. That is, play hide-and-seek. In the Boston lefthander's own words, "He kind of takes me away and makes me a forward." Celtic Charlie Scott calls McAdoo "a cheating forward." Yet nearly half of McAdoo's stunning, gracefully oblique jump shots come from areas normally inhabited by guards.
"I used to think he took bad shots, but I've changed my mind," says Abdul-Jabbar. "Nobody takes it from where McAdoo does and hits."
This is hardly to say that Buffalo Bob will not drive inside or cut to the corner or wheel in the lane or go high on the board in pursuit of his beloved "buckets." As Detroit's former Coach Ray Scott says, "McAdoo is not your basic area shooter."
No, indeed. McAdoo came into the league shooting from everywhere, and he will go out the same way. In the meantime, his exhilarating style has obliged Ramsay to trade and draft and build an entire team around him that can not only put up with McAdoo's shots and shot-making but also learn to like it.
One former Brave related that at Buffalo it was no fun sitting on the bench and less fun playing—because he never got the ball either place. But the fans always have fun; the Braves and the Golden State Runaways are easily the two most colorful and watchable outfits in the NBA.
Moreover, it may be that the barbs about McAdoo's shooting and passing have outlived their validity. Recent statistics suggest such a possibility. In one five-game stretch this season McAdoo had 30 assists, including two games in which he dealt off a career high of nine. Still, his hunger for the hoop never abates. In a 45-point, 21-rebound job at Phoenix, one of McAdoo's baskets came directly following an in-bounds play in which he actually pushed teammate Tom McMillen out of the way to get a pass intended for the rookie.
Nor has McAdoo's new-found role as playmaker dissuaded him from continuing to pump away from all angles and distances. Even after 3½ years, defenders still look surprised when he confidently throws one up from downtown.
"With this guy, you have to watch him from 28 feet and in," says Laker Coach Bill Sharman. "He's got the quickest release since Jerry West." Says Boston's John Havlicek, "The best pure shooter I've ever seen."
And he always seems to be open. To the casual observer, it would seem McAdoo simply drifts outside whenever he desires freedom. It is not that easy. Now more and more teams are using forwards instead of centers to check him, and they are following him all the way out to the hinterlands. So McAdoo is using his quickness to get to a spot first and, more important, to then get off that spot.
Buffalo Assistant Coach Tates Locke says McAdoo has "three stages of open. A man will watch him getting open, he'll watch him be open and he'll still be watching him after Mac's open and scored the basket. That's how quick he is."
Locke was probably the first coach to fall victim to McAdoo's unleashed talents. In 1972, while a junior at North Carolina, McAdoo was just another good player on a talented team that eventually would wind up in the NCAA final four. The Tar Heels visited Clemson, where Locke was head man. Clemson took a lead and then North Carolina Coach Dean Smith was banished on technical fouls. When Smith left, so did discipline. In the second half, with constraint gone and no holds barred, McAdoo put on a magic show and North Carolina won by 20 points. "Bobby Mac blew us out." Locke says.
In McAdoo's rookie year at Buffalo, Ramsay kept the youngster at forward and somewhat under wraps through most of the season. At the time, the Braves had Elmore Smith and Bob Kauffman to handle the pivot, but McAdoo kept asking to play there. Finally, Ramsay gave in, putting McAdoo at center for the last three games of the season. He responded with 39, 39 and 45 points.
"If anybody says he saw the guy in college and thought he'd be as good as he is," says Donovan, "he's lying." But after that rookie finale, the whole NBA must have had an inkling that Bobby Mac was preparing to blow them all out.
Back in Greensboro, N.C., little Bobby McAdoo started shooting the basketball when he was barely four years old, and thereafter his grandmother could not get him inside for breakfast. In the first grade at David Jones Elementary School (where his mother Vandalia still teaches) Bobby Mac towered over all the kids. By the time he reached high school age, Greensboro was in the early stages of racial busing. Though McAdoo was fearful of integration, he and his friends chose Smith High over all-black Dudley because they felt it would be easier to make the basketball team.
McAdoo blew a mean saxophone for three years in the Smith marching band as well as in a local rhythm and blues group called Long John and the Buccaneers. He watched a lot of basketball in the CIAA (the conference of Southern predominately black schools), much admiring Soapy Adams at North Carolina A&T and, of course, Earl the Pearl Monroe at Winston-Salem State. And his father, who worked at A&T as a custodian, brought home the school yearbooks containing pictures of the Aggies' back-court great, Al Attles. "Al was the dude," says McAdoo. But until Charlie Scott enrolled at North Carolina in 1966, the nearby Atlantic Coast Conference held little interest for McAdoo.
As a senior McAdoo led the Smith basketball team to the semifinals of the state tournament and he won the state prep high jump, setting a record of 6'7‚Öù" while beating out a future basketball teammate, Bobby Jones. By now, McAdoo had his heart set on attending an ACC school. Since his college boards were not high enough, he went to Vincennes Junior College in Indiana—experiencing for the first time his personal terror of airplane flights. At Vincennes, he helped what is considered one of the best junior-college teams ever to win the national championship. McAdoo scored 27 points in the title game.
The next season the Vincennes freshmen beat the sophomores in a practice game, after which McAdoo did not speak to his new freshman roommate, Clarence (Foots) Walker, for a week. Through that season, McAdoo spent hours working on his agility by going one-on-one with the 6'1" Walker. He learned how to dribble the ball, handle it, reverse it, move, fake, drive, juke. And he learned it all very quickly.
The following year, leaving Walker (who later led West Georgia to the NAIA championship and eventually joined the Cleveland Cavaliers), McAdoo returned to the red Carolina clay. During the ensuing recruiting rush, Vandalia McAdoo remembers looking out one day at the black and white kids playing basketball in the yard. "We had been having some racial problems—my window was even shot out," she says. "But here were both races playing together and people kept driving slow by the house, turning around down by the church and driving by slow again. They had to be wondering what was going on. Well, Bobby was bringing people together.
"I was very impressed with my son," Mrs. McAdoo adds. "He wrote a term paper at Vincennes about boys trying to influence him with dope and the bad smells he found. He didn't like it. One day I opened his suitcase and found a New Testament. He said, 'Momma, put it back in the pocket.' "
The McAdoo parents—Robert Sr. is retired now—wanted very much to see their son play in college. "There was one thing I liked about Carolina," Mrs. McAdoo says. "When my son was little I wanted him to have matching shirts, socks, everything neat as a pin. Then he went off and changed, and I got disgusted with his clothes. When he got to North Carolina he told his daddy, 'I got to have clip-on ties because I don't know how to tie a real one. Show me.' Well, we went to the games, and you talk about proud. Out he came, all dressed up like he was when he was a little boy. I knew then he was back home."
McAdoo had distinguished himself in the 1971 Pan-American Games but when he got to Chapel Hill he was still a question mark. "They had a veteran team and people kept asking me where was I going to fit in," McAdoo says. "I said, 'Hey, you know who you're talking to? I be out there.' "
And so he was. After an early-season embarrassment at Princeton, the newcomers McAdoo and Jones (now a star with the Denver Nuggets) helped the Tar Heels to a 29-5 season that concluded at the nationals in Los Angeles. The big news there was UCLA's Bill Walton and his quest to continue the Bruin victory streak. But McAdoo never got to face Walton. Despite his 24-point, 15-rebound effort, North Carolina lost to Florida State in the semifinals.
On the way to his senior year, a funny thing happened to McAdoo. It was rumored that he had signed with the ABA Virginia Squires during his junior year, though no contract was produced—then or ever—and McAdoo denies he made any such deal. Nevertheless, NBA Commissioner Walter Kennedy was concerned enough that he advised his clubs not to touch McAdoo when the NBA made him eligible for the draft by granting him hardship status in April. Buffalo considered the commissioner's advice, ignored it, drafted McAdoo and, to its subsequent joy, ended up with him.
It is either a mark of his wit or an example of his honesty—or a combination of both—that when McAdoo is questioned as to why he went hardship, he says, "I got tired of walking. It's a big campus." Or, when given the opportunity to tell how much he wanted the money to help out his family, he says, "Mostly I wanted the dough for me." Or, when asked if he will ever go back to earn his college degree so he can collect a $50,000 incentive bonus in his contract, he replies, "Sure—when the NBA goes out of business." Or, when asked why he chose a difficult time in the middle of his rookie season to marry his college sweetheart, Brenda Newsome, he says, "Too much snow in Buffalo. It's lonely in snow."
Whatever the case, McAdoo settled into the Buffalo suburb of Williamsville with a new Mercedes, elaborate stereo equipment, a pair of Afghan hounds and two habits that have since resulted in Buffalo team rules. McAdoo wears a woolen ski cap pulled down low over his head to keep his ears warm, and he plays music on a portable tape cassette machine. The team rules are these: Don't Wear The Hat At Meals and Don't Play The Box Too Loud. McAdoo's rookie year was primarily productive in the area of eating and listening. Considered too frail and unprepared for the pivot, he did not get into the starting lineup until midseason and he burned with frustration. "I mean if this was New York or L.A. or some team like that, O.K.," he says now. "But here I was sitting at Buffalo, we were on the way to losing 61 games and we didn't have any players. My wife could have outrun those people."
Pushed into the "small forward" position, where he had to guard the Havliceks, McMillians and Bill Bradleys, McAdoo was run through picks, dragged around screens and caught in switches. Bradley once scored a career-high 38 points against him. At the same time McAdoo was forced to move without the ball more and to put it on the floor, especially with his left hand. All this he found difficult, but it was the best thing that could have happened to him.
"Back then he was easy to check," says the erstwhile Laker, McMillian. "On offense, Mac couldn't get his shot so I pressured him and he was lost. His defense was poor. I remember once he had four fouls, but he was so easy I really wanted him to stay in the game. I had so many options to score against him I couldn't make a choice."
But Bobby Mac got better. Fast. To enhance McAdoo's second season, Buffalo traded for McMillian and Garfield Heard, and drafted Ken Charles and an exquisite passer, Ernie DiGregorio.
Ernie D (for "Dondi") played like the Rookie of the Year. Randy Smith, probably the best athlete in the NBA, came into his own. McAdoo—after an injury to Kauffman—moved into the middle. Everybody shot the lights out and the former joke team won 91 games in the next two seasons. The neatest thing about this success was that it was achieved by a crew of scramblers who reacted to the ball as if it were a live grenade and made no discernible attempt to play defense. NBA purists were—and still are—horrified.
"Well, who are these supposedly superduper defensive people in the league, anyway?" McAdoo says in his own defense. "If I can get 35 and 40 on these guys any time I want, how good can they be?"
He is correct. Too much ado is made about McAdoo's poor D. The truth is that nobody really stops anybody else in the NBA. "All great scorers get nailed for playing bad defense," says Smith. "Does Rick Barry play D? Does Nate Archibald? What does Kareem 'hold' Mac to? [34.3 points a game, it turns out] Mac clogs the middle, checks off, rebounds, blocks shots. What else do they want?"
One key to McAdoo's success is his concentration. Watching his face as he rises for a jumper is to see a man possessed by his art. His theory on shooting is interesting. He concentrates on the two sides of the rim that frame his target, not the center of the basket. "I just want to be on line," says McAdoo. "I don't worry about being long or short with the shot. My touch is soft enough to get a lot of rim action front and back so I concentrate on the sides."
Phoenix' Dennis Awtrey recalls one game in which he knocked the ball out of McAdoo's hands three straight times from 18 feet out. Each time McAdoo just picked it back up and shot it in. "His shot is just about like radar," says the Suns' Curtis Perry.
In a league in which even the lowliest plebeian seems to own half a dozen full-length fur coats, it is refreshing to note that Bob McAdoo does not possess so much as a fur glove. He is happy to traipse around America's airports in his ski cap, his Earth Shoes and—are you ready?—his white socks. "Clean from head to socks," Randy Smith says.
Moreover, according to unimpeachable sources, McAdoo's exploitation of his scoring average is exceeded only by his penurious tendencies. After one $45 dinner with a couple of teammates, McAdoo felt secure leaving a dollar tip. It is his practice to travel the long way to the other side of Buffalo in order to avoid the shortcut on the New York State Thruway and its accompanying 20¢ toll.
Predictably, when he was assessed the first technical foul of his pro career after a January tussle with Seattle's Tom Burleson, McAdoo displayed his rarely seen temper. While his teammates feared that their bellwether might be injured in the furor—Bob Weiss kept saying, "His hands, check his hands; that's our ticket to the playoffs"—all McAdoo could think of was the dent in his pocketbook. "No way I'm getting a tech," he raged at the bench. "No way I'm payin' that $75 fine."
Last season McAdoo sent the Braves into a dither when he swallowed shampoo while showering at home and had to be rushed to the hospital. "Like to die," he said. On other occasions he has caused concern simply by being, as Heard says, "the worst packer in pro ball." Specifically, McAdoo keeps for getting to put his basketball shoes in his suitcase.
Just as the rain cloud perpetually hangs over Joe Btfsplk in the comics, McAdoo has been shadowed for a long time by the opinion that he is not a "forced" in the game, as Abdul-Jabbar is a "force," or Cowens or even Erving. He has the feeling that he has been underrated, overlooked, forgotten.
McAdoo was genuinely hurt when an all time ACC team was announced recently and he was not on it—even though" he played at North Carolina for only one year. He says one reason he did not return to college for his senior season was his disappointment about being passed over for ACC Player of the Year in 1972 in favor of Virginia's Barry Parkhill. He suggests he was not appreciated enough in high school or junior college, either.
Last year he refused to return to Smith High in Greensboro for a ceremony to retire his jersey, because he felt the honor should have been accorded sooner. "I was the best player they ever had or ever will have," he says. "What did they wait so long for? I don't dig that at all."
To be fair, one hopes this is not so much a childish chip-on-the-shoulder attitude as it is a strong belief in himself as the very best, and a flaming desire to be recognized as such. Recently teammate Charles was relating a story about the time Abdul-Jabbar came into Buffalo seething over the comparisons being made between McAdoo and himself. "Whew," said Charles, loud enough for McAdoo to hear. "The first time down the floor, the big fellow stuffs backward, then he really starts doin' it. He goes for about 36, and before he's through the Braves are scattered out in the street."
"Whoa," said McAdoo, stung to the-quick. "I go for 37 and 15 bounds."
"Yeah, Mac," Charles grinned. "But the big guy, he stuffs whenever he wants, to."
"Not over me, he don't," McAdoo said, very serious. "No man alive stuffs over me unless he wants his arm broken."
Having gotten his teammate's goat, Charles was laughing now. But McAdoo closed with a flourish. "Kareem, he's had some big games," he said. "But he ain't had no bigger ones than me."
That is an opinion with which Dr. Ramsay, among others, readily concurs. "The thing to remember about Mac," Ramsay says, "is that he is going to get much, much better. In every aspect of his game. Just this year he has improved so much in his passing and defense, it's scary. He works hard. He takes care of his body so he'll be around for a long time. He goes almost 48 minutes a night, always learning. Mostly, he wants to be the best who ever lived. He wants that very badly."
McAdoo's vision of himself as a superstar encompasses more than physical supremacy. Though he denies caring what other people think, it is obvious that he does worry about his image—or, maybe, lack of it—in the uncompromising way he plays the game, and lives. On and off the court he is generally expressionless, hesitant to argue or complain. He avoids public controversy, and disciplines himself privately; he avoids drinking, smoking and late hours. Locke describes McAdoo as "the kind of guy you love to see get on the bus. He comes to play every night." Charles says it is as if McAdoo has "a mission. Mac has this idea of what a superstar should be, and how one should act, and he wants to set an example."
Which is probably why it came as such a shock earlier this season when Buffalo Owner Paul Snyder suspended McAdoo over the matter of a back injury. McAdoo had claimed his back was too sore for him to play in a game against Boston. When the Braves' doctor found no signs of injury and the team asked McAdoo to see a second doctor, the center felt his integrity was at issue and he refused. So Snyder suspended him. Though the penalty lasted only one game, scars remain.
The bizarre episode occurred on Christmas Eve. McAdoo's wife had recently given birth to their second child, his father was recovering in Buffalo from an operation and McAdoo was considering renegotiating his contract. These circumstances, plus the fact that the volatile Snyder (or The Cookie Monster, as the majority Nabisco stockholder is sometimes known) could even imply that McAdoo, a man who works as hard in practice as in games, who plays more minutes and shoulders a bigger burden than anybody in the NBA, was a loafer, made the suspension a landmark in the history of dubious decisions.
Indeed, here was another occasion when McAdoo was forced to wonder how appreciated he really is. Question: Has there ever been a performer of this magnitude making $1,600 a game less than a tiny backcourt man on his own team who's played second-string most of the season?
In such down times McAdoo thinks about going back to North Carolina. Unlike most pros, he has not lost touch with his home state, his school or the people there. Racial matters aside, he is an indefatigable booster of Dixie and Southern ways. (At North Carolina, McAdoo wore a blue-and-white V-neck uniform. Buffalo Trainer Ray Melchiorre says it is only coincidence that in McAdoo's second season the Braves changed uniform colors from black and orange to blue and white and that this year they switched to V necks.)
During the season McAdoo is on the phone to the North Carolina coaches and players, exchanging strategy and gossip, sending shoes and leaving tickets. In the summer he goes back to his parents' home in Greensboro near a huge plot of land where he plans to build his own home. He keeps in shape by scrimmaging with the players at Chapel Hill almost daily.
"You know, along about 40 games into the season, all I'm thinking about is getting back home," McAdoo says. "I really do love North Carolina. You think the NBA would put a franchise back there? We could get me and Bobby Jones and David Thompson and Billy Cunningham and some more of the boys." McAdoo suddenly remembers that Randy Smith and Jim McMillian are North Carolina-born, too. "They might make it," he says, laughing. "We could have some team."
After a pause, he says, "I always had trouble being patient. My father still talks to me about that. My patience. My impatience. But it gets hard. Up here the kids be out in the streets playing hockey. The French Connection be big deal. But nobody knows basketball. Nobody cares. O.J. was lost up here. Look what it took him, 2,000 yards, to be recognized. What do I need?
"I got more press for swallowing the shampoo than I got for my 50-pointers. I'm taken for granted, that's all. You think there's anybody better than me? Ain't nobody better. You think they know that? Ain't nobody know that."
He's down again. Sometimes ain't nobody better than Bob McAdoo. Sometimes ain't nobody more wrong.