(Originally posted on http://www.iamagm.com on September 20, 2011)
The best thing about the NBA lockout has been NBA TV’s alternative programming with Old School Monday’s, Playoff
Gems and Hardwood Classics. Digging deep into the video archives, the network is broadcasting rarely seen footage from a bygone era and the more recent past. The gems and classics mostly from the 80’s and 90’s are fascinating while the old school games from the 60s and 70s are even more riveting.
For any true basketball buff, the images broadcasted in recently introduced color format from the 1969 NBA All-Star at the Baltimore Civic Center may be akin to an archeologist discovering caveman hieroglyphics. And although in many spheres like the segregated gymnasiums the game had long sped up, the NBA was just catching up.
Many of the faces and names are familiar yet some are strangely unknown. This appears to be the generation caught between the past and the present much like the Mad Men seen on AMC. But this was also the period when Converse was king and anybody worth his asphalt wore the canvas footwear, the blue-starred Chuck Taylor’s provided enough stability and support for the players to run-n-gun foreshadowing the future.
A few years later at the 1972 All-Star game held at the Fabulous Forum in Los Angeles, the picture although far from HD quality was brighter and sharper. And although most players still avoided the off hand dribble delaying the invention of the cross-over and other moves that would ultimately quicken the game, the evolution was ever apparent.
Connie Hawkins’ bird-like swoops to the hoop drew oohs and ahs from the crowd as if they were observing alien form. The players similarly in awe almost conceded the lane to the high-flying Hawk as he would hover to the hoop holding the ball a high with one hand. All they could do was seemingly check the technique and hoped he missed.
What was also striking was that many of the players were not elongated as today’s player. They were beefy and used strength as much as quickness.
Oscar Robertson who dominated the action in ’69 taking MVP honors with 24 points looked more like a strong safety. And the sharp cut afro-wearing Big O could easily be mistaken for Otis Redding on stage gyrating and grinding to a gritty beat proving he was the baddest man in the land.
After twelve years of work in the league by the ’72 game he was still a dynamic figure on the court. Robertson was known for backing his opponent down with his ample booty but he also played with an aura of aggression and arrogance. Forty years later, Big O is still cock-sure about his and his contemporaries game much like how Otis through two rappers remains relevant.
That game also featured Jimmie Walker. Although a couple of inches shorter and listed a few pounds lighter than Robertson, he looked almost like his twin in physique and style. But what is most noteworthy is that it was a peek at the player drafted number one overall in 1967 who, however, would become more famous for being the father of Jalen Rose.
By now, we all are aware of Rose’s lineage and issues he had with his father who was never present in his life. However, without so much of seeing a highlight of Walker prior to this broadcast it was like ogling a ghost. Walker may not have been Mr. Mom or Daddy Day Care, but Rose’s NBA career clearly stemmed from his poppa’s rollin’ stone DNA.
But at the end of the game, the brightest star of the game was a man with West across his back and chest. Jerry West, playing in his home arena for the West All-Stars, won the MVP by leading, along with Hawkins, a balanced scoring attack with 13 points and closing out the game with a buzzer-beating jumper to win it for the West, 114-112.
As an African proverb reveals, “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten. “