Even though the Milwaukee Bucks did not win the NBA title last season, this was a pleasant summer for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Shortly after the loss to the Lakers in the playoffs, he became the father of a daughter, named her Habiba and learned how to change diapers. Abdul-Jabbar also studied Arabic at Harvard, where he was pleased that only a few fellow scholars gave him a second glance or made those inane comments about his height. And there was one more cheerful item: he signed a new, four-year contract, thereby making the Bucks one of the perennial favorites to win the NBA championship over the next four years.
The contract, Kareem says, "worked out to be a good thing." It did, indeed. Abdul-Jabbar now earns somewhere between $300,000 and $500,000 a year, and he is worth it. Further, by ensuring Kareem's presence, the Bucks perked up the drive to build a new home arena.
The Bucks pulled off another coup of sorts by drafting and signing two playable rookies, 6'6" Chuck Terry and Guard Russell Lee. Otherwise, Milwaukee will be the same team that lost just 19 games last season. The Bucks should easily win the division, but their chances for an NBA title may depend on whether Oscar Robertson remembers to shoot more and aggressive young Forward Curtis Perry fouls less.
The Bucks also have the NBA draft rights to Julius Erving who, some scouts think, is at worst the best offensive forward since Elgin Baylor. Erving is likely to return to the ABA, but the courts could still assign him to Milwaukee. "If they put him on the Bucks, this is going to be the most boring league ever," says Chicago Coach Dick Motta.
Boring—and goring—opponents has been the methodical Bulls' style the past two years: they ground down enough teams to amass the league's third-best record. Under the new selection system, the Bulls will need to be just as unbending this season to make the playoffs—which they probably will be.
Motta is solid at guard with Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier, backed up by the NBA's best substitute back-courtman, Bob Weiss. He is rich at forward with starters Bob Love and Chet Walker, swingman Sloan and improved reserves Kennedy McIntosh and Howard Porter. But the Bulls have an unexpected problem at center. Tireless worker Clifford Ray is a strong defender and re-bounder but hurts Chicago by putting himself out of games on fouls. That would not be too serious a problem if the other center, Tom Boerwinkle, were healthy. Boerwinkle helps the offense with his 270-pound picks, but he has an injured knee and Motta is worried.
Detroit also has a center problem. Bob Lanier is superb on offense (26 PPG), but the Pistons finished next to last in defense largely because he was unable to seal off the middle of the court. To correct that, Coach Earl Lloyd hired Bill Russell (fee reportedly $1000 a day) as a preseason instructor. If Lanier absorbed even a few of the old master's stratagems, the Pistons will improve over last year's 26 wins. Detroit should be better at guard as well, with Dave Bing recovered from a detached retina. He is joined by Stu Lantz, obtained from Houston in trade for Jimmy Walker. Lantz' talent at playing without the ball should make him more compatible with Bing than Walker was. The Pistons need another good forward to go along with workmanlike Curtis Rowe, but, even if they find one, the Pistons' defense probably will not be good enough to allow them to make the playoffs.
Playoffs are not even on the mind of Bob Cousy, coach of the Kansas City-Omaha Kings (formerly Cincinnati Royals). "All we realistically are looking for is a little sign of progress here, a bit of improvement there," Cooz says. He thought he had just what he was after in talented Forward Ken Durrett, who missed all but 233 minutes of his rookie season with a knee injury. But then Durrett was reinjured, and Cousy is left with only two top players, swingman Tom Van Arsdale and Guard Nate (Tiny) Archibald. Tiny is listed at 6'1", 150 pounds, is really about 5'10" and plays as if he were 10 feet tall. After not being selected for the All-Star Game, he took the slight out on the rest of the league and proceeded to average 33.8 points. Most of his scores came on flying forays past the big men for close-in baskets. That is apparently just the kind of excitement the fans in the team's new cities are looking for. Preseason ticket sales have already put more money in the Kings' treasury than they earned in gate receipts all last year in Cincy.