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Original Issue

The power surge in the West

The MVP of the playoffs described himself as a "funny-looking black kid with red hair and freckles." The leading scorer was a 25-year-old with fast feet and a fast-receding hairline. The spiritual leader was an "old man" who has never learned how to shoot in 15 years in the league. Together they made the Seattle SuperSonics NBA champions. In defeating the Washington Bullets, in five games, the Sonics had backcourt scoring stars in Dennis Johnson and Gus Williams-the redhead and the bald-head. And they had frontcourt defensive stalwarts in old man Paul Silas and Center Jack Sikma. After Game 5, Freddie Brown stood dripping with sweat, champagne and tears and said, "This is heaven."

With Bill Walton absent, Maurice Lucas had to drive Portland into the playoffs.

There was no hiding Coach Lenny Wilkens' ecstasy.

The Big E, Elvin Hayes, got a big A for his efforts, but the Bullets lost in the backcourt.

Dennis Johnson (24) and Silas (35) wore their respective ages nicely.

Larry Wright's 26 clutch points gave Washington its only series victory.

It was not a season of note for the Jazz' Pete Maravich, who had a bad knee and the blues.

Kevin Grevey displayed heads-up basketball.

Kareem creamed Nugget Dan Issel on this one.

Blazer Dave Twardzik had a hairy encounter.

Gus Williams averaged 28.6 points in the finals and led the Sonics in scoring in every game.

Unseld was his usual possessive self in the finals, with 57 rebounds.


A leading figure in Washington was overheard to say last May, "The pressure. The mental part. Everyone's after us. Defending this is the hardest thing I've ever done." Yes, Jimmy Carter would have been a good guess, Put the words actually were spoken by another Capital eminence, Elvin Hayes. What the Big E was talking about was defending the NBA title Washington had won the spring before. The first team to take a shot at the Bullets in the playoffs was unsung Atlanta, a team of heart, not to mention brawn. The Hawks fought back from a 3-1 deficit to send the series to a seventh game in Washington, which the aforementioned President attended. Hayes rose to that occasion with 39 points in a 100-94 victory. Next to go gunning for the Bullets was San Antonio, and before Washington got organized, George Gervin had scored 42 points to lead the Spurs to a 118-112 win and a 3-1 lead in the semifinals. The champions revived in time to triumph in the next two and set up another big shootout. Although Gervin again scored 42, the Bullets prevailed 107-105 when Bobby Dandridge, who had 37 points, hit the game-winning basket with only eight seconds left.

In the Western Division, Seattle and Phoenix were having surprisingly easy times with Los Angeles and Kansas City, respectively. The Suns' hopes were clouded after they lost the first two games of the semis to the Sonics and their center, Alvan Adams, to a sprained left ankle in the first period of Game 3. But with Paul Westphal, Walter Davis and substitute Center Joel Kramer showing the way, Phoenix stormed back to take a 3-2 lead. Then the Sonics boomed, coming from behind in the last minutes to triumph in Game 6, and getting 33 points from Jack Sikma to win the seventh game—and the right to meet the Bullets in a rematch of the '78 playoff finals. Gervin's consolation for the Spurs' playoff loss was a second straight scoring title; he averaged 29.6 points a game. Moses Malone of the Rockets was an overwhelming choice as the league's MVP, having averaged 17.6 rebounds a game and broken the record for offensive rebounds in a season with 587.