Remembering the NBA's Sort of Forgotten Glory Days

| by

It’s very rare these days when the NBA feels like it used to be. Sure, there are still guys that are entertaining to watch, such as Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen, in my view. Bryant is simply smooth and his fadeaway caresses the net, and Allen is one of the best pure shooters I have ever seen, period. But to me, the NBA is not the game it used to be, even though it can still be very entertaining.

Some matchups, like last Thursday’s overtime tilt between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, still gets the blood flowing nicely. There was a playoff-type atmosphere as the two storied rivals took it down to two final buzzers. But the game has certainly changed since its most watchable days. Today’s NBA has evolved directly from the playgrounds than ever before. There is a lot of individual emphasis, trash talking and excessive high-flying antics than ever before.

The game truly changed during the Michael Jordan era. It morphed from more of a team game into more of a chest-pounding war of who can outdunk and outtalk their opponent. Now I know how people who talk about the “Golden Era” of baseball feel. They talk glowingly about Willie, Mickey and the Duke. Well, I say it’s time to make a song about the most memorable era of pro basketball ever, the 1980s.

Call it Magic, the Bird and the King.

Sure, we have seen and read so much about the Magic JohnsonLarry Bird rivalry, it’s been subjects of books and documentaries and magazine articles. But I add in Bernard King, because the decade of the 1980s is not celebrated enough past Magic and Bird. There were so many other outstanding and distinctive players that due not get enough due when the NBA’s history is discussed.

NBA TV did a nice miniseries recently dubbed NBA80s, but there was simply not enough covered. Plus, the charm of the game itself in that era is never chronicled in proper detail. Back then, it was much more of a team game, with greater focus on fundamentals. Individual matchups and chalkboard strategies appeared to affect the game more, and finesse mixed perfectly with athletic ability.

I may be biased by including King, as he is my favorite NBA player of all time. He was tremendously exciting, with the most devastating turnaround jumper I ever saw. He basically carried the Knicks in the early to mid 80s, and should have been the league MVP over Larry Bird. King was basically a one-man scoring machine and wrecking crew.

But there were so many other great players and unique standout performers we just don’t hear about enough anymore. Dominique Wilkins’ name often gets lost now in the post-Michael Jordan era. He was maybe the most exciting dunker I have ever seen, and he did his work within the flow of the game. Here are some other oft-overlooked gems from the NBA’s truly greatest era.

  • Jamaal Wilkes: One of the most unique shooters I have ever seen, he was an unsung hero on some great Lakers teams.
  • Buck Williams: One of the best pure rebounders ever. Too bad he played in New Jersey.
  • Andrew Toney: Real NBA fans know that he was one of the most dangerous backcourt scorers of the decade when he was healthy.
  • Sidney Moncrief: A versatile and outstanding guard who was one of the most solid all-around players in the league.
  • Clark Kellogg: A tireless worker on the boards and a major presence in the paint.
  • Mark Aguirre: One of the most entertaining scorers to watch in the Western Confrence.
  • Michael Ray Richardson: Before he was troubled, he was a miniature Magic Johnson.
  • Alex English: Many have made the case that he was the best scoring small forward of the decade.
  • George Gervin: He was not flashy, but oh so cool, hence the legendary nickname “The Iceman.”
  • Adrian Dantley: Another of the decade’s fantastic small forwards, he could be nearly unstoppable when he backed into an opponent.
  • Gus Williams: Completely electric and one of the best guards of the era.
  • Terry Cummings: Hard-working power forward who exemplified the low-post presence.
  • Dan Roundfield: One of the best names and power forwards of the era, he was ultra-tough down low.
  • Walter Davis: Lanky and elastic backcourt scorer, a Western Conference standout.

Of course, no one is a better example of how meaningful the decade was than Julius Erving. He was the model NBA player of the 80s. Erving was known for his high-wire dunks, but great grace and tremendous team play were also his hallmarks. Erving was the first true showman, the one everyone wanted to be on the playgrounds. How large was his figure? In New York, there were as many 76er fans as Knicks fans. You’d never see that kind of Philly-New York crossover again.

Erving’s luster in history has somehow faded a bit as Jordan out-highlighted him as the game moved forward. But I will always revere him as the true face of the game’s most wonderful time period, just as much, and maybe even more so than Magic and Bird. They won more championships, but no one represented the game at its truly most memorable time like the Doctor. He was the 80s: Dignity, flair and pure artistry.