I had remembered that Larry Bird had been named MVP after a 19-12-5 stat line, but did not remember that he had a 12-point fourth quarter or either how quickly he moved in the early part of his career or how devastatingly creative he was as a passer.
One of my favorite plays involved his getting the ball on the left side of the court, about 18 feet from the basket, taking a jab step and dribble toward the free throw line, drawing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to him and then hitting Artis Gilmore with a left-handed pass right in his hands.
Gilmore dropped it.
I also had forgotten that Magic Johnson missed a driving layup that ensured the East’s narrow victory, 120-118.
Two other aspects of the game stood out for me.
The first was Moses Malone’s relentlessness on the offensive boards.
His expression rarely moving from its impassive stare, the man would plant himself in the key and refuse to be moved. Malone had an uncanny knack for knowing exactly where the ball would be, snaring it and then launching into one, two or even three pump fakes before depositing it back in the hoop.
For Boston fans of a certain vintage, Moses was the unbowed foil who said he and four guys from his hometown of Petersburg, Virginia could take the Celtics before the Cs had dispatched them in six games to win their 14th championship and the first of the Bird era in 1981.
The comment prompted Bird to answer memorably at the victory parade, “Moses does eat shit!”
Besides that episode, though, David Halberstam’s classic The Breaks of the Game has a fascinating section about Malone’s decision to go pro after high school-for years he, Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby were the only three to have done this-in which he talks about Maryland coach Lefty Driesell invoking the sanctity of a college degree as a reason for Malone to consider attending school.
When the prospect of Malone just staying for two years arose, Driesell said that would be all right-a comment that prompted one in the room to note that the college degree’s sanctity had just been cut in half.
What came through in the book, though, was Halberstam’s getting beyond Moses’ fabled mumbling and realized both that Malone understood exactly what was going on and, beyond that, was actually direction the action.
Halberstam’s point was that Moses possessed an intelligence that he knew others did not think he had.
The other part of the game I had forgotten about was how skillfully Tiny Archibald directed the offense.
I had remembered Tiny as one of the many point guards to come out of New York City, as the guy who had led the league in scoring and assists in 1972 and who was a classic penetrate and dish guy.
But I had not remembered how he would fearlessly travel in among the giants and invariably slip his teammates a left-handed pass for an open shot.
It was beautiful to watch.
After honing his game in New York City, Tiny played under fiery Don Haskins at the University of Texas El-Paso. I wrote recently about Rus Bradburd’s biography of Nolan Richardson, another Haskins alum, and last year posted on And The Walls Came Tumbling Down, a book about Haskins’ team’s upset victory over Pat Riley and Rupp’s Runts for the University of Kentucky’s team.
Since retiring, Archibald has earned a doctorate and continues to work with youth in his native New York City.
He would make an excellent subject for a biography.
Another project for the list. For now, though, I’m looking forward to tonight’s festivities and tomorrow’s game.