From the Archives: Bob McAdoo

In honor of the impending NBA Playoffs, I present you with one of my favorite Slam Old School stories… an interview with the mighty Bob McAdoo, now in his 16th year on the Heat bench. meaning this story originally ran in 1998, in Slam #24. I remember researching Mac’s numbers in the Ann Arbor PUblic Library. You can read this article on Slam Online here. 

“Bob McAdoo was unstoppable.”
Jack Ramsay is reminiscing about the lanky 6-10, 210-pound center/forward he coached for four years with the Buffalo Braves. In several decades as a coach and TV analyst, Ramsay’s watched thousands of players. None were quite like McAdoo.

“He was impossible to guard,” says the ex-coach, now a commentator for ESPN and the Miami Heat. “He’d blow by a center or big forward, and if they put a little guy on him, he’d take him down low and post up all night. He was a scoring machine. That’s a term you hear thrown around, but Bob was the real deal. He could score at will, from anywhere on the floor; he could drive, he could pass, he had great instincts, and he had three-point range.”
From ’73-’76, McAdoo led the league in scoring three years in a row, one of only four centers ever to do so, dropping in 30.6, 34.5 and 31.1 ppg. He was the league MVP in ’75, when he tallied 34.5 ppg and 14.1 rpg, while shooting 51 percent from the field. For the first seven years of his career, McAdoo averaged 27.2 points and 12.2 rebounds a game. He was also a great shot blocker, and one of the quickest, most agile big men to ever play the game.

“He could run unbelievably well,” Ramsay says. “He would often chase down point guards and pop the ball out from behind, then he’d be on his way to the other end to finish.”

Despite such skills and numbers, McAdoo was left off the NBA’s 50 greatest List, and he’s still waiting for the Hall of Fame to call. Apparently, his achievements have been tarnished by the fact that he played for seven teams, bouncing from one bad situation to another in the turbulent NBA of the 70’s. In ’81, he landed with the Lakers, playing an important role on two championship teams (’82 and ’85), settling into a role providing instant offense off the bench and helping key a devastating 1-3-1 halfcourt trap. He finished his career by playing in Italy from 1986-’92. He is currently n his third year as a Miami Heat assistant.

“Mac not only deserves to be in the top 50, he’s probably in the top 10 or 15 players of all time,” says Ramsay. “It’s unfortunate that he didn’t get into a great team situation until towards the end of his career, but that doesn’t change what he could do. With the Braves, we didn’t have a championship-caliber team, but Bob always played his best in big games, and because of him we stretched the Bullets and Celtics to some very tough series on their way to championships. He had tremendous games in the playoffs, and he never wanted to come out of any game. As far as McAdoo the player, the competitor and the person, you’re talking about the top level all the way around.”
SLAM: Many people think that you changed the way the center position was viewed. You didn’t like to play with your back to the basket…
BOB McADOO: Wrong! It’s just that I was able to roam. I wasn’t stuck in one spot. Back in the 60’s and 70’s, a center was usually stuck in the middle, but I liked to move. I was using what I had. I knew I had to beat people with quickness, and by beatin’ them down the court, and it worked. In Buffalo, we led the league in team scoring a couple of years because we were fast at every position, from the point guard to the center. That’s where our advantage was.
SLAM: What do you think was your greatest strength as a player?
McADOO: I would have to say my will. I was just relentless. I never stopped running, never stopped putting pressure on people. They had to guard me all over the court.
SLAM: I recently interviewed Elvin Hayes, and he said that during your four years in Buffalo you could score at will as well as anyone he’s ever seen. During that period, did you feel like every time you touched the ball you’d score?
McADOO: Yeah, I really did have that feeling. I just felt every time I got it that it was gonna be good, and I always wanted it when it mattered. As much as I scored, I took good shots, and it showed in my shooting percentage. I think probably my proudest moment was the year that I won the scoring championship and led the league in field goal percentage. [In ’73-’74, McAdoo scored 30.6 ppg while shooting 55 percent from the field.] And they were not all dunks (laughs). It was a combination of long- and medium-range jumpers, dunks, lay ins…a little bit of everything.
SLAM: People think of you as a scorer, but you also rebounded really well.
McADOO: That’s right. Nobody ever talks about the 15 rebounds a game, or the blocked shots. The scoring is just overpowering, so nobody ever saw anything else.
SLAM: Do you think that was your scoring was so good that, in a weird way, your statistics worked against you?
McADOO: I think that may be the case. I was a center and I had the stats of a center. Like I said, nobody ever considered the 15, 14, 13 rebounds a game, the blocked shots that came with the points. I was and am known as a scorer, but that’s simply not all I did. And I was no gunner; look at my shooting percentages.
SLAM: Some of those misperceptions obviously came into play to keep you off the 50 greatest list last year. That must have hurt a lot.
McADOO: To me it was just disgraceful. Because, if you look back, if you research it, you see that there have only been 19 MVPs—Karl Malone was the 20th—and you’re the only one left off of it…Well, how would you feel? And when you see that there’s only been seven or eight repeat scoring champions and you’re one of ’em, and you were the only one left off the list, you know that something’s wrong.
SLAM: You did have some pretty good company in being left off, including Alex English and Bernard King.
McADOO: Right. And they both deserve to be on that list. But still, we’re talking about an MVP. Remember: there’s been thousands of players in this league for 50 years, and there’s only been 20 MVPs, 19 at the time they made that list. If you’re gonna put together a list of the 50 greatest, that’s where you start from, right there. You pull out your MVP list, and put down your first 19 players. Then you branch out and pick the other 31.
SLAM: You’ve got a good point there. Did you see Slam’s 50 greatest list?
McADOO: Yeah, that was great. Thank you. I had some people send me some copies. I even bought a couple for my family.
SLAM: Do you think that your reputation was hurt by the fact that you played for so many teams?
McADOO: I don’t know. Probably, but that was the nature of the league then. If you put me in 1997 time, I’d have never left a team because they hold on to their stars today. But, at that time, many players moved around. I mean, Kareem played on a couple a teams, and Wilt Chamberlain moved around. Those guys would’ve never left their original teams if they played today. They’d be like Patrick Ewing or Michael Jordan, but that was just the nature of the game then.
SLAM: Things seemed to happen in funky ways. The story about how you ended up being traded from the Knicks to the Celtics is truly bizarre, how Phyllis George watched you when the teams were playing and said to her husband, who owned the Celtics, “We need a player like that.” So he made the trade right then and there, without consulting his gm, Red Auerbach–or so the legend goes.
McADOO: Yeah, that’s right. John Y. Brown’s wife wanted me up there. I had just left him in Buffalo because he didn’t want to pay me, and then he comes back and gets me again because I’m his wife’s favorite player. [Prior to buying the Celtics, Brown had owned the Braves, who were then sold and moved to San Diego, becoming th Clippers.—Ed. ] She wanted me on the team and they made a deal at the deadline, trading three first-round draft picks for me. He did that without telling Red Auerbach and Red was furious. He didn’t want me. I went up there under terrible circumstances. His attitude was, “I’ll show him. He don’t run the show around here.” So he had me coming of the bench. Here I was, a 34-point-per game player coming off the bench for a zero team. I was in the running to win my fourth scoring championship at that time, then I got sent up there into that situation, and, you know, it was done after that.
SLAM: Things were even pretty funky with the Knicks, although they weren’t that far removed from a championship. Sonny Werblin took over and started undermining [coach] Willis Reed to force him out, because it was too hard to fire him, as a legendary player.
McADOO: Yeah, it was a zoo there. I had three coaches in two years.
SLAM: The rap on those New York teams was they just gathered up a bunch of big names, like you and Spencer Haywood and Earl Monroe without thinking if and how you could all play together, without considering chemistry.
McADOO:  Yeah, they just put a bunch of stars together and hoped it would mesh. And it could have if they’d waited; they didn’t give anything a chance to happen. You look at the current New York team, they’ve kept guys together for eight, nine years—and they’ve won nothing. The mentality’s just changed now. That team would have been broken up in two years, if it was the 70’s. They just didn’t give it a chance to develop. I really think we could have done something, given a little more time to gel. We had a starting frontline of me, Spencer—who was still in his prime—and Lonnie Shelton. Well, all three of us got an NBA Championship ring after we left, so that says that something was wrong with the management. Shelton got his in Seattle, Spencer and I got ours in L.A. So you had the horses there but it just never had a chance to bloom.
SLAM: When you played in Buffalo, it seems like the team was just about to bloom there, too, when they started dumping players. Is it frustrating that you never had a chance to take that team to the next level?
McADOO: Yeah, absolutely, ‘cause I felt if they kept us all together we could have done something. Myself, Moses Malone and Adrian Dantley were there together for, like two weeks—pre-season!—and then they split the team up. I mean, we had some great playoff series against the Celtics and we took the bullets to seven the year they wont he championship, and that was without a ton of talent.
SLAM:  After the Celtics, you went to the Pistons in ’79. How did you enjoy your time there?
McADOO: Hated it. It just wasn’t a good situation for me. They had me on a team with seven rookies. You can’t win in the NBA with no seven rookies. That was one of the most mismanaged teams in the league. My two-year-old daughter probably could have put a team together better. That was a wasted two years of my life. The only thing I got out of that was a check. It was a waste other than that.
SLAM: You were well known for practicing hard; is it hard to maintain that intensity when you’re going through something like that?
McADOO: Absolutely. You lose all your joy for the game when you’re in that kind of situation. You try to be professional and hang in there, but it’s impossible. I mean, they’d throw the ball up, and you knew you didn’t have a chance to win. You’re looking around at your team, and you just know that you don’t have a chance in hell to win.
SLAM: After a brief time in New Jersey, you got to the Lakers. That must have been like getting a new lease life.
McADOO: Yeah, it was, and it was the right time. I was 30 years old, coming off some injuries and just kinda’ getting burnt out from carrying teams. I became more of a role player and it was something that I welcomed. I mean, I didn’t like coming off the bench, because I shouldn’t have, but that’s the way the program worked there, and I just dealt with it. And it was really satisfying to be part of such great teams.
SLAM: You played the wing of Riley’s 1-3-1 trap, which was one of the most effective halfcourt traps ever.
McADOO: Yeah, I loved that. We used to get people in trouble all the time playing that defense. And, you know, we were so devastating offensively. I mean, everyone  out there on the floor could finish. Everyone could pass. Playing on that Laker team was just a glory  Everybody had the same mindset; you wanted to win at everything. It could be horse, marbles, ping pong, whatever, everyone wanted to win. When you’ve got those type of players, you’re gonna’ win. Not just win, you’re going to win championships.
SLAM: One of your former teammates, Matt Goukas, said that the key to your success was that you practiced as hard as you played. Was that something that just came naturally to you?
McADOO: It was just competitiveness coming out. You step on the court you play hard, no matter the situation. And I think you see that in all great players. You hear about it in Jordan and Larry Bird. I know Magic practiced like that because I saw him. It’s just in you. You can’t just decide that you’re going to be like that and start doing it. You’ve got to be doing it from the beginning of time. In high school, you practice hard. In college, you practice hard. That’s the only way you know how to be. Then when you get to the actual game, it’s easy.
SLAM: Is that really what separates you guys from other people who might’ve started out with similar skills?
McADOO: Oh yeah, but you’ve got to have the talent too. You’ve got some people that can practice ‘til they’re blue in the face and nothing’s going to come out of it. But if you’ve got the talent and you do that, it takes you to another level.
SLAM: You had a rather unorthodox jumper. How did you develop that?
McADOO: I don’t know. People told me it was unorthodox, but it didn’t feel that way to me. I was told it was a strange shot, but I had good rotation, and excellent concentration. That’s what matters in shooting.
SLAM: When you played, a lot of people had unorthodox and very effective shots, like Alex English, Jamaal Wilkes, and, of course, Kareem, with his skyhook. Why do you think there is less of that?
McADOO: First of all, because of the way the NBA is marketed now, it’s all boiled down to guys making spectacular dunks, or shooting the three. That’s what makes the video, so that’s what guys like to do and the medium-range shot has gone by the wayside. That used be a lot of guys’ bread and butter. And big guys being able to handle the ball is also kind of going by the wayside. Everything is getting too specialized right now in my opinion. I don’t see enough all-around players. I think you have more athletic guys now, but the skill level is not there to the same degree as it used to be.
            It’s also because of the way the NBA has grown. There’s a lot more teams now, and let’s face it, the league is watered down. You’re seeing teams winning championships with two or three players, and you didn’t see that in the 70s or 80’s. The Lakers teams I was on went eight or nine deep, and so did our opponents from the East, the Sixers and Celtics. Now, because of expansion, you’ve got a lot more people playing in the NBA. The bottom line is, back in the day there were a lot less jobs out there, so it was much more competitive. The talent was more compressed then, so people came up with stuff because they had to to survive, and keep making a living. You got a lot of guys playing today that wouldn’t have even been making a dime off of basketball.
SLAM: Do you see any guys who remind you of you?
McADOO: Not really. Hakeem is probably the only one. And he’s the type of guy who can play power forward or center. Just like me. I switched back and forth.
SLAM: Which did you enjoy playing more?
McADOO: It really didn’t matter because once I went through the league one time, people started experimenting with putting different guys on me. The Milwaukee Bucks, are a good example. I was playing center but they stopped putting Kareem on me because I would take him outside and shoot jumpers or drive around him. They would put their power forward on me one time then next time they’d have their small forward on me, who I think was Bobby Dandridge. I’d have a 3, 4 or 5 on me depending on how their coach wanted to match up on that particular night. And I would just switch my game depending on who was on me.
SLAM: You weighed about 210, so when you were playing the pivot on defense, you were often giving up 50-60 pounds. What did you do to compensate for that?
McADOO: Use my quickness. Just try to wear on them and wear them out. Wear on ’em until the fourth quarter, when their power couldn’t do anything because they’d be too tired.
SLAM: Who were your toughest opponents to guard?
McADOO: Kareem and Bob Lanier. Bob was big, bulky and quick. Once he got you on his hip, he’d throw up that hook shot and you’d be helpless. He also had nice ball fakes, and a face-up jumper that was almost impossible to stop.
            And you know the story with Kareem. He scored more points than any player in history. He got that 7-foot-2 arm up in the air. I mean, when they say skyhook, they mean skyhook. You were looking up at it. Up at the rafters, at that arm up there flicking that hook over your head. There was nothing anybody could do once he got up there.
SLAM: It’s kind of remarkable that more centers haven’t even tried to master that.
McADOO: No guys of his size have that kind of skill. That’s a hard shot to master, and, like I said, you don’t see the same skills with a basketball. You see higher leapers and faster runners, but you don’t see the skills with the ball.
SLAM: Who were some of your favorite players to watch?
McADOO: I liked guys that appeared to be unstoppable. I used to marvel at Tiny Archibald. He was just incredible. He could weave his way through a press, he could get a shot off over big guys…he was impossible to stop.  Another guard guarding him? Forget it. Then there’s Earl Monroe. He was so tricky with the ball. He only jumped a couple inches off the floor, but nobody ever blocked his shot. He’d just jerk ’em around with the ball, and he always got where he wanted to go on the floor. Another guy I loved to watch was Pete Maravich. At 6-5, he was one of the first bigger guards that you saw and he had all sort of tricks for you. He was amazing with the ball. Now, see, I just named you three guards, and those are the guys I watched all the time. Centers didn’t excite me because they just didn’t have the same skills as guards, who could get where they wanted to go on the court, make moves, get their shots off anywhere. As a kid I kind of emulated them, and that’s probably why I learned how to dribble so well.
SLAM: What forwards impressed you?
McADOO: Rick Barry. He’d run you all game long. He’d shoot the long jumper. He was a great passer.
SLAM: I’ll throw out a couple names and you just tell me what comes to mind. Wes Unseld?
McADOO: Wes was a different type of player. He didn’t really strike fear in you, but you knew he was going to rebound. We had to work hard to keep him off the offensive boards. When we played the Bullets, we always had to watch out for Elvin Hayes and Bobby Dandridge. They were tough. The three of them made a hell of a frontline. Incredible, really. When I was at Buffalo, we had some good playoff battles with them. Even when they got past us, we used to see them beat the 76ers with Julius Erving and George McGinnis. I mean those three guys were just tough.
SLAM: What do you remember about playing against Elvin?
McADOO: We had some very tough battles. Very tough. Elvin could really play. And he was also a center who used his quickness and moved around. He was just very  physical. You knew he was gonna’ get up and down the court and shoot that turnaround jumper—which you knew he was gonna’ shoot but you just couldn’t stop anyhow, because he’d just jump over you and throw it up. He could sky.
SLAM: As could you. Weren’t you a state high jump champion in high school?
McADOO: Yeah. In fact, I beat Bobby Jones. So, of course, I could get over people. In fact, Jack Ramsay designed plays where I would either be at the top of the key or on the wings, where I could isolate people, and take them one on one or just sky up and shoot it.
SLAM: What about Dr. J?
McADOO: Julius was tough, and he brought the acrobatics to the game, but you didn’t have the same fear playing him as when you played the Bullets. At least I didn’t. There was just something against playing against those three—Elvin, Wes and Dandridge. They were going to beat you up physically, and they were going to go over the top and shoot on you. The Sixers weren’t as intimidating, but still you knew you were gonna have hell on your hands with Julius and George McGinnis, who was really physical, and very agile, at 6-8. Him and Julius coming at you with their big hands could really control the ball. When that Philadelphia team put it together they were just tough.  But they really got tough later, when I was with the Lakers and they got Moses [Malone]. Now you’re talking about a complete team. They had Mo Cheeks, who was gonna run the offense, Andrew Toney, Bobby Jones, who was going to play great defense and run, plus Julius. They just had a great, great team.
SLAM: What was playing against Moses like at that point?
McADOO: Hell. Even though he was Kareem’s responsibility, we always had to always help out, because we knew Moses was going to throw it up on the boards, and go get it. He’s gonna get his 20 rebounds. He was just a force on the boards. And in a different way than Dennis Rodman is. I mean, Dennis Rodman gets an offensive rebound, you don’t worry about it. Moses gets a rebound, he’s going to put it back in. Bet on it.
SLAM: What do you remember about Dan Issel?
McADOO: Oh he was tough. There’s another guy who should have been on that Top 50 list. He could play and put up some points. He was a tough customer, but not the same thing as Lanier or Kareem.
SLAM: Who was the dirtiest player you ever played against?
McADOO: I think the whole Celtics teams were the dirtiest. They could get away with anything. The teams of Havlicek, Cowens, JoJo White and Charlie Scott used to get away with murder.
SLAM: How was playing with Magic?
McADOO: Great. You’re talking about somebody who’s going to get the ball to you at the right time every time and you know it. Here he is playing guard at 6-8. He could just look right over the defense; a guard putting a hand up didn’t bother him one iota. Me and Jamaal and James used to cut off of Kareem and the ball would be right there on your hands. Or if you’re on a fastbreak, on a wing, he’ll give it to you in perfect position. If you’re posted up, he would break a play, because he would see the mismatch and bring the ball to you. It was just  a pleasure to know that if you’re open, you’re going to get the ball right there, on the button.
SLAM: James Worthy joined the Lakers your second year with the team. How did you like playing with him?
McADOO: A pleasure, man. James became a force immediately because he could run and he was very competitive. He would come in on the fastbreak, swooping like an eagle with those big hands, and make the play. He could finish—and so could everyone else on that team. We just had every position covered in L.A., a bunch of guys who could finish or make their own play. That’s what made us so tough.
SLAM: James Worthy, like yourself, came from the University of North Carolina. How was playing for Dean Smith?
McADOO: That was great. It was some of the hardest work I ever did as a basketball player, but it got us all ready for the next level. Without a doubt, playing for Dean helped prepare you for the NBA. He taught you how to evolve when you’re young, and he just helped finish and polish the product. And he was a fair man. He was absolutely great to play for. I still talk to him. He stays in contact with me and my family, my boys get scholarships to his basketball camp, he remembers birthdays and stuff like that. The guy’s just great.
SLAM: You played in Italy from 1986-92. Why did you decide to do that, rather than staying here and playing in the NBA, which you definitely could have done?
McADOO: I was tired of fighting and battling for a contract year after tear after having a good season. It’s a different league now, with people keeping guys like Robert Parish and Eddie Johnson around. At the time, people were like “Well, he’s getting old. He’s 32, 33, almost over the hill.’ That wasn’t so. It’s just the way people thought at that time. And I got tired of negotiating, battling all the time. I said, ‘hey, I had a good year in Philly. I got traded the year we won the championship and was the top reserve in L.A. I got tired of fightin’ it year after year, so I went over to Italy and had a great time. I figured I’d check it out, and I loved it. We won everything over there. The European championship, the Italian championship. We were the first team to play in the McDonald’s Open. It was great. I played four years in Milan, and just tremendously enjoyed the whole Italian experience, to be honest.
SLAM: Do you think that those years over there hurt your overall reputation here?
McADOO: I don’t know. What I did in the NBA had happened in the NBAI even came back for the McDonald’s Open and played well in Milwaukee one year, with games of 45 and 39, so people still knew I was out there and could still play. Why it happened that way, I don’t know.
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