Edson: An All-Star day with Dr. J and Kareem
Watching some of the NBA All-Star game on Sunday night brought back a great day that happened 40 years ago.
It was 40 years ago almost to the day – Feb. 4, 1979 – when I walked into the Pontiac Silverdome to cover the NBA all-star game. Ten weeks earlier, in November, 1978, I had been at the Silverdome to cover the Traverse City Trojans football team as it won its second Class A state championship. But as I walked in on that winter day in 1979, the Silverdome looked much different.
There was a large blue curtain drawn across the center of the field.
So later in the day, when more than 31,000 fans filled the seats surrounding the makeshift basketball court, the place looked full.
With my media badge, I was allowed access to both the East and West All-Star locker rooms. So I made a beeline there. When I entered the West dressing room, there was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holding a serious conversation with former Boston Celtics great John Havlicek. Havlicek had a media badge on, too. He was the color analyst for CBS play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger.
When that conversation broke up, I walked to Kareem’s locker along with 4-5 other writers. We asked him about his impressions of Detroit and what it would be like playing in a football stadium. His answers were kind and thoughtful. He even displayed a good sense of humor when he said his goal was to be an NFL tight end.
After a half hour in the West locker room, I moved over to the East’s. The object of most of the media attention was Julius Erving, Dr. J. He understood why we wanted to talk to him and he gave us colorful, good answers. The same with the three players on the East with Michigan connections – Bob Lanier, George Gervin and Campy Russell. What I couldn’t figure out was why no one was talking to one of my boyhood heroes – Pete Maravich. He practically re-invented the game at LSU, when he averaged 44 points a game during his three-year college career. He did it with flair – a flamboyant array of dribbling, passing and shooting. I was about to find out why “Pistol Pete” was alone. He was a sullen, surly person who acted as if the world owed him a huge debt. He treated his teammates and the media with equal disdain. When several of us asked him some questions – part of his job during the hours before the game – he told us all, in no polite way, to “go to hell.”
I remember Elvin Hayes and Moses Malone watching the situation unfold. They motioned for us to come over to their lockers for interviews. They were both first class. The game – as most all-star games are – was a shootout. The media tables were set up all around the court, so we had a first-hand look at all the action. And it was incredible.
Halfway through the fourth quarter, we had to turn in our MVP ballots. It was a near unanimous vote for former North Carolina State star David Thompson, who scored 25 points to lead the West to a 134-129 victory. Afterwards, there were a few quick interviews. But the players were in a hurry to catch planes and get back to their homes.
It’s funny what you remember about experiences like that. Most of my memories were about the first-class way that Dr. J., Kareem, Moses Malone and Elvin Hayes treated us.
That’s more than I can say for the late Pete Maravich.
Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.