I was a decade too late, missed the heyday of these guys playing in the NBA. Except for Alcindor, of course, whom I knew as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lakers icon of the '80s and '90s.
Walt "Clyde" Frazier? Oscar Robertson? Only rumors. Frazier felt more real, though, because he led Southern Illinois University to the 1967 NIT title back when that tournament's prestige rivaled the NCAA's. And a lot of people in my country hometown (30 miles north of SIU) recalled Clyde and those dominant Salukis teams he led.
But I never saw them play, until a few days ago. I've been digging into a lot of retro hoops and uncovering full-color full games. It's wonderful.
November 26, 1970. The defending world champion New York Knickerbockers travel to Milwaukee to face the Bucks. The Bucks were 17-1, riding a 16-game winning streak, led by Robertson, who was in his first season with Milwaukee after years with the Cincinnati Royals, and a 23-year-old Alcindor in his second NBA season.
The Knicks featured point guard Frazier and the deft and explosive Willis Reed of Grambling State, both at the top of their games. It was the day after Thanksgiving at Milwaukee Arena, which is still in use as the home of the UW-Milwaukee Panthers of the Horizon League.
Keith Jackson and Jack Twyman (The Big O's teammate in Cincinnati) were the announcers. I love seeing the court devoid of advertisements, hearing an organ as the only between-play entertainment, catching the natural sounds picked up by on-court mics of dribbles against the hardwood and shots banging the iron rim.
It's beautiful in its simplicity, the game speaking for itself. This version also includes all the commercial breaks, too.
If you don't want to stick around to the end (which you should, and make note of a young Phil Jackson guarding Alcindor late in the fourth quarter) I'll give you some numbers. The Knicks snapped Milwaukee's winning streak, 103-94. Here's what the biggest of the big guns did that day:
Oscar Robertson: 18 points, 7 assists
Lew Alcindor: 33 points, 16 rebounds, 5 blocks
Walt Frazier: 20 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds
Willis Reed: 34 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks
Look at the flow of the game, the ball movement and up-tempo scoring before the three-point line was brought into the league. Appreciate that battle on the blocks between two legendary big men.
Milwaukee went on to win the NBA title with the Big O running the show, sweeping the Baltimore Bullets, for its first and only championship to date.
Of course, the Knicks knew all about NBA championships. Soon after leading the Salukis to that NIT title in college, Frazier was the floor general for the 1970 Knicks title team that knocked off Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West & Co. in seven games. You might know that one as the Willis Reed Game when Reed defied injury and made his heroic appearance.
Overshadowed is Frazier's otherworldly performance in that clincher: 36 points and 19 assists. Here are Clyde's highlights from that one, including wonderful footage of Wilt and other luminaries.