Thursday, September 19, 2013

March 10, 1977

Where were you on March 10, 1977?

TigerBlog knows where he was. He'd actually forgotten all about it until this morning, when he was listening to the "Boomer and Carton Show" on WFAN on the way to work.

The hosts were interviewing a writer named Brian Touhy, who is coming out with a book about how the FBI was investigating the Knicks back in the 1981-82 season about possible point shaving. This was all related to the team's wide usage of cocaine.

TB isn't sure about the first, though it wouldn't shock him were it true; he has no doubt about the second.

Anyway, Touhy was telling stories about other suspected point shaving allegations, and he brought up a story about Earl Monroe, the great Knicks (and previously Baltimore Bullets) guard.

Back on March 10, 1977, the Knicks were playing the Portland Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden. New York was up 108-102 in the final seconds, as in the final one or two seconds, when Monroe shot the ball into his own basket, making the final 108-104.

Knicks win. So what's the big deal?

Well, the betting line was five points, so if you bet on the Knicks, you would have won had Monroe done anything other than shoot it into his own basket. Instead, you lost, since the two points counted and meant that the Blazers had covered.

TigerBlog was in the building that night.

FatherBlog had gotten tickets long before that game, because the 1976-77 Portland Trail Blazers were one of the greatest teams in NBA history. That is, when Bill Walton was healthy. With him, the Blazers won nearly 70% of their games and then won the NBA title.

Without him that year, they were 5-12 in 17 games, including the one that March night in the Garden.

TB took the bus into the city, and he's pretty sure it was the first time he'd ever done that alone. He met FatherBlog in the Port Authority building.

His instructions were to get off the bus, find a police officer and ask him where the designated meeting spot was, which happened to be a giant sign that said "Information" on it. As it turned out, the first member of the NYPD that TB saw was standing about 10 feet from FatherBlog, so TB bypassed that step.

Anyway, later that night, the Blazers hit a bucket with only a few ticks left, making it a six-point game. The Knicks inbounded to Monroe, who shot a baseline jumper (as TB remembers it) into his own basket as time expired.

TigerBlog doesn't remember the reaction of the crowd as the buzzer went off. He's pretty sure he didn't realize the gambling implications at the time either.

In fact, he remembers vividly all these years later the feeling that it was no big deal, since the game had already been won. Monroe, TB remembers, might as well have thrown the ball in the stands or dribbled it out. It was like an instinctive move - catch the ball, shoot it, run off the court.

As TB listened this morning, he realized that it could have been something more sinister, though Monroe was investigated and cleared by the league.

If he had been shaving points that night, he didn't do a very good job. Monroe, who averaged 19.9 per game that year, scored 24 and shot 6 for 8 from the line. If you're going to shave points, missing foul shots, TB supposes, is a good place to start.

Plus, Monroe left it to the very last second to cover the spread, if that was his intention. And a baseline jumper? Not a high percentage way to do it.

And TB always liked Earl the Pearl, so he gives him the benefit of the doubt.

He always liked Bill Walton too. So did Bill Carmody, who as TB has said before, came into TB's office one day and said that the greatest college basketball player of all time was in the Jadwin men's room.

Walton was there as part of his son Nate's recruiting process at Princeton. Nate Walton, as any Princeton fan knows, was a key member of some of the great moments in the last 25 years of Tiger basketball, including the 1997 and 1998 league championship teams as a reserve and then as the leader of the 2001 Ivy champ.

The 2000-01 season was going to be one of great uncertainty at Princeton. Carmody had left to become the head coach at Northwestern. Assistant coach Joe Scott left to take over at Air Force.

The reigns at Princeton fell to untested John Thompson, in his first season as a head coach. Princeton's roster had lost some thought-to-be irreplaceable players, such as Chris Young (pro baseball) and Spencer Gloger (transferred to UCLA before coming back).

Penn was the league's prohibitive favorite that season, with a roster that included Ugonna Onyekwe, Koko Archibong, Geoff Owens and Lamar Plummer.

Princeton defeated Penn at the Palestra in midseason after the teams had entered the game tied for first in the league at 5-1. The win improved the Tigers to 11-8 overall, and Thompson, when asked after the game where this win ranked for him, said somewhat famously "well, I have 11, and this one's definitely in the top 10."

The teams met again at Jadwin on the final night of the regular season, with Princeton at 10-3 and Penn at 9-4, meaning a Quaker win would force a playoff and a Tiger win would mean an outright title.

The game was close at the half, with Princeton up 31-26, but the Tigers went on a big run in the second half to take control. The final was 68-52 Princeton, in front of an announced crowd of 7,133.

As for Walton, he played a nearly perfect game, with nine points, eight rebounds, seven assists and six steals.

Princeton was sent to New Orleans for the NCAA tournament, and Julius Peppers - the longtime NFL defensive lineman and All-Pro - and North Carolina took it to Princeton. But it didn't matter to TB.

The 2000-01 men's basketball season remains one of TB's all-time favorites. So does Nate Walton, who is one of the best natural leaders - and funniest people - TB has ever met.

A year after 2001 season, Walton called TB to tell him there was a mistake in Thompson's bio in the media guide. It said basically that Thompson had led a team without a star to the Ivy title, and Walton said "that's not true. I was a star."

Not too many people could get away with that.

Anyway, TB's ride to work started with a game from long ago that he was randomly at, and as he thought about more and more, he got all the way to Nate Walton and the 2001 men's basketball team.

Both are really good memories.

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