The Pivotal Season
By Charley Rosen
This is a story that needs to be told, as this fabulous team is not given enough credit since their single-season victory record has been eclipsed. Unfortunately, the wrong guy is telling it.
Charley Rosen, is simply a hack. I had never heard of him until I read this book. Since then, I have read some of his articles on Fox Sports website, and I am more convinced that he is a lazy sportswriter, who won't look up facts and lets no truth stand in the way of his spreading his pompous erroneous ideas. No factoid is too big to ignore nor any truth too difficult to discard in his attempts to spread venom.
It is obvious quickly that Rosen is no fan of Wilt Chamberlain and worships Jerry West and Bill Sharman. Don't get me wrong, Wilt had his faults, and West was phenomenal, and Sharman should be in the hall of fame for his coaching, but I will present four passages to prove how much of a vendetta Rosen has:
Page 14 :
"Indeed, the Lakers were in firm control of the game when Chamberlain committed his fifth personal foul late in the third quarter. Coach Butch van Breda Kolff immediately sent Mel Counts, a lanky seven foot jump shooter, in for Chamberlain.
Unfortunately, one of Chamberlain's most cherished personal records was his never having fouled out of a game. So when van Breda Kolff called for Chamberlain to reenter the fray midway through the fourth quarter, the big man refused, mumbling something about an aching knee. Infuriated by Wilt's monumental selfishness, van Breda Kolff vowed to keep Chamberlain on the bench and win the game, and the championship, with Counts.
As the game raced toward the wire with the Celtics relentlessly eating into the Lakers' lead, Chamberlain approached his coach and asked to return to the action. But the always stubborn van Breda Kolff refused, and Chamberlain sat on the bench for the duration."
Now, let's analyze the outright lies of this passage:
#1) Wilt did not leave the game in the 3rd, but rather, there was 5:13 left in the 4th quarter.
#2) The Lakers were not "in firm control of the game" when Chamberlain left. They were down by 9 points.
#3 & 4) Wilt did not leave because he picked up his 5th foul, nor did he refuse to reenter the game when asked. He left because he went up for a rebound and when he came down, he banged his knee. After hobbling around on the court, he went to the bench to get topical spray applied. Wilt said, "They helped me off the court, and i just needed a breather for a second. Butch put in Mel Coutns for me, but after a minute I said I was ready to come back in. Butch ignored me." Van Breda Kolff even said, "Wilt was hurting and you could see him limping. I put in Counts, he hit a couple of shots and we made the comeback...Wilt told me that he was okay, but I said we'd keep things as they were. He told me a second time he wanted to go back in, but I told Wilt the truth. I said, 'We're playing better without you.' Earl Strom, who officiated the game, said, "In a sense, I respect Butch for making one of the dumbest moves any coach has ever made. You just don't try to win a title with Mel Counts when you have Wilt Chamberlain, but...He always was his own man and he would coach his own way." [All quotes taken from Tall Tales, by Terry Pluto.] For the record, Chamberlain played 43 minutes, and shot 7-for-8, scoring 18 points and pulling down 21 rebounds. Counts was 4-for-13 shooting with 5 points.
#5) The Celtics did not relentlessly eat into the Lakers lead with Chamberlain on the bench, rather, L.A. cut Boston's lead to 1 point.
There - five outright lies in one short passage. This is not obscure information. This can be found in many different books and articles. Rosen decided research was not needed, since he found his own brand of fiction is more entertaining, at least to himself.
Here is Rosen's account of the legendary "Willis Reed" game 7 in 1970: "Chamberlain, clearly intimidated by Reed's dramatic display of courage, was rendered passive and impotent." (p.15) Reed had 4 points and 2 rebounds. Chamberlain had 21 points and 24 rebounds. The Knicks' Walt Frazier, a guard mind you, had 39 points and 19 assists. Either West got burned or his coach lacked the faith in him to defend the hot hand. Do you see this mentioned? No. What Rosen also neglected to mention was that when Reed went down in game 5, the Lakers collapsed on Chamberlain and Rosen's idol Jerry West took only 2 shots the 2nd half, missing both, while the Lakers committed 30 turnovers, trying to force the ball into Wilt, rather than taking the open shot.
In another passage (p. 116), Rosen says after the 1970 finals, Chamberlain and Bill Russell never spoke again. Rosen obviously missed the Bob Costas interview with the 2 of them at the 1997 All-Star game, in which Russell made a public apology, and he must have missed the 1999 (2nd) retiring of Russell's number, in which Wilt was invited and attended, despite being in bad health, 5 months away from his death.
In another passage (p.136), Rosen is writing of Coach Sharman's ponderings about his player's ability to handle the pressure of winning the title. He writes, "West would probably be pressure proof...that left El Foldo (Chamberlain) himself.
Let's analyze this joke:
#1) Number of Championships at that point
in time: Chamberlain 1, West 0.
#2) West had lost in the finals in 1962, 63, 65, 66, 68, 69, and 70, 4 times losing in game 7. West never defeated Russell in the post-season. Chamberlain had (1967).
#3) West's only championship came after Chamberlain joined the team.
#4) In the 1972 post-season, West went cold in the conference finals against Milwaukee and in the finals against the Knicks. In the Milwaukee series, West shot 31-for-101 in 4 of the games. In the Finals, West shot 38-for-117, while "El Foldo", the Finals' MVP, averaged 21.6 ppg and 23.2 rpg, playing with a broken arm in a soft cast.
Furthermore, Rosen writes a chapter where he introduces each of the players, and when you read it, you can sense he really loves white basketball players, while taking digs at black players, with the exception being Columbia educated Jim McMillan. He also takes digs at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar throughout the story, while he loves the Knicks, namely Jerry Lucas, Dave DeBuschere, and his buddy Phil Jackson (whom he co-wrote a book about).
On a side note, if I haven't made my point about how Rosen disregards facts, look at this review of his book The Wizard of Odds: How Jack Molinas almost destroyed the game of basketball on Amazon.com:
Caveat Emptor: This book is based in large part on interviews conducted by the late New York Post sports columnist Milton Gross, my father. They were used without the permission of his heirs, and were never checked against the audiotapes on which they were based which are in my possession and have been for almost thirty years. But what's worse is that the book is factually inaccurate and the author did not even attempt to confirm what he printed. Instead of thanking the person whose work he based his book on, Rosen prints untruths about him. One example: on the last page of the book, Rosen has Milton Gross skipping Molinas' funeral and instead, attempting to cash in on his death. Milton Gross had been dead for over two years when Molinas died. He would have had to make that call from his grave.
The story of the Lakers is an interesting story, but with so much romanticized fiction tossed in, it detracts from the story and makes you wonder how much is true and how much is made up.
The Pivotal Season. How the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers changed the NBA. Charley Rosen. Thomas Dunne Books. 2005.