Original Old School: ‘Doo the Right Thing
SLAM 24: Bob McAdoo redefined the center position.
SLAM: What happened in New York ['77-78]? The rap is that they just gathered up a bunch of big names 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 this were in the ’70s.
They just didn’t give [our team] a chance to develop. I really think we could have done something, given a little more time to gel. We had a starting front line of me, Spencer [Haywood] – who was still in his prime – and Lonnie Shelton. Well, all three of us got NBA Championship rings after we left, so that says that something was wrong with the management. Shelton got his in Seattle, Spencer and I got outs in L.A. So we had the horses there, but it never had a chance to bloom.
SLAM: When you played in Buffalo, it seems like the team just about to bloom, 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 that 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 the won the championship, and that was without a ton of talent.
SLAM: After the Celtics, you went to the Pistons in ’79. 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.
SLAM: Is it hard to maintain your 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 on 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 ff the bench, because I shouldn’t have, but that’s the ay the program worked there, and I just dealt with it. And it was really satisfying to be part of such great teams.
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 and 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 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: Do you see any guys who remind you of you?
McADOO: Not really. Hakeem [Olajuwon] 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 position 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 three, four or five on me, depending in 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 defense, you were giving up 50-60 pounds. What did you do to compensate?
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: Weren’t you at 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 players 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: Who was the dirtiest player you ever played against?
McADOO: I think those Celtic teams were the dirtiest. They could get away with anything. The teams of Havlicek, Cowens, Jo Jo White and Charlie Scott used to get away with murder.
SLAM: How was playing with Magic Johnson?
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 6-9. He could just look right over the defense; a guard putting a hand up didn’t bother him one iota. Me and Jamaal [Wilkes] and James [Worthy] used to cut off of Kareem, and the ball would be right there in your hands. Or if you were on a fast break, on a wing, he’d give it to you in perfect position. If you were 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 were open, you were going to get the ball right there, on the button.
SLAM: You played in Italy from ’86-92. Why did you decide to do that?
McADOO: I was tired of fighting and battling for a contract year after year, 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.”
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 reputation?
McADOO: I don’t know. What I did in the NBA happened in the NBA. I even came back for the McDonald’s Open one year and played well in Milwaukee, 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.