The San Francisco FlameThrowers, a professional ultimate team playing in the San Francisco Bay Area, play their next home game on July 15, against the Seattle Cascades at 6  p.m. All FlameThrowers home games are played at the Laney College Football Field  in Oakland.  For information and tickets,  click here.
6-26-17 - NBA
With a snazzy backdrop, the Cleveland Cavaliers' brain trust began adding collegians to the expansion team's first roster in 1970. From left to right, assistant coach Jim Lessig, head coach Bill Fitch and owner Nick Mileti. The college draft, and the expansion draft of unprotected NBA players, resulted in a 15-win debut season. (Photo and caption from Cleveland's Plain Dealer, 1970.)

6-26-17 - Nick Curran
Former NBA director of public relations,  Nick Curran.
Photo by Ann Cooke.

When the NBA Draft was a Phone Call

By Nick Curran

When the Golden State Warriors eliminated the Cleveland Cavaliers for their second NBA Championship in three years, and recorded an awesome 16-1 post-season record this spring, the accomplishments sent shock waves throughout the league.

The NBA Draft was only 10 days away, on June 22, with free agency and trades to follow. Magic Johnson, the new president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers, furiously tried to acquire players to rebuild and make a run at the Warriors as quickly as possible. So did the Boston Celtics, who had the best record in the Eastern Conference. So did Cleveland, which arguably was one player away from matching Golden State. So did the Los Angeles Clippers, who signed legendary Jerry West to consult on player talent.

The days prior to the draft were inundated 24/7 on social media, on cable TV, radio and newspapers worldwide with NBA news. The best college prospects coming out had just one year of collegiate activity but which players had the best upside potential? Which players were the most NBA-ready now? Which teams should trade up or down to get an edge? How much cap space could be created? Which free agents should be traded now? And the money involved was mind boggling.

ESPN and NBATV prepared for live coverage of the draft in prime time for five thrilling hours last Thursday. The Barclays Center in Brooklyn sold more than 11,000 tickets, at $20 or more each, for fans to witness this spectacle for the fifth straight year. If you were an NBA junkie, the suspense was numbing with so much at stake.

It didn't used to be that way.

6-26-17 - Nick Curran
Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Glickman (right) interviews the NBA's director of public relations, Nick Curran, at Madison Square Garden during a New York Knicks game in 1969. Glickman also did play-by-play of the first NBA game in 1946. Photo by George Kalinsky.

In the 1970s, the NBA Draft was a phone call, or specifically, a conference call among all teams. Yet to those of us involved at the time, it was as good as it got, and we were grateful for the excitement.

There was no ESPN or live TV coverage. There was virtually no sponsorship yet. Fans had no cell phones to watch streaming coverage, and no arena to attend the event.

There was also no Draft Lottery prior to the draft. The last-place teams in the Eastern and Western Divisions participated in a coin flip in the Commissioner's office to determine who picked first.

I was very lucky to serve as the NBA's director of public relations from 1969-76. On draft day, commissioner Walter Kennedy entrusted me to handle the conference call. Weeks before the draft, I asked some scouts and general managers to supply the league office with the names, heights, weights, colleges, correct spellings and pronunciations of all potential draftees. All this data was then typed alphabetically so I could officially announce who was drafted.

The media covered the conference call from each of the NBA team's offices. After much discussion, since prime time coverage was unavailable, we conducted the draft starting at 12 noon, Eastern Time. The afternoon papers had the first picks as story lines. The dinner time TV and radio had full coverage, as did the following morning's newspapers, nationwide.

The 1970 NBA Draft was special. There was a bumper crop of talent from the colleges, plus the intrigue as to which league would land the biggest names. Since 1967, the NBA was competing for players with the American Basketball Association (ABA). With Bob Lanier, Pete Maravich and Dave Cowens turning pro, and as it turned out, six future Hall of Famers and six future NBA head coaches in the mix, both leagues competed for talent.

Eligibility rules were very different. Most players had one year of freshman competition and three years of varsity. Those who wanted to enter the NBA early had to wait until their original college class graduated. And NBA teams had modest budgets for scouting college players. Scouting international players was almost non-existent. Two foreign prospects were drafted in 1970, and both never made an NBA roster.

In the end, our NBA conference call that day covered 19 rounds and a record of 239 players drafted. The entire process lasted TWO hours!

6-26-17 - Nick Curran
Sports cartoonist Alan Maver drew a caricature of NBA director of public relations Nick Curran as a gift for his help with many NBA player-cartoons syndicated to hundreds of newspapers nationwide.

Lanier, a 6-10, 250-pound center from St. Bonaventure's, went first to Detroit. He turned them into a perennial championship contender and in 1992 was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. If you visit the Hall in Springfield, MA, visitors are able to compare their shoe size with Bob's, a record-setting size 22.

Rudy Tomjanovich of Michigan was selected after Lanier and starred with San Diego, which relocated to Houston the following year. Maravich went third. "Pistol Pete" was a legend at LSU, scoring 3,667 points in three seasons, still an NCAA Division One record. He averaged an unheard-of 44.2 points per game. And this was before the three-point field goal was legalized! Maravich was an All-Star in Atlanta and later New Orleans. Cowens went to Boston and led them to two NBA championships.

The most notable college stars lost to the ABA that season were Dan Issel and Charley Scott. Issel, an All-American at the University of Kentucky, was drafted No. 122 but signed with the rival ABA's Kentucky Colonels. Charley Scott, the All-American at the University of North Carolina, was drafted No. 106 but signed with the Virginia Squires. Both were drafted late by the NBA because they appeared ABA-bound. Both later had big years in the NBA.

In fact, Issel was one of six players from the 1970 draft elected to the Hall of Fame -- Issel, Lanier, Maravich, Cowens, Calvin Murphy, and Nate Archibald. Maravich, Cowens and Archibald were also named to the list of the "50 Greatest Players in NBA History" for the league's 50th anniversary celebration in 1997. And six players became NBA head coaches -- Tomjanovich, Cowens, Issel, Lanier, Gar Heard, and George Irvine.

Three expansion franchises drafted for the first time in 1970, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers and Buffalo Braves (now known as the Los Angeles Clippers.) They drafted seventh, eighth and ninth in each round. All other clubs drafted in the reverse order of their won-loss record the previous season.

The 1970 Draft was not without its light moments. In the early rounds, when teams drafted a player of questionable value, general managers and coaches would voice their opinions over the nationwide phone hookup in 17 cities. Some were hilarious, and media in other cities quoted them since the voices of familiar NBA figures (such as Red Auerbach) were easy to identify.

A Philadelphia newspaperman quickly phoned Al Henry after he was drafted by the 76ers with the 12th pick in the first round. He reached Henry, a 6-9 center at the University of Wisconsin, and asked how it felt to be drafted 12th. "You mean the 12th round?" Henry asked. "No. First round, 12th pick," the writer answered. Al was speechless. After two seasons with the 76ers and just 49 games, averaging only four points and three rebounds, Al Henry was history.

It was so much fun being a part of the NBA then, but given the choice, the NBA of today has it all.

Nick Curran was the NBA's director of public relations from 1969 to 1976. After his NBA years, Nick and his wife, Eileen, spent 47 years combined, partnering as vice presidents/financial advisers at Morgan Stanley and its predecessor firm, Dean Witter Reynolds, in Santa Barbara. They retired in 2012 and are the proud grandparents of 
Edison James Curran.
3-6-17 - Pops

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