This is a new series, where this author tries to find players who have been forgotten about, but deserve more recognition than they have received. These articles will dissect the player’s career, highlight their best season, and try to offer an explanation for why they have been forgotten.
Bob McAdoo (Played in the NBA from 1973 to 1986)
Bob McAdoo is one of the best bigs in the NBA’s history. He was a 5x All-Star, the 1975 MVP, a 2x NBA Champion, 2x All-NBA, and made both the Basketball HOF and the College Basketball HOF. Somehow, despite this decorated career, he has been forgotten and not remembered with the same level of fondness as the likes of Bill Walton, who had a less successful career by far. Let’s take a rewind, and see what McAdoo was like.
Bob McAdoo was taken 2nd in the 1972 NBA Draft by the Buffalo Braves, who would later move out west and become the Los Angeles Clippers. The No.1 pick that year was one LaRue Martin, who is known now as the beginning of the Portland TrailBlazers infamous big men injury curse. At this point, the Braves were wholly unremarkable. They had entered the league in 1970 and had gone 22-60 in their first two years of existence. Meanwhile, McAdoo was an emerging talent out of college. He had started his career at Vincennes Junior College but moved to North Carolina in 1971. He averaged 19.5 points and 10.1 rebounds in his only year in Division One basketball. He made All-American First Team that year. He then cited family hardship and was allowed to declare for the 1972 NBA Draft. This would be the beginning of a very successful pro basketball career.
In his rookie year, McAdoo made an instant impact, averaging 18 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 1.7 assists. This was enough for him to win Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately, his team didn’t have similar success, as the Braves finished 21-61.
In his second year, he went ballistic, averaging a league-high 30.6 points a game on league-leading .547 FG%. He also averaged 15.1 rebounds and 3.3 blocks. The Braves improved as well, winning a franchise record 42 games. This was the beginning of 3 straight years leading the league in scoring. The team ended up getting knocked out in the first round, losing to the eventual champion Celtics.
In Year Three, McAdoo averaged a career high 34.5 points, along with 14.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 2.1 blocks. He also won the 1974-75 MVP, which meant that he was tied 2nd for youngest MVP at that point in time, equal to Bob Pettit, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and only behind Wes Unseld. This is insane. The Braves won 49 games that year, but lost in 7 to the Washington Bullets in the first round again.
In Year 4, McAdoo’s final year with the Braves, he led the league in scoring for a third year, averaging 31.1 points a game. He accompanied that with 12.4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2.1 blocks a game. The Braves won 46 games that year, making it to the Conference Semifinals as well. They beat the 76ers 2-1 in the first round, before falling to the Celtics in 6 games.
Knicks, Celtics, Pistons, Nets
This period was hectic for McAdoo, as he never played for longer than two seasons at one team. He played the first 20 games of the 1976-77 season for Buffalo, before being traded to the Knicks in a ridiculously lopsided deal. McAdoo and teammate Tom McMillan were sent to the Knicks, with the Braves receiving cash and John Giannelli. Giannelli was out of the league by 1980 and averaged career numbers of 7.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. Meanwhile, McAdoo averaged 26.7 points, 12 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in his 171 games in the Knicks. Unfortunately, he couldn’t fill the massive shoes left by Knicks legend Willis Reed, which meant that he couldn’t win over the Knicks fans or convince the management that he was the star the team needed to build around. In his time in NYC, McAdoo’s team only made the playoffs once, although that was his only full season there. First, they finished 40-42, which saw them miss the playoffs in Red Holzman’s final season of his first stint in New York. Under Willis Reed, they won 43 games and ended up getting knocked out in the second round by the Philadelphia 76ers. In his final season, a mediocre 6-8 start saw Reed fired and Holzman was brought back in. McAdoo ended up being traded midway through a poor 31-51 season to the Boston Celtics, in exchange for Tom Barker, who played just 20 games with the Knicks before ending a 2 year NBA career, and 3 first-round picks, the best of which turned into Bill Cartwright.
The Celtics weren’t big fans of McAdoo either. He played just 20 games and averaged 20.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2 assists for the pre-Larry Bird Celtics. The team finished 29-53, with 6 of those wins coming after McAdoo arrived.
That wasn’t enough to convince the Celtics, who decided to trade him to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for two first-round picks, which became 1x All-Star Joe Barry Carroll, and the unremarkable center Rickey Brown. Not only was it an undervaluation of a man who won MVP less than 5 years prior, but it was also just a compensation deal for the free-agent signing of M.L. Carr by the Celtics.
In Detroit, McAdoo had several problems. Although he averaged 21.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.4 assists in his first season, he wasn’t able to help the team at all, as they plunged to a 16-66 record that season. In his second year, he played just 6 games for the team, averaging 12 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. Although we don’t know what happened for sure, McAdoo says that the front office and coaching refused to play him, saying they wanted to look at the younger players in the squad. However, according to a NY Times article from the time, there were suspicions around the league that the Pistons were mainly hoping to tank and be involved in the coin toss for the first pick that year. The Pistons continuously insisted that the only reason that McAdoo wasn’t playing was that they wanted to keep him healthy amid concerns about injury troubles for McAdoo, who hadn’t completed a full 82 game season since 1975, his MVP year. However, it didn’t matter, as McAdoo ended up getting waived by the Pistons in March 1981.
He was picked up 2 days later by the New Jersey Nets, who went 24-58 that year. Unfortunately, McAdoo only appeared in 10 games. Due to his frequent switching of teams, and the rumors that had arisen that McAdoo refused to play in Pistons games, McAdoo soon became a “trouble” player in the league, similar to the reputations Dennis Rodman later would garner, and Carmelo Anthony also later had. In his 10 games, he averaged 9.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, and .9 assists. This was the only part of McAdoo’s career where he averaged less than 10 points a game in the NBA.
At this point in time, things were looking bad for McAdoo. It looked like a once-promising career was now going to end in disappointment. However, he really lucked out when Mitch Kupchak got injured. Kupchak was the backup big man behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and when he got injured with a season-ending injury, the Lakers panicked. In a move no one saw coming, GM Bill Sharman sent a 1983 second-round pick to the Nets in exchange for McAdoo on Christmas Eve 1981.
In Bob McAdoo’s time with the LA Lakers, he didn’t do much that made his surface stats look incredible. He averaged 11.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1 assist, .8 blocks, and .5 steals. He started just 1 of his 253 games for the Lake Show and was mainly just a backup behind Kareem for the Lakers. However, he had several important moments, and was important off the bench for the Lakers. In his time in LA, the team went to 4 straight Finals and won 2 of them. This was easily the period of time when he had the most team success, even if his personal scoring took a step back at this time.
Despite the crucial part McAdoo played in these championship Lakers, they decided not to exercise his final year option, which meant he wouldn’t play for them again. On New Years Eve 1986, after not playing for the first part of the season, he agreed to join the Philadelphia 76ers.
Unfortunately, his half-season in Philadelphia was his last act in the NBA. He averaged 10.1 points, a career low 3.6 rebounds, and 1.2 assists. That helped the Sixers win 54 games that year, along with Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Moses Malone, and Maurice Cheeks. The team unfortunately lost in the second round to the Bucks in 7 games.
At the age of 35, Bob McAdoo decided to leave the NBA and move to Italy with Tracer Milan. In his first year there, he averaged 26.1 points and 10.2 rebounds, which was enough to capture the Italian Championship and the EuroLeague Overall, in 7 years in Italy, with Milan, Forli, and Fabriano, he averaged 26.6 points and 8.7 rebounds. This is especially ridiculous considering he was a 6th man for over 5 years before coming to Italy. He ended up with 2x Italian Championships, 2 EuroLeague Championships, and an Italian Cup. This is insane for a guy who played for 7 years after turning 35 years old.
In conclusion, I believe the main reason why Bob McAdoo is largely forgotten is because he doesn’t really have a team legacy. Unlike other legends of his time like Bill Walton and KAJ, who are a big part of a singular team’s history, McAdoo bounced around the league a lot. The only team where he could have had a Walton-esque impact is the Braves, but they never were extremely good, and McAdoo didn’t like living in Buffalo. I also believe that he is more forgotten because his prime was in the 70s. The 70s are largely glossed over due to the fact that a lot of talent in that era played in the ABA, so the NBA was weaker. Although this isn’t his fault, it definitely has an impact. However, he definitely deserves to be remembered more.