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For the NBA, Charity Begins in Cleveland, While L.A. Is Ignored

June 16, 1986|MIKE DOWNEY

There were those who designated the 1970s as the Me Decade--a time of selfishness, of narcissism, of loving thy neighbor only if thy neighbor was really, really cute. After fearing for world salvation and watching babies being boomed in the war-torn 1960s, the generation of the next 10 years began to worry about No. 1.

Then came the 1980s. Came a time for thinking about the other guy. A time for singing hymns and holding hands to help the impoverished. A time for purchasing baggy white sweatshirts with "USA for (Somebody)" emblazoned across the front. A time for charity. A Them Decade.

This spirit continues, and professional basketball wants to do its part. Help the needy. Give till it hurts. Reach out and touch someone.

That is why, with another college player draft scheduled Tuesday to enrich the rosters of every team in the league, the National Basketball Assn. once again is willing to see to it that the Cleveland Cavaliers, the finest bunch of guys ever to play out of Richfield, Ohio, do not feel left out.

The Cavs will pick eighth. They will pick Kenny Walker or Ron Harper or Dell Curry or somebody cool like that. They will pick a player who will fit right in with some of their other exciting players, like . . . like . . . Well, I am sure Cleveland has several exciting players. I just cannot seem to name one at the moment.

Earlier in this generosity-filled decade, the NBA Board of Governors sat down at a long table, cleared their throats and discussed the sale of the Cleveland franchise from Ted ("Come On Down, Friends, We're Having a One-Day Clearance Sale") Stepien to the well-to-do Gund brothers, Gordon and George.

The Gunds were willing to take the Cavaliers off of Stepien's hands, provided the Board of Governors make a couple of concessions. See, Stepien, in his eagerness to improve the Cavs and strike fear in the hearts of Celtic-lovers everywhere, gambled the future for the present, dispensing draft picks as readily as any man had since George Allen ran the Washington Redskins.

The Gunds told the Guvs: "Look, fellas. We'd love to buy this team. But we don't have a first-round draft choice for the next four years. At this rate, we're never going to get any better. Hellllllllp!"

Well, the Guvs had to do something.

Did they give the Cavaliers their choice of anybody in the entire Continental Basketball Assn., which includes the Lancaster Lightning, the Wyoming Wildcatters and the Wisconsin Sharp Cheddars, or whatever their name was?

They did not.

Did they throw a Cav Aid concert, hiring Lionel Richie, Willie Nelson and Tina Turner to appeal to those who hated to see a professional basketball team go hungry?

They did not.

No, the Board of Governors put the Gunds to their heads and said, what the heck, fellas, let us give these poor souls a first-round draft choice in each of the next four seasons. No charge. Absolutely free. Offer expires June, 1986, so hurry and place your order now! Operators are standing by.

The Gunds said: "Where do we sign?"

Wait, the Guvs said. There's more! There won't be a seven-team draft lottery for a couple of years yet, because nobody will think of it until then. For now, we still have a coin flip for the No. 1 pick in the draft between the team with the worst record in the Western Conference and the team with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

We do not think the Cavaliers should be entitled to be in the coin flip with a freebie draft choice. So, we will stick a clause in your contract that, for the next four years, your first-round pick will be no higher than No. 3 and no lower than No. 8. Sound reasonable?

The Gunds said: "Give us a pen."

That is why the Cleveland Cavaliers continue to draft in the first round to this day. That is why they have been able to dicker and maneuver in the draft, negotiating for raw talents such as Melvin Turpin and Keith Lee, both of whom just missed earning honorable mention on the NBA's All-Northern Ohio team.

I must say, I admire the NBA for its philanthropy, for its benevolent donation to a basketball team that, as the 1982 season came to end, found itself with the amazing record of 15-67. A record so bad, the Lancaster Lightning was appealing to the CBA and NBA to change leagues.

But I cannot help thinking--how about spreading this generosity around? How about helping another needy team, a team darn near as needy as the Cavaliers?

How about helping the L.A. Clippers?

When that 1982 season ended, San Diego's soon-to-be-vamoosing basketball team had a record of 17-65, almost, but not quite, as pitiful as Cleveland's. And the future was in jeopardy. The 1984 first-round pick was gone--gone to Philadelphia for World B. Free (a man, not a charity organization). The 1986 first-round pick was gone--gone to Philadelphia for Jellybean Bryant (a man, not a snack for the hungry).

The Clippers also had a guy named Terry Cummings, who they traded for Marques Johnson. The Clippers later tried to sue to get Cummings back.

The Clippers also had a guy named Bill Walton, whose feet kept bothering him, right up until the moment when he put them in the shoes of the Boston Celtics. More talent--gone.

But does the NBA Board of Governors step in and give the needy Clippers a first-round pick in Tuesday's draft?

They do not.

Please, Guvs. Philadelphia does not need more of the Clippers' help. Boston does not need more of the Clippers' help. Give to the Clippers. Give till it hurts. Give us your poor, your huddled masses, your Len Biases and Scott Skileses. Hellllllllp!

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