Chase Hughes

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The Vault: Looking back at Bullets-Sonics Game 6 of the 1978 NBA Finals

The Vault: Looking back at Bullets-Sonics Game 6 of the 1978 NBA Finals

YouTube is a bizarre place where Gangnam Style get billions of views, where 12-year-olds can become wealthy 'influencers' and where even the strangest of conspiracy theories can find a home.

It's a weird site, but it also has some awesome things like classic NBA games archived in their entirety. With no live NBA basketball on, I have decided to watch some old Wizards and Bullets games and take a new school approach to recapping them. I started with Game 1 of the 1997 playoffs between the Bullets and Bulls, and today I watched Game 6 of the 1978 NBA Finals between the Bullets and SuperSonics.

The Bullets won Game 6 by 35 points. It was one of the largest blowouts in NBA Finals history and it set them up to win the championship days later in Game 7. It was the only championship won by the franchise.

Here are five takeaways from that game, including pictures and GIFs of the best moments...

Bullets fans were wild

For years, D.C. fans and those in the media have speculated what it would be like if the Wizards went on a deep playoff run. The theory has long been that since Washington is a basketball city, the Wizards would become very, very popular. Given they haven't been even to the conference finals since the 1970s, no one really knows for fact what their potential is in terms of local interest.

This game was back when the franchise was at its peak and, man, did D.C. fans love them some Bullets. The crowd noise is overbearing for essentially the entire game and especially when Washington went on scoring runs. The fans at the Capital Centre in Landover, MD were so loud, CBS correspondent Jimmy 'The Greek' could barely hear Brent Musburger during a halftime segment. 

It was like the crowd at Capital One Arena during the Chik-Fil-A free throw promotion in the fourth quarter, but for the entire game. It was absolute madness, the type of raucous energy that would later fill RFK Stadium for Redskins games throughout the 1980s.

And these people were all-in on the theme of the year, which was started by their head coach, Dick Motta; the opera-inspired, would-never-fly-nowadays slogan of 'It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings.'

So many legends

Given this was the pinnacle of the sport, there were many big names involved both on and off the floor. Playing the game were four Hall of Famers: Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, Jack Sikma and Dennis Johnson. Sonics coach Lenny Wilkens was also a Hall of Famer.

Also participating were some recognizable names like Bullets forward Mitch Kupchak, the current GM of the Hornets who was an executive for both of the Lakers teams that won titles with Kobe Bryant. Future NBA coach Paul Silas was a back-up for the Sonics. And Bobby Dandridge, a four-time All-Star, was a key play for the Bullets.

On the broadcast team were Musburger, a legendary play-by-play announcer, plus Hall of Famers Rick Barry and John Havlicek providing color commentary. Doing the around-sports updates for CBS that day was Vin Scully. And the halftime show featured a segment with Red Auerbach called 'Red on Roundball' where he smoked a cigar and told stories of his coaching days. 

Big E was the man

As crazy as the crowd was for the full game, and as much as they loved all of their Bullets players, Hayes was clearly the favorite. Every single time he touched the ball, fans screamed 'EEEEEEEE.' Seriously, every time he touched the ball.

Does anyone in sports today get that treatment? Maybe when a football player whose name includes the sound 'oooo' or 'eeee' makes a play, fans will do something similar. But this was every time Hayes touched the ball, so like 20-plus times in the game, and that seems unique.

There were also fans holding up signs that just had the letter 'E' on them.

And as Hayes played, you could see why they loved him. He was the most dominant player on the court in Game 6 with 21 points, 15 rebounds (eight offensive), five blocks and two steals. Though he didn't shoot particularly well in the game (9-for-23), the Sonics mostly had no answer for him.

So much 70s

This game was played in 1978, so naturally it reflected a very different world than the one we live in today. That could be seen in the fashion of the coaches who were wearing suits that haven't been in style really ever since. Motta had a plaid thing going on while Wilkens went for the unbuttoned shirt look and set an NBA record for chest exposure.

You could also see major differences in the commercials. Pitchmen included Rodney Dangerfield, Joe Namath and, uh, O.J. Simpson. There was also a commercial for Dutch Masters cigars.

There were some relics of the league itself on display. The series wasn't called the 'NBA Finals,' it was known as the 'NBA World Championship Series.' And then-commissioner Larry O'Brien was in attendance. The NBA Finals trophy is now, of course, named after him.

As dated as much of it was, there were some similarities to today. Like, when Musburger gave a shoutout to DeMatha High School's basketball program with Adrian Dantley in attendance. DeMatha is still a basketball powerhouse and synonymous with area hoops.

And there was a familiar face behind the Bullets' bench if you follow the Wizards very closely. Longtime team employee Dolph Sand was there, right behind Motta.

Injuries were a theme

The Bullets blew out the Sonics despite missing Phil Chenier, one of their best players. Before he became a longtime broadcaster, Chenier was an All-Star shooting guard. He could only watch from the bench due to a back injury.

Bullets guard Kevin Grevey was also banged up with a left wrist injury. Though he started the game, he only played six minutes total before calling it a night.

Those injuries, however, helped create an opportunity for rookie Greg Ballard, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds in Game 6. He would later become one of the better players in Wizards/Bullets franchise history, but he was just starting to make a name for himself and was impressing Barry and Havlicek along the way. Havlicek stated "I think he'll be a star in this league" and Barry proclaimed "he has the perfect body for this game of basketball." The latter is a bit of a strange comment, but undoubtedly very high praise.

And finally, injuries were a constant in other ways. For some reason, the broadcast would zoom in very close when guys were getting tended to by trainers. It was odd.

It's amazing to think just how long it's been since Washington won an NBA championship. A lot has changed in the last 42 years.

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The Vault: Looking back at Bullets-Bulls Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Playoffs

The Vault: Looking back at Bullets-Bulls Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Playoffs

With no live NBA basketball for the foreseeable future, we have to get our basketball from somewhere. Life is just not the same without it.

Luckily, there is a treasure trove of basketball highlights on YouTube (or is it The YouTube?), including many games in their entirety. You can go back and watch from start to finish random games from just about any era of the NBA.

So, I went back and watched a game I hadn't seen since I was a kid: Game 1 of the 1997 first round playoff series between the Chicago Bulls and the Washington Bullets. Here are five takeaways from what I saw...

Bullets showed their inexperience

The Bulls came into this game winners of four of the previous six NBA titles, while the Bullets hadn't played a postseason game as a franchise in nine years. So, naturally, the difference in playoff experience became evident very early on.

Chris Webber and Juwan Howard, the Bullets' two talented forwards, got into foul trouble quickly and were non-factors for most of the game. Howard got going late, but Webber never found a rhythm and ultimately fouled out, though in his defense some of the calls were questionable.

Chicago killed them on the boards with 20 offensive rebounds. And Washington deeply hurt their own cause with 22 turnovers, compared to the Bulls' 11. Those were two big reasons why Chicago won the game, 98-86.

Webber and Howard being in foul trouble took a hit on the entertainment value of this game. But Howard did provide one big-time dunk.

Muresan was ridiculously tall

Many of the Bullets' key players struggled, but Gheorghe Muresan mostly played well. He ended up with 12 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. He blocked both Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on separate occasions.

Muresan showed he had some toughness and some skill, the latter being evident on a series of midrange shots. But what stood out most about him, of course, was how absolutely ridiculously tall he was. It was just absurd, even in the context of the NBA where everyone is a giant.

Muresan was listed at 7-foot-7. Look how he towers over Pippen (6-foot-8) and Jordan (6-foot-6) on these blocks.

Muresan had to compensate for both Webber and Howard being in foul trouble. That created extra time for him to duke it out with Dennis Rodman, who did some very Dennis Rodman things. First, he showed up late to pregame warmups because he thought the game started at 7:30 p.m. and not 7. He was benched by Phil Jackson in the fourth quarter for bad behavior, then returned only to get ejected.

And he left the court in ultimate Rodman fashion, clapping at the referee and taking his jersey off en route to the locker room.

Muresan, to his credit, did a lot to get under Rodman's skin throughout the game.

Jordan took over... several times

As years goes on, the memories of legendary athletes sometimes pass through a rose-colored prism to the point of hyperbole. We forget the bad and inflate the good, and sometimes that takes a player's reputation beyond what they actually were.

That was not the case for Jordan, really at all. He was as-advertised, and when you go back and watch games where he was in his prime, you are reminded just how dominant and great he was. In this game, he led all scorers with 29 points, 11 of which came in a fourth quarter where he imposed his will on the offensive end.

But where he stood out most against the Bullets was on defense where he effectively shut down Bullets All-NBA point guard Rod Strickland. Jordan began the game picking him up at three-quarter court and the only time Strickland could get anything going was when Jordan was either switched onto another player or resting on the bench.

Defense was one of the main separators for Jordan and it's one of the primary reasons he is considered by most to be the best basketball player of all time. You don't often see players nowadays be both the central focus of their team's offense and take on the toughest defensive assignments on the other end of the floor.

Broadcasters were familiar

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It was amazing to look back at the 1997 broadcast by TNT and see a lot of recognizable faces. Ernie Johnson was hosting the studio show and Dick Stockton and Hubie Brown were calling the game. All three are still active, now 23 years later.

There was also the late great Craig Sager as the sideline reporter, who interviewed then-Bullets executive Wes Unseld during the game.

And, if you paid close attention, you saw current Nationals radio play-by-play announcer Charlie Slowes in the background. He used to call Bullets games on the radio way back when.

The backstory

This series, which the Bulls won 3-0, produced two incredible Jordan stories, both told by Webber years later. One was before Game 2, when Jordan went into the Bullets' locker room:

"I saw Michael Jordan come into our locker room with a cigar, while it was lit, and said, ‘Who’s going to check me tonight?’ And we looked at Calbert Cheaney and we were laughing like little school kids knowing that Calbert Cheaney was going to get him, we knew it wasn’t a game for Mike."

The other, Webber recalled, was when the Bullets got off the bus and Jordan was leaning on a black Ferrari, again smoking a cigar, this time with Pippen:

"We get off the bus and we have to pass them with a lit cigar. You want to talk about posturing? Forget Phil Jackson. You got Michael Jordan there behind the scenes smoking a cigar before the game, letting us know that he’s the Red Auerbach before the game even started. It was almost like, ‘I lit the cigar. I’m celebrating already. This is just a formality, you guys getting on the court tonight.”

Jordan was just different. And the Bullets found that out the hard way in 1997.

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The 10 most-underrated players in Wizards-Bullets history

The 10 most-underrated players in Wizards-Bullets history

You know the names of the best players in Wizards-Bullets franchise history. Here are some that were less heralded, but had strong careers in Washington nonetheless.

The most-underrated Wizards-Bullets players of all-time...

Tracy Murray, 1996-00

Murray played four seasons in Washington, the first as a member of the Bullets and the other three after the franchise changed its name. Really, he was before his time. He shot 38.8% from three for his career, yet averaged only 2.9 attempts. In 1999-00, with the Wizards, he made 43%of his threes on 3.3 attempts per game. At that rate, these days he would be given the green light to shoot much more often. Maybe he could have been similar to what Davis Bertans is doing today.

Marcin Gortat, 2013-18

There was a lot of complaining about Gortat when he was in Washington, mostly by fans but also at times even by his teammates. But his impact has become more appreciated in the years he's been gone because he did a lot of important things on the floor the Wizards have since struggled to replace. He was one of the best screen-setters in the NBA and a reliable rebounder. He also missed a total of seven games in five seasons in Washington.

Jeff Malone, 1983-90

Malone made two All-Star teams during his eight seasons in Washington and led the Bullets to the playoffs five straight years from 1983 to 1988, yet it doesn't seem like his name sticks out among the best players in franchise history as much as it should. Consider the fact he averaged 20-plus points in five straight years with the Bullets and is third all-time in points for the franchise. Bradley Beal just passed him for second this season. Perhaps what hurt Malone's standing is that he was a scorer, but didn't put up numbers in any other categories.

Greg Ballard, 1977-84

Ballard may be the best player in Wizards-Bullets' history to never make the All-Star team. He played eight seasons in Washington and set all sorts of franchise records. And at his peak, he was putting up really good numbers, like in 1981-82 when he averaged 18.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. He also only missed 13 games in eight seasons with the Bullets and was on their 1978 championship team, albeit as a role player. Ballard didn't get nearly the respect he deserved.

Steve Blake, 2003-05

Blake's career arc was noteworthy in a variety of ways and it all began when the Wizards drafted him in the second round in 2003. In his first season, he played with both Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter, reuniting the trio of stars that led the University of Maryland to its national championship the year before. They also played on the Wizards with Jared Jeffries, who was the star of the Indiana team the Terps beat in the title game. Blake ended up playing with Dixon again in Portland and he would later be one of Kobe Bryant's favorite all-time teammates. The Wizards, though, probably shouldn't have let him go so quickly, after only two seasons. He was a tough player and was on track to become one of the NBA's best 3-point shooters.

Michael Ruffin, 2004-07

This one might cause some controversy. Ruffin, of course, is best known for two infamous plays. He unconscionably threw the ball up in the air against the Raptors in 2007, thinking the game was over, only to see Morris Peterson catch the ball and launch a buzzer-beating three to force overtime. And then there was the play in the 2006 playoffs when he (and Antawn Jamison) failed to close off the baseline on a LeBron James game-winner. Ruffin was an epically bad late-game defender, but because of that may be underrated in hindsight. He averaged 9.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per-36 minutes during his three years with the Wizards. He did the necessary little things to help the Wizards win and didn't get much credit for it. Just don't put him on one of the best players in NBA history during crunch time.

Ben Wallace, 1996-99

Wallace being underrated was precisely the problem with his tenure in Washington. The Wizards didn't know what they had in him and once he left he developed into a four-time defensive player of the year and borderline Hall of Famer. Wallace, though, didn't just get good once he was gone. The signs were there. After joining the franchise as an undrafted free agent, Wallace had per-36 numbers of 7.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game with the Wizards. Those stack up well to his per-36 stats in Detroit, where he had his best years: 7.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. If only the Wizards' front office understood analytics back then.

Manute Bol, 1985-88, 1993-94

Bol's legacy is centered around his size, as he was 7-foot-7 and only 200 pounds and once took a very famous photo with teammate Muggsy Bogues, who was 5-foot-3. But Bol was actually pretty good, at least at blocking shots. He averaged an absurd 5.0 blocks per game as a rookie with the Bullets and 3.8 during his career in Washington, which included two stints. His 5.0 blocks per game in 1985-86 are the second-most for a single season in NBA history. He is also tied for the second-most blocks in a game with 15, which he had against the Pacers back on Feb. 26, 1987. 

Mitch Kupchak, 1976-81

Kupchak is probably a bit underrated for two reasons: one is that he played on the 1978 championship team but was a glue guy overshadowed by legends like Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, Bob Dandrige and Phil Chenier. The second reason is that he has been more famous for his post-playing career, as a front office executive who helped build the Lakers teams for both of Bryant's title runs. But he was also instrumental in the Bullets' lone championship, averaging 15.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game that year, in 1977-78. He was also a key cog the following season, averaging 14.6 points and 6.5 boards in a year the Bullets lost in the Finals.

Antonio Daniels, 2005-09

Daniels was the back-up to Gilbert Arenas during Arenas' peak and did everything you could ask for in a second-string point guard. He was reliable, consistent and tough. He got to the free-throw line and shot a high percentage on those attempts. While Arenas' was a gun-slinging scorer, Daniels kept the Wizards' level with a pass-first, defensive mentality. He was athletic, but also a very smart player who seemed to really understand and embrace his role despite the fact it didn't garner him much attention.

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.