Until this entry, I have not had any strict order or concrete reason to choose a legendary player and try to tell his story closer to the younger readers who didn’t know about him, or the elder readers who wanted to remember the past. However, this time there is a special reason to write about Bob McAdoo, to me, one of the best three (OK, I will concede five) American players that have ever played European basketball. I just spent a few days in Los Angeles and got to see a game of the L.A. Lakers (against Charlotte) and one of the L.A. Clippers (against Denver), two teams for which, some time ago, the great Robert Allen McAdoo played.
There are players who have won the NCAA and the Euroleague, for instance Jiri Zidek Jr., my fellow writer at Euroleague.net and color commentator in Euroleague TV, or Tyus Edney but I really can’t recall anyone like Bob McAdoo, who first won the NBA and later the Euroleague! The other way around there have been cases like Toni Kukoc, Manu Ginobili and Zan Tabak.
The brilliant career of Bob (born in Greensboro, North Carolina on September 25, 1951) started at Vincennes Junior College of Indiana, where he played from 1969 to 1971. It was then that he moved on to North Carolina University and during the 1971-72 season took his team to third place in the NCAA Final Four. His great season with averages of 19.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game made McAdoo one of the most desired players around. In the NBA draft, which took place on April 10, 1972, the Buffalo Braves (today’s LA Clippers) chose Bob McAdoo as the second overall pick.
Three-peating as the best scorer
McAdoo won the Rookie of the Year award for the 1972-73 NBA season with averages of 18.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. In his sophomore season as a pro, he had an impressive average of double-doubles with 30.6 points and 15.1 rebounds. Since then, no player has averaged 30 and 15 in a single season. His shooting percentage was also great, 54.7% Obviously, he was selected to the All-Star Game, something he would repeat four more times. After the 1974-75, McAdoo was named MVP and finished as the league’s top scorer for the third straight year with an average of 34.5 points in addition to 14.1 rebounds and 2.12 blocks per game. He also shot 51.2% and 80.5% on free throws. That year he was the top vote-getter for the All-Star Game with 98,325 votes.
After the Braves, McAdoo joined the New York Knicks from 1976 to 1979 and later played for the Boston Celtics (1979), Detroit Pistons (1979-1981), New Jersey Nets (1981), Los Angeles Lakers (1981-1985) and Philadelphia 76ers (1986). With the Lakers he was part of the great team formed by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. Together, they won NBA championships in 1982 and 1985. His brilliant career in the NBA came to an end with 18,887 points (22.1 ppg.), 8,048 rebounds (8.4 rpg.) and 1,147 blocks (1.5 bpg.).
When, in the summer of 1986, McAdoo signed for a Tracer Milano, which was then coached by Dan Peterson, he was almost 35 years old and many doubted his ability to play at a high level. The start of the European season confirmed the doubts. On October 30, 1986, Tracer lost in Thessaloniki to Aris by 31 points, 98-67. Nikos Galis destroyed the team with 44 points. Aris already led 60-34 at the halftime break. In the return game, played November 6 in Milan, one of the biggest comebacks in European competition ever took place. Tracer won 83-49. After a quiet first half, McAdoo led his team with 21 points and 9 rebounds. After the game, McAdoo admitted to his coach that it had been the most intense game of his career.
Second youth in Italy
After the miracle, Tracer Milano marched towards the European final… and won it! The rival in the final played on April 2, 1987, in Lausanne, Switzerland was Maccabi Tel Aviv. Tracer won 71-69 and McAdoo was the second-best scorer on his team (21 points) after Roberto Premier (23) and the best rebounder with 9 boards. The team from Milan was European champ again after 21 years.
The following year, with Franco Casalini as boss, Tracer repeated the victory in the first Final Four of the modern era (two experimental ones had taken place before in 1966 in Bologna and 1967 in Madrid). After a round-robin phase with eight teams, Partizan of Vlade Divac, Sasha Djordjevic, Zarko Paspalj and Zeljko Obradovic reached the Final Four in Ghent as leader with 10 wins and 4 losses. Galis and Panagiotis Gianakis took Aris to 9-5 to finish second and Tracer Milano – with Mike D’Antoni, Dino Meneghin, Ricky Brown, Premier and McAdoo – was third also at 9-5. Maccabi finished fourth with an 8-6 record led by Miki Berkowitz, Doron Jamchy, Kevin Magee and Ken Barlow. In the semifinals, Maccabi defeated Partizan 97-82 and Tracer defeated Aris by the same score. In the big final, a brilliant McAdoo (25 points, 12 rebounds) led Tracer to another win over Maccabi.
McAdoo played in Milan until 1990. The two following years he played in Forli with averages of 31.7 points and 9.6 rebounds. He put an end to his career in Teamsystem Fabriano in 1992-93 at 42 years old. Over seven seasons in Italy, he played 201 games, scored 5,427 points (27.3 ppg.) and averaged 9.0 boards per game. He won the Italian League twice, the Italian Cup once and one Intercontinental cup – all with Milano.
Bob McAdoo was not very tall. With his 2.06 meters, he was more a power forward than a center, and sometimes he played forward because he had good shooting skills, including from three-point range. He was also a great rebounder, showing skills that nobody had then, but that today we can see in names like Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki.
Many think that NBA was not fair when, on the occasion of the league’s 50th anniversary, McAdoo was left out of its list of 50 great players. In 2000 he was inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. And Euroleague Basketball in 2008, when celebrating the 50th anniversary of European competitions, chose him among the 35 players to have contributed most to the game in the history of the competition. On that occasion, on this very same website, McAdoo said:
“Being here is a fantastic honour. When I heard about it, I jumped off my chair because I remember my time in Italy as fantastic. As a matter of fact, I loved my Italian stay probably better than my NBA stay for 14 years. It is a great honour for me and I am proud to be here. I remember the two European Cup championship games against Maccabi Tel Aviv, they were very tough games. The evolution of European basketball has been tremendous since I last played here. For instance, when you look at the last Olympics, the Italian national team got the silver medal. A lot of European players make major contributions in the NBA these days, too.”
McAdoo worked as an assistant coach for the Miami Heat of the NBA, a position he has held for 18 years.