“101 Greats of European Basketball,” a limited-edition collection published in 2018 by Euroleague Basketball, honors more than six decades’ worth of stars who helped lift the sport on the Old Continent to its present-day heights. Author Vladimir Stankovic, who began covering many of those greats in 1969, uses their individual stories and profiles to show that European basketball’s roots run long and deep at the same time that the sport here is nurtured by players from around the world, creating a true team dynamic unlike anywhere else. His survey covers players who were retired before the book was published and who inspired the many others who came after them. Enjoy!
Bob McAdoo – NBA and EuroLeague champ
There are players who have won the NCAA and the EuroLeague, such as Jiri Zidek Jr., color commentator for Euroleague TV. There have also been players who first won the EuroLeague title and then that of the NBA, like Zan Tabak, Toni Kukoc and Manu Ginobili. But I really can’t recall anyone like Bob McAdoo, who first won the NBA and later the EuroLeague!
The brilliant career of McAdoo, who was 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 the University of North Carolina and during the 1971-72 season took his team to third place at the NCAA Final Four. His great season, with averages of 19.5 points and 10.5 rebounds, made McAdoo one of the most desired players around. In the NBA draft held on April 10, 1972, the Buffalo Braves (today’s LA Clippers) chose McAdoo as the second overall pick.
NBA top scorer three-peat
McAdoo won the Rookie of the Year award for the 1972-73 NBA season with 18.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. In his sophomore season as a pro, he averaged a double-double, with a league-leading 30.6 points and 15.1 rebounds. Since then, no player has averaged 30 and 15 in a single season. His field goal accuracy, 54.7%, was also great. Obviously, he was selected to the all-star game, something he would repeat four more times. After the 1974-75 season, McAdoo was named MVP and finished as the league’s top scorer with an average of 34.5 points, in addition to 14.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. He also shot 51.2 percent from the field and 80.5 percent on free throws. That year he was the top vote-getter for the all-star game with 98,325 votes. In the 1975-76 season, still in Buffalo, his average was 31.1 points, leading the league in scoring for a third consecutive season.
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. McAdoo’s 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 by 60-34 at the halftime break. In the rematch, played on November 6 in Milan, one of the biggest comebacks ever in European competitions took place. Tracer won 83-49 to take the two-game, home-and-away series. After a quiet first half, McAdoo led his team with 21 points and 9 rebounds. When it finished, McAdoo told his coach that it had been the most intense game of his career.
Second youth in Italy
After that miracle, Tracer Milano marched towards the EuroLeague 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 champion again after 21 years.
The following year, with Franco Casalini as head coach, Tracer repeated the victory in the first Final Four of the modern era. (Two experimental Final Fours had taken place back in 1966 – won by Milano – and in 1967 – won by Real Madrid). After a round-robin phase with eight teams, Partizan – with Vlade Divac, Sasha Djordjevic, Zarko Paspalj and Zeljko Obradovic – reached the Final Four in Ghent as leaders with 10 wins and 4 losses. Galis and Panagiotis Giannakis took Aris to 9-5 to finish second in a tiebreaker over Tracer Milano – with Mike D’Antoni, Dino Meneghin, Rickey Brown, Premier and McAdoo. Maccabi, led by Miki Berkowitz, Doron Jamchy, Kevin Magee and Ken Barlow, finished fourth with an 8-6 record. 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 following two years, he played in Forli with averages of 31.7 points and 9.6 rebounds. He put an end to his career with 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. At 2.06 meters, he was more of a power forward than a center, and sometimes he played small forward because he had good shooting skills, including from three-point range. He was also a great rebounder, showing skills that nobody had seen until then.
Many believe that the NBA was not fair when, for the league’s 50th anniversary, McAdoo was left out of its list of the 50 greatest players. In 2000, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. And in 2008, when celebrating the 50th anniversary of European competitions, Euroleague Basketball chose him among the 35 players to have contributed most to the game on the Old Continent. On that occasion, McAdoo said:
“Being here is a fantastic honor. 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 honor 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 later won three more NBA titles – in 2006, 2012 and 2013 – as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, a position he held for 18 years.