[Reporter Mike Janofsky always made the most of covering the NBA Baltimore Bullets. This article from Complete Sports’ Winter 1971 Pro Basketball edition is a case in point. Janofsky asked Bullets’ forward Jack Marin, then a five-year NBA veteran and happy bachelor, to rate the NBA cities from worst to best. What follows is a light-hearted run through the then-17 NBA cities, where to go and how to meet the opposite sex. We’re running the story as a fun blast from the past and a rare snapshot of NBA life in the early 1970s.
However, Janofsky botched his lead paragraphs pretty badly. The National Basketball League and the Basketball Association of America (BAA) officially merged on August 3, 1949, not June 6, 1946. The Alcindor signing also wasn’t quite as epic as he’s stated. These pesky facts aside, Janofsky’s good humor remains. San Diego was a beloved “paradise” stop for many a cold-weather NBA team passing through. For Marin and others, it was tough to see the NBA exit its “southern-most gift” to basketball.
Good thing that Marin didn’t say anything negative about Houston, where the San Diego relocated. Two seasons later, Marin became a Houston Rocket. In fact, that’s where he met his wife, now more than 40 years ago. When they met, Marin told her that he was “with the Rockets.” Not knowing much about sports, she thought he worked at the Houston space center. Marin, a lawyer after basketball, lives in warm-weather Durham, N.C., where he continues to do great things volunteering to help others.]
June 6, 1946, October 18, 1969, and June 30, 1971, probably rank 1-2-3 as the most dramatic and significant dates in the history of professional basketball in the United States. The cataclysmic effect of events occurring those days are still causing reverberations throughout the sport.
The first date—June 6, 1946—is most familiar. In a secluded New York hotel room that day, Maurice Podoloff, Eddie Gottlieb, and a handful of other basketball honchos pooled together teams representing two existing hoop leagues—the National Basketball League and the American Basketball Association—into a single circuit, under one, albeit leaky, roof . . . the NBA.
The second date—October 18, 1969—produced more physical effects. On that night in the dark, dingy Milwaukee Arena, Lew Alcindor, the 7-foot-2 dominating force of the Bucks who has since been replaced by a fellow known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, played his first game as a professional. His superior talent was frightening then and downright terror-some now.
The third calendar marking—June 30, 1971—is more obscure. A saddened Robert Breitbard, owner and operator of the San Diego Rockets, called it quits after numerous political hassles in San Diego. He threw in the towel, accepted a lucrative offer from Houston interests and dumped his then-hapless team 1,000 miles to the east southeast.
“And that,” observes Baltimore Bullet forward Jack Marin, “was the death of one of the true paradise spots in the country for NBA players. We were really shafted when the Rockets moved from San Diego to Houston.”
There’s more, you see, to professional basketball than the 48-minute game with an accompanying shower. A game is a game is a game. You can win or lose. The feeling of either is as common to any player as hunger . . . or sadness . . . or elation . . . or, well, sex.
But a city. Now that’s a different story. A city is not a city is not a city. Houston is not San Diego, etc. And because California’s southern-most gift to the NBA is no longer that, it’s safe to assume 204 pros (12 on 17 teams) were visibly shaken when the Rockets fled San Diego after four years of losing. It came as no consolation the Rockets are now losing in Houston.
Jack Marin, for sure, was shaken. And for good reason. Jack is a bon vivant. Few people walking around have packed so much living into 27 years. If they have, they’re 53 or walking slower than usual.
Marin, like the vast majority of professional hoopsters, is sensitive to each particular town visited by his team. After season upon season, he can feel the pulse-beat of a metropolitan area just as soon as the jetliner touches down. From there, nothing short of the scientific method is employed to inspect the city, to feel it, know it, touch it.
Why? Better for the morale. “Being single is one of the beauties of traveling as a basketball player,” says Marin, a self-styled, well-dressed bachelor. “One has the advantage of establishing meaningful, rather than transient, relations. (Here, the married guys are supposed to lose out.)
“It’s a lot of fun to have good friends in other cities. It keeps life interesting. It lets you expand your emotions on the street, after you didn’t expand them on the basketball court. Our schedule is so demanding, if we didn’t have the night life in the cities we visited, we’d be schizophrenics.”
Don’t take his observations too lightly. Knowing how to spend off hours is the fine line separating sanity and climbing hotel walls. How serious does Marin, the blond-haired sharpshooter, take the subject? No less so than the time needed to compile a scouting report on the various NBA cities.
Jack Marin has romped around the National Basketball Association for five-and-a-half seasons, each in noticeable improvement over the previous. He’s a master of the pull-up jump shot. Many consider him among the purest shooters in the world. His value to the Bullets often goes undetected, simply because a trio of legitimate superstars—Earl Monroe, Gus Johnson, and Wes Unseld—have habitually hogged the headlines.
But there’s one place Marin’s usefulness is most readily recognized—in the fine art of “scratching,” basketball players’ term to describe the varied, but effective means of eying, then meeting beautiful women anywhere for a night on the town. A word of qualification: There’s nothing wrong with meeting new people, even if they usually are women. Pro basketball players are human, too.
Their activities are no different than yours or mine. But since they travel so extensively, some have the opportunity to refine the process to a science.
Marin has. He knows where to go, what to do, what to avoid, and how to meet women in each NBA city with few exceptions. He’s aware of the good restaurants, lively nightclubs, and stylish boutiques. He’s so sensitive to his environment, he’s tabulated the high-and-low points of each city he visits in the course of a season.
Following is Marin’s rundown (not a misnomer, in some cases) of NBA locales. He lists them from worst to best, in order of his preference, or better yet, his successes:
1. Cleveland—Ohio has a lock on the worst city in the league. Cleveland is first. Being a law student at the University of Maryland, I generally save Cleveland to study. But then, nothing can save Cleveland. My parents sometimes visit me there, since Farrell, Pa., my hometown, is within driving distance. If they skip the trip, I spend the afternoons asleep.
After the game, my favorite time to see a city, I’ll grab a bite with my folks, then go to bed. Got to conserve my energy for the West Coast trip coming up, you know.
The best restaurant I’ve visited has been the Greasy Spoon Inn, about four doors from the hotel. I’ve never been in a bar there. A terrific city for clothes, if you like those pants with the buckle in the back. The fact that Cleveland is close to my hometown is its only redeeming quality. Oh yeah, it’s close to Gus Johnson’s hometown (Akron), too.
2. Cincinnati—The only thing keeping Cincinnati from being the worst is, it’s not as cold as Cleveland. My activities are the same as in Cleveland, except my folks don’t come down and the Greasy Spoon Inn is across the street. It’s great, honestly, for ham and eggs after the game, but they don’t serve hash brown potatoes, only home fries. I never visited a bar worth remembering, and the most fun I’ve had there was a mid-afternoon card game.
3. Portland—Having a good time in Portland depends on whether you’ve met a stewardess on the plane. If you have, move Portland down three cities. If you haven’t, sandwich it between those garden spots in Ohio.
Actually, I’d have to dismiss Portland at this point for insufficient data. The Trail Blazers have only been in the league for a season-and-a-half, and we’ve only made a couple trips there. I haven’t completed my evaluation. I think there are possibilities yet to be explored.
4. Philadelphia—I’ve rated Philly here because when we play the 76ers, we travel to the Spectrum from Baltimore by bus. We arrive 90 minutes before game time and leave immediately after. According to Earl Monroe, a native of the city, it’s a pretty hip place. I wouldn’t know. All I ever think about up or back from Philly is Billy Cunningham.
5. Milwaukee—We’ve never had a lot of fun in Milwaukee, mainly because we usually lose there. Everybody usually loses there. It’s a great beer town (six major breweries). I know, because once I saw three of my teammates compare all six varieties in one sitting. Villa Maria’s is an excellent pizza place, about 10 blocks up from the Holiday Inn-Central. The social life is slow, not many girls. I think I understand why Lew, err, Kareem once said living in Milwaukee is a drag.
6. Detroit—Detroit used to have much more going for it, but beginning with the August 1967 riots, the downtown area has slowly deteriorated. Used to be, the Sheraton-Cadillac Hotel, in the heart of the city, was fantastic for scouting stewardesses staying over. But since the nature of the central city has changed, we now stay at the luxurious Ponchartrain.
Detroit also has the climate going against it. For the most part, it’s as cold as Cleveland, with winds from Lake Michigan whipping in. As for the places I’ve enjoyed, LaLanterna’s is super for pizza. Danny‘s Gin Mill was a great restaurant for prime ribs—never less than two inches thick. But ol’ Dan’s was destroyed by fire. Hmmm, maybe he’s got a charcoal place now.
7. Buffalo—Buffalo is a fair city, with good potential. Like Portland, it’s one of the newer entries in the NBA, and we’ve had only limited experience. Probably the hippest spots are the ones around the State University College of New York—Buffalo and Canisius College. A couple of good eating places I recall are The Cloister and the Park Lane for steaks and ribs, and David’s Table for French-style food.
8. Chicago—This is the first of the better cities, ones which I and my teammates actually look forward to visiting. The ones already mentioned, we’d rather skip.
Chicago, the crossroads of the country, also houses O’Hare Airport, maybe the largest airport in the United States. Need I comment on the number of stewardesses? Since so many of them are based in the city, it’s easy to secure a phone number for subsequent trips.
Overall, Chicago is an action city. I rank it as the worst of the “good” cities because of the weather. It’s too cold. If it had the climate of, say, Phoenix, I’d rate it the best of the good. Anyway, I’ve found most enjoyable the area around Rush Street, where most of the psychedelic, hard-rock clubs are found. It’s so difficult remembering their names. Each time we visit Chicago, new ones pop up and old ones have gone out of business.
A typical date for me in Chicago would be dinner, maybe at the Sheraton Chicago, where we stay, a few stops at nearby clubs, and then back to the hotel for . . . well, never mind. Another thing, there’s a good “big man’s” shop downtown, Hyman’s. Sure, I’ve been to plenty of big man’s stores, but Hyman’s carries things other than overalls.
9. Phoenix—Of all 16 cities the Bullets play, Phoenix could have the most-favorable climate. I’ve never seen rain. The air is dry. No humidity. Penetrating rays for suntanning. No smog. And besides, Hot Rod Hundley owns a place, The Court Jester. Hot Rod, who used to play for the Lakers, was known as a super-flake in his active days. After Frank Selvy had blown a last-second shot in the seventh game of the 1960 finals against the Celtics, Hot Rod walked over to the down-trodden Selvy to console him. “Don’t worry about a thing, Frank,” Hot Rod told him. “Always next year. You only cost us about $30,000.” That’s Hot Rod, and the zaniness of his place reflects him.
Navarre’s is good for steaks and chops. Neptune’s Table for better-than-average seafood.
10. Boston—I used to know a Playboy Bunny who lived in Boston. That was a hare-raising experience.
Boston, I feel, is the most socially progressive city in the East. The abundant girls are friendly and willing . . . to meet new people. Always a good chance to get something going. It excels as a “call you back the next time in town” place. The reason: Boston’s a good town to spend the afternoon walking around. You always run into college kids because of the major schools in the area—Harvard, Boston College, Boston University, Simmons College, and Tufts University.
Lucifer’s features good, hard-rock bands, more conservative music at Copperfields. For eating, I try to visit the Locke-Ober Café, a quiet place which serves excellent everything, or the deli across from our hotel, the Sheraton Prudential.
11. Seattle—A city exuding character, Seattle is one of the most-beautiful cities in the country. It reminds me a lot of San Francisco, only it’s colder and it rains more than India during monsoon season. In fact, I can’t ever remember landing in Seattle when it wasn’t raining.
The Warehouse, my choice in nightclubs, is decorated with the shell of a hydroplane, old machine guns, and other war relics adorning the walls. Also, great popcorn and beer. By now, you probably get the idea ribs are my ideal meal, and once Kevin Loughery and I ate $40 worth in the Kon Tiki room at the Washington Plaza Hotel, where the team resides.
My best time there? Two seasons ago, I met a super woman there. She was a hairdresser. (See comment about the Boston Playboy Bunny.)
12. Atlanta—The untapped potential lurking within Atlanta keeps me from ranking it an “excellent” city. Instead, I think it’s the best of the “good” ones.
The only other factor which holds Atlanta back, as far as I’m concerned, is we always seem to miss the weekends there. We play the Hawks invariably on Thursday night or Sunday afternoon. Regardless, lots of beautiful women, though somewhat conservative, live there.
Uncle Sam’s is the club I’ve frequented most. It’s one of the biggest places in the world with an enormous dance floor. Usually a swinging band.
13. New York—I honestly feel New York’s esoteric beauty is waning. Fun City is no longer what it’s cracked up to be. I think New York is losing the fast-paced rat race to itself.
Surprisingly, it’s not that easy to get anything going in New York, simply because no matter what you say, girls have heard it all before. No female, regardless of ugliness or beauty, is taken in.
Don’t get me wrong, New York’s international flavor never makes for a boring time, even if you just spend an evening sitting around Mr. Laffs or Maxwell’s Plumb, or Gilly’s. For food, most of the Bullets head for Gallagher’s 33 immediately after checking in at the Statler Hilton. They’re good to us. Pro players are given 50 percent off anything we eat. As for the hotels, the Americana tops my list as one of the biggest, most-expensive, and glamorous places in the country. Too bad we don’t stay there.
14. San Francisco—Frisco is a great place for clothes, hotels, and food. I’m always longing to return to San Francisco for a number of reasons: Scoma’s has the best Italian food in the world; I love to visit my good friend golfer Ken Venturi; and Union Street has some of the finest clubs ever.
Fantastic boutiques and leather shops to spend my $19 a day meal money. The menu at Tommy’s Joynt lists scrumptious combination sandwiches. Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge, is like no other for a quiet afternoon of relaxation.
Too bad we miss all this now that the San Francisco Warriors are the Golden State Warriors playing in, ugh, Oakland.
15. Los Angeles—From the airport in, Los Angeles tops my list of cities we play. The reason in a word—women. More beautiful girls live, work and play in Los Angeles then in Cleveland and Cincinnati combined. The city lacks nothing. Golf—Lakeside and Riviera are among the finest courses in the U.S. Food and entertainment—Cheerio’s, The Sports Page, The Troubadore, The Bitter End West, The Century Plaza Hotel, the bar at La Marina, Cisco’s, and so many more. Don’t forget the beaches (Manhattan’s my favorite), sailing at Marina del Rey, sightseeing (Hollywood, etc.), gads, the list goes on. It’s truly an all-purpose city.
I’ve omitted a discussion of Houston because this is the first year we’ve played there regularly. As for Baltimore, I find it extremely enjoyable, but I can understand why it’s constantly rapped by out-of-of towners. A more provincial town than most, Baltimore requires digging harder for good entertainment. You’ve got to get around. Once you do, it’s as easy to meet new people there as anywhere else . . . except maybe Cleveland and Cincinnati. There’s a lack of mobility in Baltimore, so it’s essential to crack the “in” crowd to be socially successful. The best places I’ve discovered in my five years are the Prime Rib, Sabbatino’s, the Patapsco Inn, the Pimlico Hotel, and, best of all, the Club Venus.
Overall, for my money—and we spend more than $2,000 per man on the road during the course of the season—I’ll take the West Coast in general and Los Angeles in particular. Nothing like it for the morale. The sight of L.A. women can be a soul-cleansing experience. No equal to them in the country, not even in Cleveland or Cincinnati.