Game 6 started a few minutes after noon on June 5, 1977. CBS asked the Blazers to move the tip off to 10:30 a.m. to accommodate its coverage of the Kemper Open golf tournament but the request was denied.
It was sunny and Memorial Coliseum was bright and hot. When the doors from the lobby of the Glass Palace opened, a streak of sunlight would flash onto the court.
The Blazers didn't get back to town until 4:30 a.m. on June 4, after a refueling stop in Billings, Mont. More than four thousand fans were waiting at the airport. The 76ers were unhappy because the scheduled movie on their flight, "Rocky," was replaced by "The Cassandra Crossing."
Courtside, Steve Jones, wearing a white suit, told the CBS announcing team of Brent Musburger and Rick Barry that "in order to avoid a Little Big Horn, Philadelphia's going to have to keep Portland from getting out of the shoot real quick today." Musburger announced the starting lineups: Gross, Lucas, Walton, Hollins and Davis for Portland; Erving, McGinnis, Jones, Bibby and Collins for Philadelphia. Before the opening tip, Walton and Jones cover each other's fists at midcourt, painted like a red phonograph record with "Portland Memorial Coliseum" around the outside.
Jake O'Donnell, refereeing with Richie Powers, tosses the ball up. Jones jumps into Walton and Portland gets the ball and works it inside to Lucas, who pump-fakes three times in the lane and is called for three seconds. Musburger tells viewers to "keep an eye on Bill Walton away from the ball when Jones does not have it." The Sixers have been complaining all series that Portland plays an illegal zone and Walton, on cue, drops off Jones and into the middle of the key.
McGinnis, shooting 33 percent in the first five games, hits an open jumper. Bibby sets a hard screen on Lucas, who pulls him down. They stay there as Portland breaks off the made basket and Gross hits a 10-footer.
Bibby guards Hollins in the backcourt. When the Sixers have the ball, Davis guards Bibby. Bibby complained about the matchup before the game. "Hollins gets a full step on the switch and he's going full speed by the time I pick him up," Bibby said after Game 5. "Doug can guard him, but [coach Gene Shue] doesn't want Collins to be running all the time on defense. Doug is our big offensive weapon. We need him there. They'd rather have his 25 points than my 10."
Davis brings the ball up and hits Lucas, who drops it to Walton in the low post. Walton finds a cutting Gross and the small forward double-pumps as Erving sails by and banks in a layup. Gross scored 25 points in 25 minutes in Portland's 110-104 win in Game 5 and has been running out on made baskets and making Erving work on defense.
Sending Gross long is one way Portland coach Jack Ramsay speeds up the game. Another is creating early offense off the fast break, as seen in this first-quarter sequence: Erving misses a layup and Walton rebounds and fires a beautiful outlet pass to a streaking Gross at midcourt. Gross drops the ball to Hollins as Lucas and Davis fill the lanes. Davis takes the pass on the right wing, penetrates and kicks to Lucas, who finds Hollins at the free throw line for an open jumper. All five players touched the ball, no one took more than three dribbles before passing, and the defense was helpless to prevent a quality open shot. The whole play took less than 10 seconds. It is basketball at its most beautiful. Repeated in one intricate variation after another, like a snowflake settling on the branch of a Douglas fir, it is why the Blazers won the NBA championship.
Davis backdoors Collins and takes a perfect bounce pass from Walton, the second assist for Walton in the first five minutes. Portland makes seven of its first eight shots. "This is some pace they're off to, Brent," Barry says. "No way they can keep this up."
Corky Calhoun replaces Gross at the first timeout. "He'll work on the Doctor," says Musburger, a Portland native. After Game 5, when Erving scored 41 points, Ramsay said "There's no one in the world who can guard him one-up. We have good ones, Gross, Calhoun and [Larry] Steele, but it's no contest. He is too great a player."
The Sixers go to Jones for three quick baskets, the last one a flying dunk at the end of a break, and go up 20-18. Ramsay puts in Lloyd Neal for Lucas and gets in Lucas' ear on the way to the bench. Steve Mix takes over for McGinnis and Musburger, known for doing his homework, says he was at practice the day before and Mix wasn't there because of a bad right ankle that was infected after a pain-killing shot. Walton gets Jones to commit his third foul and Darryl Dawkins, Chocolate Thunder, checks in to a chorus of boos.
Erving swipes the ball in the open court. "Doctor looks for daylight!" Musburger yells. Erving windmills a dunk, the ball an orange in his huge right hand.
Dave Twardzik, in for Davis, penetrates and draws a foul on Bibby. Barry, one of the best free-throw shooters in NBA history, says it's weird how Twardzik can shoot so well from the field and so poorly from the free throw line. Twardzik shoots 68 percent from the line in the series.
Another pretty sequence: Walton blocks Free's shot. Neal grabs the ball and feeds Hollins, who goes the length of the court, reverse-pivots around Free, and banks a short jumper. Hollins made one All-Star team in his 10-year career and didn't have his number retired, unlike Walton, Lucas, Neal, Steele, Twardzik and Ramsay. He is the best guard on the court on June 5 and was the best point guard in Blazer history until Terry Porter came along.
The score is tied 27-27 after the first quarter. "At last we've got one cooking where both teams are playing well," Musburger says. "It's been a strange, strange series so far."
"It can't get any better than what we've seen," Barry says.
Twardzik, the Pinball, draws a foul on Chocolate Thunder and makes one free throw. Barry holds his tongue. Twardzik and Neal run a backdoor with Neal hitting Twardzik for a layup. Neal, nicknamed Bottom after his hometown of Talbottom, Ga., hits a jumper from the top of the key. Gentlemanly off the court and tough on it, his career is cut short by knee injuries. When he joined the Blazers, Walton reportedly was unimpressed by Neal and Steele, holdovers from the team's miserable early days, but has come to respect them.
Walton starts the second quarter on the bench. A few minutes in, CBS puts his face in the corner of the screen in a little circle. "Bill Walton looking on," Barry says.
Musburger constantly promotes the Kemper Open and the upcoming halftime Slam Dunk Finals between Darnell "Doctor Dunk" Hillman and Larry McNeill. (Doctor Dunk, who is widely credited with having the biggest Afro in the American Basketball Association, wins.) Portland owner Larry Weinberg appears on the screen and Musburger points out that Sixers owner Fitz Dixon is not at the game because he's celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary. "So congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Dixon!"
Ramsay and assistant Jack McKinney are furious after O'Donnell doesn't call a foul on Bibby. Ramsay is wearing a dark blue blazer, light blue polo shirt and pants of many colors. Trainer Ron Culp wears a red-and-white plaid jacket, collar out.
"You know those slacks Jack Ramsay is wearing today -- those are the kind you could throw in a shower and not worry about how they would come out," Musburger says. "That's how confident this franchise is today. They dressed accordingly."
Erving goes inside and Walton blocks his shot. Davis controls the ball, crosses over on Bibby, and lays it in, giving Portland a 40-38 lead. Walton scores off a stack-screen on an inbounds play. "He knows just what you need," Musberger says.
Hollins sparks a run with a steal that leads to a Lucas slam and a fast-break floater. Shue calls timeout and CBS shows banners in the stands: "A Gross a Day Keeps the Doctor Away." "The Blazers are ROLLIN -- The Sixers are THRU." "Blazermania."
Barry says Ramsay had the note on the chalkboard "Playing Julius one-on-one plus one," meaning the Blazers are sending a second defender at Erving to help Gross. Usually that second man is Walton.
Walton blocks a Collins shot with two hands and knocks the ball off the Sixers' guard, who finishes with six points. Walton then converts a 3-point play over Harvey Catchings, who misses the tackle. Portland's on a 21-to-10 run when Erving throws one down over Walton and uses his red head as a launching pad. Walton needs treatment and CBS shows the leaderboard of the Kemper Open. (Tom Weiskopf is in a three-way tie at minus-10.)
Erving keeps Philly close with 22 first-half points. Barry says Erving is the one player in the NBA he'd pay to see. Musburger says he'd pay "to see a team like Portland, so unselfish." Calhoun finishes the half with a dunk. Shue angrily throws the ball away. "You can't give up 67 points in the first half of a championship game," Shue said when it was over.
Portland holds a steady double-digit lead through much of the third quarter, and Musburger figures it's time for some philosophy: "Shades of Green Bay, Wis., in 1961, when Vince Lombardi and a football team snuck the championship in a small town." Then he busts out some hyperbole: "The attendance I have been handed is twelve thousand nine hundred and sixty-one. There must be three thousand others carrying press cameras."
Walton's passing is amazing. He misses a shot, Gross taps the rebound back to him, he waves his hands over his head in the familiar motion signal, takes a pass and immediately hits Lucas underneath for a basket.
Erving goes scoreless through the first eight minutes of the second half and Barry points out that Erving is tired and not getting back on defense. Gross, the most underrated player in the game, steals a pass from Dawkins and reaches far to his right to tip in Neal's missed shot at the other end. A minute later, he drops a rainbow jumper over Jones.
"Is there any doubt left that Bill Walton can play in the National Basketball Association?" Musburger bellows. "Call it vegetable power if you want. He and Maurice Lucas both vegetarians."
"Call it talent, Brent," Barry says. "Great talent. That's a better word for it."
Portland's lead never drops below eight in the third quarter. Lucas gets his fifth foul early in the fourth quarter and Erving cuts the lead to five. Barry says it's humid in the Coliseum and thinks it will affect the players. Free misses another jumper; he winds up 0-of-8 from the field but makes nine free throws. When he's in the game, he dominates the ball, dribbling outside and looking for his own shot.
Gross pushes the lead to 12 with an inside move and another jumper. He finishes as Portland's leading scorer for the second straight game with 24 points on 12-of-16 shooting. The Sixers start to trap and the Blazers tighten up, giving up eight straight points. Portland worked on its press offense in practice the day before, but the lesson didn't stick.
With Lucas on the free throw line and three minutes left, Musburger tells a random story about "Sam and Bill," who posed as florists and delivered a bowl of fruit to the press table. Sam and Bill slipped into the game " and are watching right now."
The last two minutes are agony for Portland fans. An eight-point lead chips down as Walton commits an offensive foul and gets blocked by McGinnis. Lucas misses, Erving makes two free throws. Steve Jones says, "They're ready to go bananas, but the game isn't over until the gun goes off." Lucas rebounds a Twardzik miss and makes a free throw with 27 seconds left.
Musburger says Sport magazine gives a car to the most valuable player of the series and Walton "will probably take a camper van for the summer." Musburger reminisces about Green Bay again as Walton blocks Bryant and McGinnis makes a long jumper. It's 109-107 with 18 seconds left. Walton inbounds to Gross, who's tied up by McGinnis. There's a jump ball at center court, McGinnis tips it to Free, who passes to Erving. The Doctor's open jumper is off but Free hustles for the rebound and fires up another jumper. Gross blocks it out of bounds.
Free gets ready to inbound under Portland's basket and Barry, who seemed to nap through the first half, is alert and noticing something important -- Lucas is out of defensive position. "If they take the ball inbounds, George McGinnis is wide open." They do, and he is. McGinnis takes one dribble and misses an open 10-footer. Walton back-taps the ball to Davis, who dribbles past center court as the clock expires.
"They've gone wild in Portland," Musburger yells. Walton tears off his jersey as fans fill the court, grabbing at anything in sight. The team fights its way into the locker room as Musburger signs off and CBS switches to the Kemper Open.
Portland fans crash the switchboard at KOIN, the local CBS-TV affiliate, protesting the quick cut to golf. Dick Butterfield, KOIN's general manager, is at the game and doesn't find out until later. He calls the move "plain lousy judgment." Don Wiederecht, a communications director for CBS, apologizes to "our basketball fans" and assures them the trophy presentation and "locker room activity" will be shown on CBS Sports Spectacular in a few days.
In the locker room, Ramsay praises McKinney as the best assistant in the NBA and says Walton "is the greatest player playing the game. Our whole game is built around him." The coach says his team is "the finest team I've ever coached. These are the finest people I've ever coached. If they had not won, I would have felt the same."
Walton's championship game stat line is 20 points, 23 rebounds, eight blocked shots and seven assists. "That's the kind of game I like," he says. "I like it that way, five seconds to go, they're two down and they've got the ball. The only thing that would have been better would have been if they were only down one."
Twardzik says he's "not even on this planet. A year ago, I thought I might be working nine to five and carrying a lunch bucket. This is beyond my wildest dreams." Gross, matter-of-fact as ever, says winning the championship "is no surprise to me."
Champagne flows freely. George Pasero, the sports editor of the Oregon Journal, says McKinney and Neal dumped some down the back of his neck. Pasero's lead:
"On top of the world! What a view! What a feeling!"
Don McLeod, The Oregonian's sports editor, leads this way:
"And now it's all true!"
Across the Coliseum, the Sixers were humble in defeat. Free said he wasn't fouled on his last jump shot -- "If they didn't call it, it's not a foul" -- and said the Sixers learned, "You have to play defense for the whole game, not just part of it."
Dawkins, always good for a hard foul or an impromptu poem, came up with this:
"The Sixers were in Portland
"And they went down by four;
"But we'll be back next year
"To settle up the score."
McGinnis says he wanted the last shot and thought it was good. He calls the Sixers, "the most scrutinized team I've ever heard of. No matter what we do, it makes for a lot of talk." Erving, who finished with 40 points, says he thinks the Sixers are the better team. McGinnis isn't so sure.
"On paper. But Walton is so dominating in the middle that he makes up for their lack of talent. And they are so well-coached."
McGinnis then led his teammates into the Portland locker room to congratulate the Blazers.
Jeff Baker is the Oregonian's book editor. He covered the Blazers for the paper from 1991-95. He attended the Blazers' first game on October 16, 1970 with his father and has the ticket stub to prove it.