1977 NBA Finals
|Dates||May 22–June 5|
(Portland Trail Blazers)
|Hall of Famers||76ers:|
Julius Erving (1993)
George McGinnis (2017)
Bill Walton (1993)
Jack Ramsay (1992)
Darell Garretson (2016)
Earl Strom (1995)
|Eastern Finals||76ers defeat Rockets, 4–2|
|Western Finals||Trail Blazers defeat Lakers, 4–0|
The 1977 NBA World Championship Series was the championship round of the National Basketball Association (NBA)'s 1976–77 season, and the culmination of the season's playoffs. The Western Conference champion Portland Trail Blazers played against the Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia 76ers, with the 76ers holding home-court advantage. Their four regular season meetings had been split evenly, 2–2, with neither side winning away from home. The series was played under a best-of-seven format.
The 1976–77 NBA season started with the ABA–NBA merger. Portland had benefited from the resulting ABA dispersal draft as they acquired Spirits of St. Louis power forward Maurice Lucas to partner with Bill Walton, and Philadelphia had signed ABA All-Star and 3-time ABA MVP Julius "Dr. J" Erving, who had taken the New York Nets to the ABA title the previous year. In the 1977 NBA Finals, five of the ten starting players were former ABA players (Julius Erving, Caldwell Jones, George McGinnis, Dave Twardzik, and Maurice Lucas.).
While it was no surprise that Philadelphia had made it to the championship series, having posted the best record in the east (50-32, #1), Portland's appearance in the finals was a mild surprise. Portland, a team that was founded only seven years earlier, was making its playoff debut with its first winning season (49-33, #3). It was also making its finals debut after sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers in four close games in the Western Conference Finals.
The series started 2-0 in favor of Philadelphia, but over the next four games, Portland mounted a comeback that has rarely been seen in professional sports.
The Portland Trail Blazers franchise entered the NBA as an expansion team in 1970, along with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Buffalo Braves. Like most expansion teams, the Trail Blazers struggled, but in 1974, hope was on the way.
Bill Walton was drafted first overall by the Trail Blazers in the 1974 NBA draft. The Trail Blazers, though still missing the playoffs, continued to add key pieces, such as Dave Twardzik, Lloyd Neal, Lionel Hollins, and Maurice Lucas. In 1976, Jack Ramsay was hired as head coach, and with a healthy Walton, Portland made the playoffs for the first time in the 1976–77 season, winning 49 games. The 3rd seeded Blazers would defeat the Chicago Bulls in three games, the Denver Nuggets in six games, and then swept the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals.
The Philadelphia 76ers made it back to the playoffs in 1976, after missing the previous four years, which included a league-worst nine wins in the 1972–73 season. They acquired former ABA All-Star Julius Erving, late of the New York Nets, in the offseason. The 76ers won 50 games the next season, something they hadn't achieved since 1969. In the playoffs, they defeated the defending champion Boston Celtics in a tough seven-game series, and then advanced to the finals for the first time since 1967 by ousting the Houston Rockets in six games.
Road to the Finals
|Portland Trail Blazers (Western Conference champion)||Philadelphia 76ers (Eastern Conference champion)|
3rd seed in the West, 5th best league record
|Defeated the (6) Chicago Bulls, 2–1||First Round||Earned first-round bye|
|Defeated the (2) Denver Nuggets, 4–2||Conference Semifinals||Defeated the (4) Boston Celtics, 4–3|
|Defeated the (1) Los Angeles Lakers, 4–0||Conference Finals||Defeated the (2) Houston Rockets, 4–2|
Regular season series
Both teams split the four-game series, each won by the home team.
November 5, 1976
|Philadelphia 76ers 104, Portland Trail Blazers 146|
March 1, 1977
|Philadelphia 76ers 107, Portland Trail Blazers 108|
Portland Trail Blazers roster
Philadelphia 76ers roster
|Game||Date||Home Team||Score||Road Team|
|Game 1||Sunday May 22||Philadelphia||107–101||Portland|
|Game 2||Thursday May 26||Philadelphia||107–89||Portland|
|Game 3||Sunday May 29||Portland||129–107||Philadelphia|
|Game 4||Tuesday May 31||Portland||130–98||Philadelphia|
|Game 5||Friday June 3||Philadelphia||104–110||Portland|
|Game 6||Sunday June 5||Portland||109–107||Philadelphia|
Trail Blazers win series 4–2
|Portland Trail Blazers 101, Philadelphia 76ers 107|
|Scoring by quarter: 25-27, 28-28, 25-31, 23-21|
|Pts: Walton 28
Rebs: Walton 20
Asts: Hollins, Davis 6 each
|Pts: Erving 33|
Rebs: C. Jones 11
Asts: Collins 6
|Philadelphia leads series 1–0|
Referees: Strom, Vanak
Game 1 started with a Dr. J windmill slam dunk off the opening tip, and never got much better for the Blazers, who committed 34 turnovers. Erving scored 33 points and Doug Collins had 30, as the 76ers won 107–101. Walton finished with 28 points and 20 rebounds.
|Portland Trail Blazers 89, Philadelphia 76ers 107|
|Scoring by quarter: 26-31, 17-30, 21-20, 25-26|
|Pts: Walton 17
|Pts: Collins 27|
|Philadelphia leads series 2–0|
Referees: Strom, Vanak
Game 2 was an easy 107–89 win for the 76ers, who at one point scored 14 points in under 3 minutes. In the final 5 minutes, however, Philadelphia's Darryl Dawkins and Portland's Bob Gross both went up for a rebound and wrestled each other to the floor. Dawkins and Gross squared off and both benches cleared, including the coaches. In the middle of the fray, Maurice Lucas, in an act of team unity and in support of Gross, slapped Dawkins from behind and challenged him. Dawkins and Lucas were ejected, and Doug Collins needed four stitches after he caught a punch from Dawkins that had missed its target. Dawkins and Lucas were each fined $2,500. This brawl is commonly looked upon as the turning point in this series, as the Blazers unified and showed the Sixers that they wouldn't be humiliated.
|Philadelphia 76ers 107, Portland Trail Blazers 129|
|Scoring by quarter: 21-34, 32-26, 29-27, 25-42|
|Pts: Erving 28
Rebs: McGinnis 12
Asts: Erving 5
|Pts: Lucas 27|
Rebs: Walton 18
Asts: Walton 9
|Philadelphia leads series 2–1|
The series moved to Portland for the next two games, and game 3 got underway following a few tense moments as Lucas approached the Philadelphia bench before the game and offered his hand in friendship to Dawkins and the 76ers. The Blazers offense took charge of the game, and posted a 42-point fourth quarter to win 129–107. The turning point came early in the fourth with the score 91-87, when Walton tipped in an alley-oop pass from Bob Gross over Darryl Dawkins, who knocked him to the floor. Dave Twardzik then stole the Sixers' ensuing inbounds pass and found Walton, who was back on his feet, for an alley-oop dunk. Lucas had 27 points and 12 rebounds, and Walton contributed 20 points, 18 rebounds, and 9 assists.
Philadelphia attempted to use George McGinnis and Caldwell Jones on the inside for Game 4, but Walton had other ideas, going on a shot-blocking frenzy. Portland quickly led the game by 17 points and never looked back, scoring 41 points in the third quarter and winning 130–98, the largest margin of victory in a game 4 in NBA history.
Game 5 returned to Philadelphia with the series tied 2–2. Philadelphia spent much of the first half fouling the Blazers, racking up 22 personal fouls and sending the half-time score into the 40s. The Blazers added another 40 points to their total in the third quarter, and with a little over 8 minutes left in the game, Portland led 91–69. Erving rallied his team late in the fourth, scoring 37 points himself, but ultimately lost 110–104. Portland set numerous rebounding records for its team, 59 (48 defensive, team record) in all which stood until 1985, 24 (20 defensive, another team record) of which belonged to Walton alone, whose team record still stands.
Five seconds to go...Free will inbound.
Here we go.
The inbound to McGinnis.
Drives, stops, pumps, shoots, short, no good!
AND THE GAME IS OVER! THE GAME IS OVER!— Bill Schonely, Blazers' play-by-play radio announcer
June 5, 1977
Portland, now leading the series 3–2, arrived back home for Game 6 in the middle of the night to a crowd of 5,000 fans waiting at the airport. With just 48 minutes separating the Blazers from their first championship, "Blazermania" had gripped the city. Philadelphia kept the game close throughout the first quarter, but were down by 15 at halftime after the Blazers netted 40 points in the second quarter. Erving tried in vain to force a game 7 for his team, scoring 40 points, but Bill Walton's 20 points, 23 rebounds, 7 assists and 8 blocks kept the game in Portland's hands, as Philadelphia's George McGinnis missed the game-tying jump shot with 4 seconds left for a heart-stopping 109–107 Portland win. The crowd stormed onto the court in a frenzy.
Bill Walton was named finals MVP and was called "an inspiration" by the defeated Julius Erving. Maurice Lucas later said of Walton's post-game thrown jersey that was sent into the rushing crowd of fans, "if I had caught the shirt, I would have eaten it. Bill's my hero."
Portland was awarded two trophies for winning the NBA Championship: The Walter A. Brown Trophy, which was kept by the winning team for only a year until the next NBA Finals; and a newly designed trophy later to be known as the Larry O'Brien Trophy which was now to be kept by the winning team with a new one produced at every NBA Finals since. The Walter A. Brown Trophy was retired shortly after this game.
Game 6 of the Finals was originally scheduled to start at 10:30 local time on Sunday morning, because CBS wanted to accommodate a golf telecast of the Kemper Open (similar to 1976). Instead the NBA refused and CBS agreed to a noon start in Portland. Despite the fact that this was the Finals' clinching game, CBS cut away from their NBA coverage very quickly after the game ended, skipping the trophy presentation in the Portland locker room to instead televise the golf tournament.
The only known footage of the trophy presentation was of Blazers head coach Dr. Jack Ramsay voicing his opinion about Bill Walton's performance in the NBA Finals.
I've never coached a better player. I've never coached a better competitor. And I've never coached a better person than Bill Walton.
- Pluto, Terry (1990). Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association. Simon & Schuster. pp. 435–436. ISBN 978-1-4165-4061-8.
- Love, Matt (2007). Red Hot and Rollin': A Retrospection of the Portland Trail Blazers' 1976-77 NBA Championship Season. Pacific City, Oregon: Nestucca Spit Press. ISBN 978-0-9744364-8-7.