In basketball, championships have been won by tall teams and small teams, teams with excellent outside shooters and teams with dominant centers. Is it possible, though, for a major title to be won by a nonteam? Yes. Give a hiss to the Philadelphia Phreelancers, who have a chance to degrade their sport the way the Flyers did hockey.
Every now and then on fast breaks, which they run splendidly, the 76ers offer a hint of teamwork, perhaps as much out of possible embarrassment as charitable instincts. Even Lloyd Frees has a conscience from 30 feet when someone closer to the hoop is unguarded.
Mostly, though, the 76ers offer either their Museum Offense, which is one piece of art and four statues, or a Free throw from Altoona. But the Portland Trail Blazers seem to be all that stands between the 76ers and the NBA title. They could well be the first of the blatant checkbook champions of sport.
Most teams do not even have one of the players known in the trade as a "franchise," in Abdul-Jabbar, an O. J. Simpson, a Joe Morgan, a Pele. The 76ers have two - and another who may well be in that category by the time his college class graduates, in two years.
Indiana and the New York Mets dominated the ABA at times with cornerstones now manning the large and small forward positions with the 76ers, George McGinnis and Juluis Erving. And the center of attraction in the future will be Darryl Dawkins, 20, the second of the high school hardship cases who is said to be the second strongest man in the NBA, behind Bob Lanier.
The notion here is not to imply that the 76ers are not an attraction, although they failed to sell out for five of their six home playoff games thus far. But they ought to be treated in the same regard as the NBA's slam-dunk contest, something to be entertained by but not emulated.
But the style of winners has a way of filtering down through their sport. When Lombardi's Packers began dominating the NFL, every football team in the world ran 49 sweep. Didn't organized baseball begin with Branch Rickey? The Flyers took violence to new heights - and hockey to new depths.
If the 76ers reach the pro basketball summit, it will shatter some traditional concepts about how to mold a team - at the lowest and highest levels. Never mind about discipline and patterns. Install the 76ers' nine play, the one where Free cuts off a pick by Dawkins and fires up a 20-footer.
Philadelphia does play defense a bit better than many insist. It did hold the Celtics under 80 points in the seventh game of their playoff test. And Doug Collins has done a reasonable job on Houston's John Lu cas and Mike Newlin. Moses Malone hardly saw the ball in the most recent Rocket fizzle.
By extension, the Bullets are looking worse every time 76ers continue on what figures to be a five-game series against the Rockets, who ought to win once in Houston. It was the Rockets who exposed some empty Bullet chambers, although a loaded gun might not have been enough for more than one Washington victory against the 76ers.
The Rockets' virtues - discipline, fine perimeter shooting by more than one player, aggressive rebounding, diving on the floor for loose balls - have yielded two defeats in two games that mattered against Philadelphia.
"Frankly," said a man being paid to understand such matters in Philadelphia, "I think the town already has the 76ers in the finals in their minds. To a lot of them, Houston is like a weak cup of coffee - you drink it because it's there." Which is a tough statement to swallow inside Capital Centre.
Profound decisions often are made on impulse within the NBA. And a Houston fold against the 76ers might well prompt the Bullets to use a larger broom than necessary in their postplayoff housecleaning.Recall that if Larry Wright had not played one marvelous game early in the season Tiny Archibald would have been a Bullet.
If the 76ers do in fact win the NBA title, the life of NBA general managers might be less complex. Checkbook scouting will be in vogue. No more roaming the country to see if this forward can play defense or that shooter can penetrate. Simply wait for the next crop of Truck McAdoos to play out their options and , like a Mellon at Keeneland, say: "I'll take one of those, and him, and . . .?"
Fortunately, that probable last hurdle for the 76ers - the Trail Blazers - just might to insurmountable. Portland figures to burst past the Los Angeles Jabbars about the time the Rockets' red glare becomes most intense and CBS will allow the championship tipoff to begin some Sunday before Labor Day.
When that series begins, it will offer stark contrasts, for the Trail Blazers offer a scoring center who passes beautifully, the most underrated forward in basketball, a thinking coach and players who move well without the ball. Simply, the Trail Blazers are a team to warm a purist's heart and, like the Canadiens in hockey, to be encouraged on their charge to thesummit.