George Gervin has created a Motown sound that even the Supremes couldn't duplicate.
His instruments are sweet jump shots and driving layups that flow with a slow, ice-cool rhythm.. And his tunes almost always and with the same refrain: swish, swish, swish.
After soaring to the top of the NBA scoring charts during the regular season, the former Detroit playground legend is giving such virtuoso encore playoff performances for the San Antonio Spurs that even the Bullets are searching for proper accolades.
"The guy is unreal," said Bullet forward Elvin Hayes after watching Gervin score 35 an d46 points in the first two quarter final playoff games between the teams. "He may be the one player in the league who can beat you singlehandedly."
The Bullets have tried to bump him, overlay him, double-team him and worry him by using different players to defend him. But he has proven so unflappable and so consistent that they've all but conceded he'll probably score at least 30 points against them every game.
His hit parade of sound was never more lively than in Tuesday night's second contest, when he marched through the Bullets for 31 second-half points to erase all but two points from a 21-point defict.
From off-balance jumpers to driving left-handed hooks to a field goal Hayes later described as "impossible to make," Gervin converted pressure basket after pressure basket when his club couldn't afford even one errant attempt.
"One time he came under the basket and I had him completely shut off, so he went to the other side and reversed the shot in," said Hayes. "You can't do it with the angle he had, but he did," Hayes was so impressed he gave Gervin a five-finger hand slap on the way to the other end of the court.
"We did a hell of a job on him, didn't we," said Coach Dick Motta with a laugh. "We tried everything on him but what can you do? He's sensational. I even enjoy watching him and he's killing us."
Gervin has risen from relative obscurity as an All-star ABA forward to the spotlight of NBA super stardom as a guard in less than two years. In the process, he has displayed a style that is unique even in the league of great technicians, although he says you can see George Gervin duplicates on any Detroit playground.
"I've got the Motown City style," he said. "Everyone in Detroit plays this way. Go to Detroit right now and you'll see brothers shooting the same kind of shots that I shoot."
But the NBA has never had a guard who is so tall (he says he is 6-foot-8) and who so openly violates every accepted principle of textbook shooting.
Unlike classic jump shooters such as Jerry West and Oscar Robertson. Gervin doesn't need to collect himself before jumping. Nor does he need to take his shot from in front of his head. And his hands are so big and his arms so long that he doesn't need to use his left hand as a guide underneath the ball.
Although he usually releases his shots from in front of his right shoulder, he also uses a semisidearm motion at times or he improvises according to the situation. By being able to hold the basketball in his hand much the same way an average athlete would grab a tennis ball, he practically has unlimited freedom to maneuver.
"I know if I've got the ball in my hands, I can take whatever shot I want," he explained. "I can do it from any position and from any angle. It depends on the defense. I can adjust to what they give me.
"I don't shoot like like Jerry West because I didn't know who Jerry West was when I was growing up. I shoot like I do because of my background. It was natural.
"I took a thousand shots a day. That's how I learned."
An onlooker laughed. "Come on George, that's a lot of shots.You couldn't have taken that many."
"I don't care who wants to believe it or disbelieve it," Gervin replied. "I took 1,000 or so a day. I'd take 2,000 if I could."
Gervin and his boyhood friends practiced on a basket attached to a telephone pole. There was no out of bounds underneath the basket, so he was able to learn the close-in angle shots that had Hayes talking to himself Tuesday night.
In his case at least, practice produced a nearly perfect product. Despite taking as many 20-foot jumpers as he does layups. Gervin in a career 51 percents shooter who has been held below double figures only three times in 164 NBA games.
"I'm hungry, that's why I'm so consistent," he said. "I stood in line for food with my mother when I was growing up in Detroit and I could have just as easily been a criminal today. I appreciate what has happened to me and I don't want to mess it up."
It's taken Gervin seven pro seasons to obtain national recognition. He has suffered from playint for an unpublicizec NBA club after toiling in the largely ignored ABA. And he blew any opportunity to receive an ALL-America build-up in college when he lost his temper during a postseason tournament game his sophomore year at Eastera Michigan and punched an opponent.
The school kicked him out before his junoir season because of the incident and he had to become a star in a local semipor league to gain a pro contract. And he might still be an out-of-position, hardly special, 190-pound forward with the Spures if James SIlas, the club's guard, hadn't severely injured his knee two years ago.
"Wa needed a scoring guard with Silas out," said San Antonio Coach Doug Moe, "but you always hesitate to move a guy as tall as Gervin to guard. But he is really a natural guard, despite what people keep saying. He should have been there his whole life, instead of wasting time at forward."
That this 6-8 beanpole was born to play guard is counter to anything you might read in a baskeball textbook. He shouldn't be quick enough and he shouldn't handle the ball well enough to last in the backcourt. But Gervin has sufficient ability in both areas to survive in the land of midgets.
"He is probably the slowest man on the team, slower than (center) Billy paultz," said Moe, "but he is quick, I know that sounds funny to fans, but all he needs is a step or two to get open and then speed doesn't really matter."
Nor is Gervin bothered by pesky, smaller defenders. He is often isolated at the top of the key so he can go one-on-one against his opponent. If he had any ball-handling problems, they would show during these situations, but he very rarely loses possession."I used to dribble all the time when I was growing up," said Gervin. "I wasn't always tall. I was 5-8 in high school one year, then I was 6-6 the next. They thought I was hangning on trees, stretching. And as I grew, my ballhandling grew with me."
Now Gervin resents any implication that he is playing an unnatural position where he survives solely on his shooting ability.
"Why shouldn't I fell like a guard, just because I'm 6-8?" he said. "It takes more tha a guy who can shoot to do what I do. You have to have guard sense and know how to make situations. You have to create and I can."
"When you can find a guy 6-8 who can do what a guy 6-3 can do, what can you say?"
Opponents are saying ouch. Gervin represents perhaps the most difficult matchup problem in a league where matchups usually determine winning and losing. At east a few teams have centers as tall as Kareen Abdul Jabbar; no club has a 6-8 guard to oppose Gervin."When they put a 6-3 guy on me," he explained, "I've got a world of freedom to explore. It's up to me to do what I can. He's not tall enough to block me and he's not that much quicker to stop me from getting my shot off.
"And I love the situation where they put a 6-8 forward on me. I'll try to take hiom to the hole and create something. There's really no use for them to put a 6-8 guy on me who isn't used to playing out front. It wont work."
Gervin's easy-going gait makes him ever harder to defend. He never exerts more energy than he needs, and he lulls opponents into the same medium speed tempo. But he can just as quickly break away with one gigantic stride and drive to the basket, where his 38-inch reach enables him to dunk the ball with ease.
Just as quickly, he reverts to his keep-it-cool image. Gervin, the Ice-man, never gets rattled. It's part of the pysche job he does on opponents.
Bullet guard Kevin Grevey, who has the unenivable job of trying to cover Gervin in the playoffs, has received a full dose of Gervin's mental warfare.
About 45 minutes before Game Two in San Antonio, the two players were the only ones on the court. They were warming up at the same basket when Gervin nonchalantly tossed in eight straight 20-foot bank shots from the lest side. Then he casually threw up a rainbow one-hander and turned and walked away.
Three steps later, he turned back. The ball tumbled through the net, in full view of Grevey. Gervin turned again and kept walking.
"He keeps you humble," said Grevey. "I score 31 against him, but he gets 46 against me. Whatever you do isn't enough. We try to make sure he has to play defense so he has to work at both ends. If we run him through picks and rough him up a little, it has to affect him."
But Moe watches his 6-8 carefully, Gervin usually produces diminishing returns if he plays more than 35 minutes. At the first signs of figure, he moves to the bench.
There is good reason for such considerate handling. Gervin represents the future of the San Antonio franchise. He is the club's most popular member, a likeable, accessible star who loves the city and involves himself in local affairs. His name and talents sell tickets, one reason the Spurs are in the back financially this year.
He also he a bargain for the team - an elite player who earns about $200,000 a year, which is below the level athletes of his caliber receive in the league. He originally signed an eight-year pact for $125,000 in 1975, but since has negotiated a raise.
Gervin says he wants to remain a Spur for the rest of his career despite knowing he could become richer in another NBA city. He is going to take lessons richer in another NBA city. He is going to take lessons in what he calls "street or kitchen Spanish" this summer so he can communicate with more of the town's citizens. He also is organizing free children's clinics in the city "to give them instructions on things I never learned on the play-grounds."
And when he retires, he'd like ot purchase "a big ranch and raise myself some cattle. There is no more Detroit for me. The city can go on without me."
From now on, Gervin is producing something new: the San Antonio sound.