Not since the merger of the National and American Basketball associations three years ago has a college basketball player been in as enviable a position as Indiana State's Larry Bird.
With only one major league, a player coming out of college usually has to go with the team that drafts him and take the money that team is offering, like it or not.
That is not the case with Bird. He has leverage.
Bird has it because he was drafted by the Boston Celtics a year ago. If the Celtics don't offer what he wants, he can go into this year's draft pool.
Bird was eligible to be drafted last year because that's when his class graduated. That rule has since been changed, so Bird will be the last to benefir from it.
Bird is asking $1 million a year for six years. Which would make him the highest-paid athlete in professional sports.The Celtics are offering half that amount.
Negotiations between Bird's agent Bob Woolf and the Celtic president and general manager, Red Auerbach, on and off for two months, resume today.
"We're still hopeful, but we just don't know what will come of the meeting," said the Celts' assistant general manager, Jeff Cohen.
Assuming Bird does sign with Boston, the No. 1 pick in the June 25 draft will be Earvin (Magic) Johnson, coming off his sophomore year at Michigan State, in which he led the Spartans to the NCAA championship.
The Los Angeles Lakers won a coin flip with the Chicago Bulls for first pick in the draft and announced this month that Johnson would be their pick.
"If you believe in Magic, buy a Laker season ticket" is their new sales pitch.
Chicago had the worst record in the Western Conference and the New Orleans Jazz the worst in the East this season, but the Jazz's pick belongs to the Lakers as part of compensation for signing Gail Goodrich as a free agent.
The Lakers and Johnson have already negotiated a contract and reportedly agreed on a four-year arrangement worth between $500,000 and $600,000 a year.
Most scouts agree this is a so-so year for overall talent.There are some good prospects to help whichever team drafts them, but New York Knick General Manager Eddie Donovan said, "I don't think there's a player out there who can turn a team around. There is some good talent but there is no Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and that's what it takes."
The Knicks have three first-round picks. So do the Detroit Pistons.
The closest thing to an Abdul-Jabbar in this draft probably is Bill Cartwright, the 7-foot center from the University of San Francisco.
Cartwright is the best true center in the draft and if the Lakers didn't already have Abdul-Jabbar and the Bulls Arts Gilmore, he probably would be the first player chosen.
Most sources say there are about nine "can't -miss" players coming out of school this year, including Bird, Johnson and Cartwright. The others are 6-5 Duke guard Jim Spanarkel, 6-7 Michigan State forward Gregory Kelser, 6-9 Rutgers forward-center James Bailey, 6-5 Northeast Louisiana forward Calvin Natt and 6-4 Arkansas guard Sidney Moncrief.
A 6-4 leaper in the David Thompson mold, Moncrief is a natural big guard. He is not an expert ball-handler, but still is better than most big guards. He also could play small forward, if necessary.
There is no general manager or scout in the league not high on Natt.
"He's an animal," said Washington Bullet scout Bill Gardiner, "and he's a good defender. He's strong, can shoot and take it inside. He looks a little like Adrian Dantley and he plays a lot like him. He can take both you and the ball and put in the basket."
The Seattle SuperSonics, with the sixth and seventh picks in the first round, probably will get Moncrief.
Kelser improved his stock greatly by playing as well as he did in the NCAA tournament.
Spanarkel, despite being a step slow, will go very quickly in the draft.
"He has no quickness, but he has things other people don't," Gardiner said. "He is smart and can shoot. He'll beat you five different ways. Anyone looking for a smart big guard will pick him quickly. He could be the second guard picked, after Moncrief."
The nation's leading collegiate scorer last season, Lawrence Butler of Idaho State, probably will have trouble making it in the NBA. He is listed at 6-3, but scouts say he is 6-1.
In the college all-star games after the regular season, Butler tried playing the ball-handling guard spot and was the primary shooter, he did well.
Another guard who is getting a lot of attention is 6-3 Vinnie Johnson of Baylor. He is a good shooter, ball-handler and passer and physically probably is the strongest guard in the draft.
When it comes to all-around strength, however, no college player is better than 6-6 Alabama forward Reggie King, who everyone says is a definite first-runner.
No one knows how good Marquette's Bernard Toone will be. At 6-8 he is one of the best-shooting of big men, but he has a tendency to get lost. As one scout put it, "He hits a couple and then you lose him for five minutes. The way he shoots, though, someone will draft him."
The catch of this draft could very well be Bailey. A year ago he was considered a blue chipper, but had an off year this season. However, he dominated all of the all-star games he played in, and is very high on practically every general manager's list.
Bullet General Manager Bob Ferry likens Bailey to Elvin Hayes. He is a dominating big forward who can shoot from 15 feet.