If John Y. Brown Jr. becomes governor of Kentucky, as he figures to this fall, the union may shrink to 49 states. Brown would trade Kentucky for Samoa and two draft choices. As owner of three professional basketball teams - the Kentucky Colonels, then the Buffalo Braves, and last, the Boston Celtics - Brown loved to make trades. "He'll trade Secretariat for the mineral rights outside Abilene, Tex., said Ray Fitzgerald of The Boston Globe.
In 1975, Kentucky's biggest two-footed hero was Dan Issel, who with Artis Gilmore led the Colonels to the championship of the dear, departed American Basketball Association. In a lather over ridiculous salaries, Brown, a multimillionaire, sold Issel to the Nuggets for $600,000.
The outraged included Brown's wife, Ellie, the president of the club in title if not in authority. Ellie has argued for keeping Issel. The argument, in the Brown's mansion, ended soon after Ellie hurled a wine glass in the future governor's direction.
I helped Brown make a trade once."What the Colonels need," I said, "is a battle, somebody that can wake them up. You need somebody like John Roche."
"How do you know about that?" Brown said.
Well, I didn't know. As sportswriters and fans like to do, I was making trades in my head. But if John Brown wanted to think I knew about his efforts to trade for Roche, a New York Net at the time, who was I to argue?
"It just seems logical," I said modestly.
A month later, Brown traded two of the Colonels' starting five to get Roche. Columns were written on how the deal would make the Colonels much better, a scrappier team, real battlers.
The trade was a disaster.
With the two former Colonels, Mike Gale and Wendell Ladner, the Nets won the ABA championship. Roche couldn't play a lick and was sold away before season's end. When the Nets eliminated the Colonels in the playoffs, Ladner stood at midcourt and waved to the Browns in their box seat. I hid in my typewriter case.
I recount this adventure in the flesh market by way of advising today's readers on my credentials as a pseudo-general manager of a pro basketball team. It may take Bob Ferry, Dick Motta and Abe Pollin all summer to get the Bullets' roster set for next season. They must consider injuries, personalities, contract disputes, compensation negotiations and judgments of ability. So only a dimwit would tell the Bullets' brass what they ought to do, based on what the dimwit saw from his seat at press row.
Here's what they ought to do . . .
Make Bobby Dandridge happy.
Let Tom Henderson go.
Keep Kevin Grevey.
Drop Charles Johnson.
Trade Larry Wright and Phil Chenier.
Treat Mitch Kupchak royally.
Tell Roger Phegley and Dave Corzine they are secure here.
Send limousines to bring Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld and Greg Ballard to training camp this fall.
If the Bullets did no wheeling-dealing, it would be difficult to fault them. Standing pat this season with the 1978 NBA championship team, they made it to the championship round again. The loss to Seattle is no cause for panic. This is still a fine team.
So why does the guy who advised a trade for John Roche believe the Bullets should get rid of four of the five guards who suited up in the championship series?
Better guards are available. The league's No. 1 assist man, Kevin Porter, is a free agent campaigning to return to the Bullets, who traded him away in 1975. Armond Hill of Atlanta, also a free agent, is a better defensive player than Porter, is a solid playmaker, decent shooter and a class guy. It may be too late however, because Hill reportedly is close to re-signing with the Hawks.
Whatever magic made Charles Johnson destiny's favorite two seasons ago is now gone; Phil Chenier is a sad shadow of what he once was, and Larry Wright is maddening in his unpredictability. Henderson's contribution to the Bullets has been considerable, and his presence certainly wouldn't hurt the team next season, but if the Bullet's are to improve by dealing for a free-agent guard, they likely will have to give something of value - and in a choice between Henderson and Grevey, I'd give Henderson on the theory it is easier to replace a playmaker than a shooter.
(On second thought: Phegley is a big, shooting guard who doesn't play great defense. He is a right-handed Grevey. So maybe the Bullets need to choose between those two while keeping Henderson.
(On third thought: maybe the Bullets need two shooting guards - and Henderson - if they sign a playmaker such as Porter or Hill. That way, they would be two-deep at each job.
(On fourth thought: This general manager stuff is hard work.)
Anyway, Phegley and Corzine are earnest youngsters who, while not flashy, can be effective players. Kupchak can be a star if he gets over his back injury, and the Bullets will give him all the time he needs to recover.
Hayes and Unseld are the cornerstones of Washington's decade of success, giants who give the Bullets their identity as an uncommonly strong and durable team. Ballard is of the same mold, a second-year man who offsets his defensive deficiencies with hustle, strength, intelligent and, most important, a good shooting touch.
"A lot of pieces will fall in line that I have no control over," said Bob Ferry, the Bullets' general manager, alluding to contract talks with free agents - and perhaps, witt Bobby Dandridge.
Surely, the Bullets can find a way to make Dandridge happy.
After only one year of a three-year contract, Dandridge put the Bullets on notice last summer that he was underpaid and wanted to renegotiate his $250,000-a-year deal. He sat out most of training camp as the Bullets' brass, from owner Pollin to G.M. Ferry, said it was against club policy to renegotiate contracts.
I buy that. Dandridge agreed to the deal. If he came down with a bad back and could not play for a year, he would no more return the $250,000 than Chenier did the $300,000 paid him for a year when he did not shoot a ball. A contract is not a one-way street.
Still, Pollin should not put one of basketball's best small forwards into a terminal sulk.Given Dandridge's temperament and stubbornness, he might sit out next season if the Bullets don't find some way to give him more money.
He deserves it. Without Dandridge's fourth-quarter work, these Bullets are not a championship team - with or without free agents, with or without all of this year's guards, with or without Elvin Hayes.
Give Dandridge a bonus, give him incentive clauses, give him the keys to the executive wash-room. Do something nice.
But whatever the Bullets do, they should not trade Bobby D for John Roche, wherever he is.