NBA Connie (and Jane and Carol): The Life of an NBA Player in the 1970s
Pro athletes are notorious for their, shall we say, post-game activities. We’ve heard the stories: Magic Johnson slept with more than 1,000 women before contracting HIV and Wilt Chamberlain bedded twenty times that in his heyday during the sixties and seventies. But how much of that is true and how much of it is – as Chamberlain admitted later – hyperbole?
Well let’s travel back to the early seventies, the era of 8-track players, hot pants, and Donny Osmond crooning “Go Away Little Girl” *cringe*…
In 1971, the NBA feature 17 teams, including three teams in just their second season of existence (Cleveland, Buffalo, and Portland). Less than 200 men played in the NBA at any one time and the vast majority were young and single. About half the players were black and half were white. The average player salary was $35,000 per year (about $224,000 in 2017 dollars – or roughly what LeBron James makes per game now).
After playing their game, usually around nine or ten o’clock at night (unless they played a weekend matinee), these young men in the early 1970s escaped into foreign cities to enjoy the nightlife. Coaches usually established 1 or 2 a.m. curfews but they were rarely enforced. Some players hooked up with friends on the other team, maybe a former college teammate or someone from an earlier NBA stop. Others went back to hotel rooms to watch late-night television. And many enjoyed sampling the local nightlife, drifting off to bars or clubs to relax with a date (or two) and an alcoholic drink (or three).
Ball players in the seventies certainly did not lack for female companionship. Wilt Chamberlain was clearly in a league of his own, but even less prolific playboys had plenty of opportunities for hooking up. Julius Erving once said that “on the road, the groupies travel in packs of twos or threes,” joking that “you don’t even have to look that good. If you’re a basketball player there’s a groupie for you.”
Sometimes young women gained reputations for dating NBA players. “There used to be a pretty well-known girl called ‘NBA Connie,’” the Knicks’ Dave DeBusschere remembered, “she made more teams than Walt Bellamy.” (In 1971, Bells was playing for his fifth NBA team in ten pro seasons).
DeBusschere’s teammate, Bill Bradley, must have been familiar with that particular Connie. “Occasionally a groupie is passed around and compared,” Bradley explained in Life on the Run, his 1976 autobiography, “until she becomes NBA Jane, or Connie, or Carol.”
Jack Marin, a well-known NBA bachelor, definitely knew NBA Jane, Connie, and Carol. And probably NBA Alice, Beth, and Clarice. Marin parlayed his movie-star good looks into both a guest appearance on the hit television show “Mod Squad” and numerous one-night stands during his decade in the NBA.
In a 1971 interview, Marin explained that “being single is one of the beauties of traveling as a basketball player.” “It keeps life interesting,” he said, “our schedule is so demanding, if we didn’t have the night life in the cities we visited, we’d be schizophrenics.”
In a magazine article published that season, Marin rated each of the seventeen NBA cities by their social scene, reviewing each in a sentence or two. Chicago ranked near the top because of O’Haire Airport, providing Marin a number of stewardesses he could perhaps meet for a late-night rendezvous. “A typical date for me in Chicago,” Marin said, “would be dinner, maybe at the Sheraton Chicago where we stay, a few stops at nearby clubs and then back to the hotel for…well, never mind.” Ironically, Marin met his future wife in his hometown of Houston. “She wasn’t into basketball,” Marin joked. “I told her I was with the Rockets. She thought I worked at the space center.”
Ok, so Marin was kind of a flake (though he did finish a law degree from Duke after retiring from the league). But those NBA Janes, Connies, and Carols certainly kept life in the league interesting during the swingin’ seventies!
Adam Criblez is the author of the upcoming book Tall Tales and Short Shorts: Dr. J, Pistol Pete, and the Birth of the Modern NBA.
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