Ball Don't Lie

The Cleveland Cavaliers scouted the 1970 expansion draft with trading cards

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Bingo Smith dribbles, a skill not highlighted on his 1970 trading card (NBA Photos/ Getty).

With the advent of readily available video and editing software, the world of NBA scouting has changed considerably. Teams are able to find, watch, and consider scouting reports in record time, processing players' strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies to a degree that would have required years of firsthand experience in the past, if it were possible at all. Basketball teams operate in a totally different way.

However, the extent of that change can be difficult to imagine without an example. In 1970, the expansion Cleveland Cavaliers were set to participate in the league's expansion draft along with the Portland Trail Blazers and Buffalo Braves. As discovered by Ben Swanson while reading Joe Drape's book "In the Hornets' Nest: Charlotte and Its First Year in the NBA," the Cavs' methods of preparation were just a wee bit slapdash and unconventional (via Ben's photo and SB Nation):

When the Cleveland Cavaliers joined in 1970, coach Bill Fitch and assistant Jim Lessig had only had forty-eight hours to prepare for the dispersal draft. Computerized scouting systems and videotape were not yet available to teams. So Fitch, as the story goes, took inspiration from Lessig's son who was collecting bubble gum baseball cards. He financed a trip that Lessig made the corner drugstore, ordering his assistant to buy all the basketball cards he could get his hands on. When Lessig returned to the hotel, they spread all the cards out on their beds and tried to figure out who was available. They were then ready to build a team.

There is no indication as to how the league office reacted when the Cavaliers tried to select "Checklist" and "Chalky Stick of Gum" with their first two picks.

Jokes aside, this method produced arguably the best haul of the three teams picking in this expansion draft. Although Blazers' picks Rick Adelman and Pat Riley are the most recognizable names on the list, the Cavs ended up with several long-time team members, including shooter Bingo Smith (who they had from 1970 to 1979). At the same time, Cleveland's picks do seem to skew a little towards once-productive names that might have donned the trading cards of the era. Five-time All-Star Don Ohl, for instance, never played another game in the league after the Cavs snatched him up.

It's difficult to imagine any team being forced to employ a similar scouting method right now, but I'm pretty sure the equivalent would be selecting players based entirely on their YouTube highlight mixes. Actually, come to think of it, this could be how James White got on the Knicks roster last season.


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