Wayne Embry Rumors
Wayne Embry remembers like it happened yesterday. Now 80 years old and a consultant for the Toronto Raptors, Embry recalled how, when he was the general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks in the early ’70s, he lobbied the team’s hierarchy to draft an insanely athletic player from the East Coast.That was Julius Erving, aka Dr. J. If not for some legal issues and some behind-the-scenes shenanigans, Erving would have joined the Bucks and, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, formed perhaps the greatest triumvirate of players ever assembled.
“Now fast forward, in 1972, I’m the general manager of the Bucks and we had two draft picks that year. So I told ownership that I was going to draft – I forget the player we drafted (Russell Lee of Marshall with the sixth overall selection) — but, with the second pick in the first round, I said I would like to draft Julius Erving. I told them he’s playing in the ABA (with the Virginia Squires) and he’s going to be a great player. “They didn’t know who he was. They had never heard of him. They said, ‘Are you sure want to waste a draft pick on him?’ And, again, I told him he is playing in the ABA; that’s when the ABA just started out, and that I think we just ought to take a chance and draft him because we don’t know if the ABA is going to last.
“Well, I sat there and sat there and sat there and eventually I saw a person come out of his office and head down the hallway the other way. Well, it was Pat Williams of Philadelphia 76ers. And so I go in to talk with Irwin and he said, ‘Wayne, we just signed with Philadelphia.’ So Doc never came to Milwaukee but we did get a second round pick from Atlanta and with that pick we signed Alex English, yet another hall of famer. “From what I understand, the reason why he didn’t want to come to Milwaukee was because he didn’t want to be the third wheel behind Oscar (Robertson) and Abdul-Jabbar. That’s what he said later on. He wanted to be his own man and have his own team. We also had (Bob) Dandridge on our team and he was a very good player, too. (a five-time All-Star).
NBA.com: What do you remember about Jerry Krause? Wayne Embry: He was a hard worker. Whether it be his work in the NBA or his work in baseball. Very much attended to detail, too. He was, I would think for his time, innovative in his approach, looking for things other people may not have thought to look for. Players’ extended family, that sort of thing. He was really dedicated to what he did.
NBA.com: That’s right. In January 1973, a house that Abdul-Jabbar owned in D.C. was targeted in a home invasion. [Terrorists murdered several people in an attack on the player’s spiritual teacher Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, a rival of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. Abdul-Jabbar was not present at the time.] WE: That took Washington out, so it got down to the Lakers or the Knicks. We did everything we could do to talk him out of wanting to be traded. But he said, “Nope. If you don’t, I’ll become a free agent or I’ll sign with the ABA.” Of course we didn’t want that to happen. So we decided to keep it quiet. “Let’s not go public until we have a deal.”
And when I told Don Nelson – my roommate in Boston – that he was going to take over, he said “I’m not ready to coach.” I told him, “Nellie, you’re the coach. So let’s go for it.” He grew with the team and became obviously a Hall of Fame coach. That’s the reward, when you make decisions like that and they turn out well. That’s the pleasure I get now in an advisory capacity with Toronto. I tell the team when I speak to them before the season, my greatest joy is seeing others succeed.
And, as befitting the insane nature of his profession, he was the longest-tenured coach in the Eastern Conference at the time. There’s pressure on the coach, of course and they’re ultimately judged by their won-loss record. But the GM wants to keep his job secure, too. “It’s always difficult,” Embry said. “The person is aspiring, and they obviously think they can do the job. At the end of the day you have to be satisfied with what you’ve heard and what you know. You want to know as much as you can about the person, part with the money they’re asking for these days.”