Can the surprising NBA Philadelphia 76ers bring the City of Brotherly Love another championship to join the NFL Eagles and NCAA Villanova? Sixers enter playoffs as third seed in the East, get home court advantage in first round, and now Philly fans will be hooping it up for yet another title, so stay tuned
By Arnie Leshin
Beware of the Philadelphia 76ers. The City of Brotherly Love has already rung in NFL and men’s college basketball championships. Does championship city ring a bell?
Well, the Sixers are in the NBA playoffs for the first time in 15 years. They haven’t won a title since the 1982-83 season, and that’s when Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham was head coach and was able to call on the dynamic duo of Dr. J (Julius Erving) and Moses Malone. They swept the Knicks in the opening round, turned back the Milwaukee Bucks in five, and then swept the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was also a rather long wait after last winning the title in the 1966-67 campaign, Wilt Chamberlain’s third year. He and Cunningham and Bobby Jones set the tone for taking out the Cincinnati Royals in five, the Boston Celtics in six, and Golden State in six, and this stellar roster posted a best-ever franchise record of 68-13.
Its worse was 9-73 in the 1972-73 season. Coached by my long-time good friend, Roy Ruben, he was left an aging Hal Greer, an average center in Leroy Ellis, and a roster just pieced together at little cost.When the season ended, Ruben said no more, took his pay check and bought a Pancake House in Miami.
I was never a Philly fan. I like the city and still have relatives there, but when you’re born and raised in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, you can’t be a traitor, which is why I rooted for the Knickerbockers, the Jersey Americans, New York Nets, the New Jersey Nets, and now the Brooklyn Nets.
But it’s neat that a city with fanatic sports fans can get to celebrate the Eagles and Villanova. And even neater if the 76ers can do the same. The odds are against them, but who expected the Eagles to have such a remarkable year? Who expected Nova to win its second NCAA title in three years?
Not many, for Philadelphians are not optimistic. They always worry about their teams stumbling. They’re probably still shaking their collective heads in regard to the Super Bowl. They’re like Missouri folks, they have the show me attitude. They’ve suffered through hapless years with the Phillies, Flyers Sixers, even the Eagles.
They began in the NBA in 1949 as the Syracuse Nationals, and when renamed the Warriors, financial troubles forced the sale to a group in San Francisco and left Philly without an NBA team for the entire following season.
With new owners they became the 76ers, returned to Philadelphia, and the fans were hungry. It was a while since they celebrated three NBA championships and were downhearted when their team was the runners-up six times.
Now the wait has been 35 years. The Warriors are now the two-time champions, but as Golden State, and Philadelphia would like to duplicate that. But first things first.
If the Sixers can get past the first round, who knows what can transpire. It’s a young, talentedsquad led by 6-9 Ben Simmoms and the head coach is Brett Brown, no relation to Hall of Famer Larry Brown, who has coached the 76ers and a number of other NBA teams, plus you can add about a dozen jobs with college teams.
The club got rid of players who it felt weren’t good enough, pieced together some veterans and some talented younger, and did a great job with the draft. And Brown managed to make this lineup jell.
He has a losing career record of 125-283, but now can be labeled as one who can point to what he has done lately. In his fifth season with Philly, he has somehow brought optimism and confidence to this team.
Before this season tipped off, he spoke with the franchise owners and said their team would make the playoffs. Then they all shook hands and wished this Brown the best. But the playoffs?
Well, these guys just got better as the season progressed. Now 50-30, they sport a 14-game win streak and enter the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
Could it be another chance to ring the Liberty Bell, to have thoughts of Ben Franklin flying a kite, to have the faithful in Center City switch from pro football to pro basketball, and that makes good conversation, more brotherly love.
Philadelphia is like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, big cities that also depend on the local fans. Sure they all have fans around the country, but it’s the local faithful that fill the seats at the Wells Fargo Center.
So expect the Sixers to draw well in the playoffs. They have home court advantage as the third seed in the first round, and that’s a big plus because their fans really rock the place. No booing Santa Claus, just the referees and the visiting teams.
Yes, it’s been awhile for the hoop fans, just as the long wait for the Eagles.
Am I happy that Philly has another team in the playoffs? Of course I am. It’s a good city with problems like other metropolitan cities have, especially in the Northeast.
It’s again a hot time in a city still digging out from the snow. It’s Philadelphia USA.
PHILLY NOTES: Along with Dr. J, Chamberlain, and Malone and Cunningham, the franchise had other elite players in Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley and Hal Greer.
But it also includes a list of the best of the rest.
There was Dolph Schayes, Larry Costello and Paul Seymour with the Nats, followed through the years by Lee Shaffer, Caldwell Jones, Steve Mix, Fred (Maddog) Carter, George (the Ice Man) McGinnis, Chet (the Jet) Walker, Johnny (Red) Kerr, Luke Jackson, Bobby Jones, Anthony Toney, Archie Clark, Darryl (Chocolate Thunder) Dawkins, Doug Collins.
Cunningham was also the franchise’s most successful head coach.
Philadelphia paid the ABA Nets $3 million for Erving, and although he was super in the league of the red, while and blue basketball, he was probably the 76ers all-time leading player, the most popular with the fans.