Posted Oct 15 2010 12:55AM - Updated Oct 25 2010 2:08PM
The Showtime Lakers and Magic Johnson were all we ever heard about in my house growing up.
Actually, it was my father's house. And his team. Magic was his guy. And you either rode with the Showtime Lakers or you shut up. That was the rule. If you didn't like it, "You can move," he would say.
Being the mischievous young cats that we were, my big brother got the bright idea in the fall of 1982 that we were going to take a stand and secretly pick our own team. The Celtics were off limits (we did need a place to stay and uttering the "C" word in the house would mean an instant eviction). And since Michael Jordan was still a few years away from becoming "Air Jordan," we did what most impressionable kids would do. We decided that high-flying Dr. J and his 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers would be our team.
I've never truly rooted for another NBA team before or since then because no team has moved me like that one. That season, when Doc, Moses Malone, Andrew Toney, Maurice Cheeks, Marc Iavaroni, Bobby Jones, Earl Cureton and the boys did the unthinkable and silenced the old man and his Lakers talk, was heaven for two crazy kids already madly in love with the game.
Choosing the 1982-83 76ers as my favorite team was the easy part. Trying to re-live the memories from the pre-YouTube era, however, took a little more work. Unlike some of my NBA.com colleagues, I wasn't a grown man or covering the league when the 76ers trampled the competition on their way to the title. So my recollection of that season comes from a totally different perspective.
That's why I enlisted the help of the man who played an integral part in building that team, then 76ers general manager Pat Williams, whose book -- Tales from the Philadelphia 76ers -- commemorating the team's golden era is on the way to my brother's house right now (thanks to Amazon.com).
Now a senior vice president for the Orlando Magic, the author and renown motivational speaker confirmed my memories of that team right down to smallest detail.
"It was an unbelievable team," Williams said, "a one year phenomenon. We were never quite as good again."
When I was a kid there were three marquee teams: the Lakers, Celtics and the 76ers. The Lakers and Celtics had all sorts of stars while the 76ers had Dr. J (the Jordan of his day for you '80s babies out there), Darryl Dawkins and one of our all-time favorites, Caldwell Jones. But our team was a clear third. Doc had led the 76ers to the Finals three times but they never could get it done.
Things changed before that 1982-83 season, though. The 76ers pursued and signed Moses (that's what we called him, just Moses), adding him during the height of his powers. He had led the Rockets to the 1981 Finals and was coming off a season in which he averaged a career high 31.1 points and league-best 14.7 rebounds (um, BEAST!), an MVP season. I remember my dad being furious about the 76ers signing him. He crumbled up the sports section of the local paper and threw it across the room after reading about it. He must have known what was coming. The 76ers finally had the one-two punch they needed to challenge the Lakers and Celtics for the title.
Williams knew it, too.
"We knew what we had the first day of training camp," he said. "Everybody came to camp with a glint in their eyes, a swagger. Moses lifted everybody's confidence. There was a sense we had turned the corner and had the edge. If everybody maxed out, took every day seriously, came focused and zoned in from the first day and nobody got hurt ...
"From the mile run that [head coach] Billy Cunningham had at the start of every year, it was built in. We were locked in and focused. And it remained the whole year. There was never a letdown. We just crushed teams. If you go back and look at the scores, games were just busted open by halftime on a nightly basis."
That 76ers team was one of the league's all-time greats. They didn't just whip the opposition, they demolished people. They were a top 10 team on both offense (112.1, 8th) and defense (104.4, 7th) and always seemed to put on a show.
They finished the regular season 65-17 and went 12-1 in the playoffs, missing out on Moses' famous "Fo, Fo, Fo" prediction by dropping a game to Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference finals before sweeping dad's Lakers in the Finals.
Moses was an human destroyer, winning his second straight MVP after averaging a team-high 24.5 points and a league-best 15.3 rebounds. Doc did his usual, averaging 21.4 points and piling up the highlight reel plays. They both made the All-NBA first team that year.
But we loved the other guys just as much, if not more. Toney (they called him the "Boston Strangler" for the way he ate the Celtics up every chance he got) and Cheeks were our guys. That's who we were when we played ball with our friends in the driveway.
Williams called Toney the most underrated player on that team and one of the most underrated talents the league has seen.
"People forget how good he was because he had such a short career," Williams said. "Injuries did him in. I spoke with Danny Ainge when I was writing the book and told me that next to Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, Toney caused him the most sleepless nights before he had to face him. People just don't remember what an offensive force Andrew was. He had five vintage years and by '83 he was absolutely at the top of his game, as was Moses and several other guys on that team."
I'm not sure I even realized that Toney averaged nearly 20 points and five assists as a shooting guard. My brother is four years older than me and he was the one who had all the basketball cards and kept up with the stats and details like that. I just loved the way Toney wore his socks.
Plus, my brother always made me be Cheeks so I could pass it to him and he could shoot all the time.
Our pride and joy from that season, though, was the Bobby Jones poster we slapped up on our wall. I can't remember if we got it before or after they won the title. But I know it stayed on that wall for at least the next year, right next to my bed.
I had to call my brother Eric and ask him where he got it.
"Downtown at Reynolds and Sons Sporting Goods," he said, laughing at the memory. "If anybody touched that poster we'd beat the daylights out of 'em. I can't believe you remember that thing. That was our boy, Bobby Jones."
As best I can remember, it was a Nike poster with Jones sitting on or behind a huge desk in his uniform with "Secretary of Defense" splashed across the top of the poster. No one messed with it. No one. Even our sisters knew better. Touch it and you were in for the beating of your life.
Why two kids in the heart of Detroit Pistons country would adopt the 76ers seems strange in hindsight. None of our friends liked them and we knew rooting for them openly in our own home could get us tossed out at a moment's notice.
But at the time, it made all the sense in the world. We wanted to roll with Doc, who remains my brother's all-time favorite player. Getting Moses just sealed the deal.
"That was just a special group, a special team," Williams said. "It was a magical year."
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