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After perennially coming up short, the Philadelphia 76ers knew that 1983 would be their year.
They just knew.
When the Philadelphia 76ers arrived at training camp prior to the 1982-83 season, the coaching staff knew. The front office knew. The players knew.
This was finally going to be the season they climbed that final elusive hurdle and won a championship for the first time since the Wilt Chamberlain era in 1966-67.
Coming up short would no longer be acceptable. Losing in the Finals in 1977, '80 and '82 would soon be forgotten.
Adding center Moses Malone sure helped the situation but it didn't guarantee a championship.
Or did it?
"I knew in training camp we were going to be celebrating with a parade down Broad Street," Malone says. "I was new to the team but I felt like I was the missing piece. I saw how much talent the Sixers had and they were good enough to get to the Finals, which is saying something. I knew when [owner] Harold [Katz] picked me up that I was supposed to be the missing piece. I felt the same way.
"From the first day in training camp, I told [head coach] Billy [Cunningham] that the team could lean on me. I told him I had the shoulders to be that guy who did all the hard work down low. I saw the talent we had with Doc [Julius Erving] , Andrew [Toney], Maurice [Cheeks], and I just knew. I said to myself, 'No way we lose in the playoffs. No way.'
"I just knew. I felt it. From the beginning, we were confident and we had great team chemistry. Not once did I ever feel like we weren't going to win the championship. It's hard to explain other than it was just a feeling among all of us."
After coming so close in '82, it was a long offseason for the Sixers. Especially for the players who had been part of those teams.
"I felt a little bad because of the bond I had and we as a team had with Caldwell Jones, but it was the right move for us," says Julius "Dr. J" Erving, who averaged 21.4 points in 1982-83 while joining Malone on the All-NBA First Team. "We got our man in the middle and he was the right man for the team. It was like the perfect storm. We knew what we needed and Moses was exactly what we needed. We had pieces all around. Moses was so dominating from beginning to end in the middle. His 24.5-point, 15.3-rebound and 2-blocks season earned him his third MVP.
"His work ethic also was something that fit right in with us. We needed that piece that put us over the top. From the first day in training camp, I think we knew the opportunity was there. We just had to go out and grab it. We had to take control of our own destiny. We said to each other that it starts now and how we start is how we're going to finish."
They started strong, kept the momentum going in the middle and wound up with a 65-17 regular season mark. At times they looked like they could've easily won 70 games if they needed to; they were almost on auto-pilot during stretches of the season.
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The Sixers finished nine games ahead of the Boston Celtics to capture the Atlantic Division title and they were the only team in the NBA to top 60 wins, earning them an automatic berth into the semifinals [ed note: In 1983, only six teams from each conference made the playoffs and the two division winners at the time earned a bye to the next round.] But the goals were set much higher.
Once the playoffs began, the Sixers were motivated to erase the past, to exorcise the demons from their last three Finals appearances.
But they had to get there first.
From the first playoff game, there was no stopping them. The Sixers swept the New York Knicks in four games. Although every game was contested and the Knicks played the Sixers tough, it was a complete mismatch.
Then came the Milwaukee Bucks in the Conference Finals.
Philadelphia won the first three games, lost 100-94 in Game 4 and won by 12 points in Game 5 to advance to the Finals yet again. For the third time in four years, to be exact.
To win a championship meant defeating the Lakers.
This version of the Lakers wasn't the same because forward James Worthy had fractured his left leg a week before the playoffs.
The Sixers seemed to have an advantage, but that was also the case three years earlier. That's when rookie Magic Johnson started at center for a hobbled Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and almost single-handedly defeated the Sixers with a performance for the ages in Game 6 at the Spectrum. The Lakers won that game and the championship in 1980.
For the '82-83 Sixers, it didn't matter who was healthy and who was injured. This was simply about executing the gameplan and finally getting past the Lakers.
The Sixers won Game 1, 113-107, and followed that up with a 103-93 victory in Game 2.
After Philadelphia won by 17 points--111-94--in Game 3 at The Forum, the champagne was put on ice.
The Sixers trailed by two points late in the fourth quarter, but never let up. The result was a 115-108 win with Cheeks slamming home the final two points.
Philadelphia's 12-1 playoff record is still the best winning percentage in the postseason. Malone's "Fo-Fo-Fo" prediction before the playoffs was oh-so-close.
"I'm still mad to this day that we lost that game to the Bucks," says Malone. "I've had to hear, 'Fo-Fi-Fo' all these years and it doesn't seem right. We should have swept all three teams. We got the job done. To me, it was just like training camp. It was about outworking the other team. It was about doing the little things. It was about playing to your potential. We had great players and we had players willing to sacrifice.
"In the Finals, even when we were losing in Game 4, we never panicked. We knew if we just stuck to the plan, we were going to win. We had that edge that started long before the first regular season game. It was a feeling and it stuck all season. We were also fortunate to be healthy as a team. We didn't have any serious injuries.
"That feeling after Game 4 in Los Angeles was one I'll never forget. Just an incredible memory that has lasted all these years later for me. I'm asked about it all the time and I tell people it was one of the best times of my entire life."
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In the four-game sweep, the Sixers had an average margin of victory of
10 points against the Lakers.
Erving had finally secured his first NBA ring after two ABA titles.
Down the stretch in Game 4, it was Erving who stepped up and virtually won the championship for the Sixers.
As for the Finals MVP, it was none other than Malone. After an MVP regular season, Malone upped his dominance in the playoffs, averaging 26 points and 15.8 boards. And in the Finals, he proved to be too much for even Abdul-Jabbar, outrebounding the legend by a whopping 72-30.
Philadelphia hasn't won a title since 1982-83, though it advanced to the Finals in 2001 behind Allen Iverson.
"I always heard about the skeletons that we had as a franchise because we hadn't won a title," says Erving. "I never looked at it that way. To me, we got close and didn't complete the task, but I don't think that meant we were a failure. We just didn't close things out when the opportunity presented itself.
"This time, we closed things out and completed a magical season. It was a very special moment for me after we won the championship. When you hear things like not winning the big one or not measuring up, it's natural to take them personally. I just tried to stay on an even keel. In the grand scheme of things, we knew we had lost in the Finals. It wasn't the end of the world.
"We just came back motivated and we had Moses, who was that missing piece. We worked harder than ever and when we got the job done, it was extra satisfying because we had accomplished something we set out to do in training camp. I was a bit overwhelmed with joy in the locker room.
"When you push your body to the limit and endure with your teammates and you come away with a championship, it's special. Nobody can ever take that away from you."
Before the regular season even began, Cunningham told the players what was expected. Nothing short of a championship would be acceptable.
Cunningham also told them how difficult it would be to win that title.
"Billy won a title in 1967, so he knew what that feeling was like," says guard Clint Richardson, a key reserve on the 1982-83 team. "Maybe we didn't realize exactly what it took at the beginning to win. As the season moved forward, we could see where we were headed and what Billy meant about having that work ethic and staying together as a family. We had to stay motivated and focused. I knew from the beginning we were better than anyone. It was a matter of proving it on a consistent basis."
When the Sixers walked on the court, there was a look in the players' eyes. They just knew.
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Despite three regular season MVPs in his career,
Malone's Finals MVP in 1983 would be his lone one.
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Known as one of the best players of his generation,
Erving finally basked in the championship spotlight.
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This past season, the 76ers franchise celebrated the
30-year anniversary of the 1983 championship team.
"It was my second season and it was amazing to witness," says Sixers reserve guard Franklin Edwards, the team's first round pick in 1981. "I was young and didn't know how tough it would be to win a championship. When I looked into Moses' eyes and Doc's eyes and Bobby Jones' eyes, I saw players who wanted it so badly. I was so honored to be their teammate and when called upon, I knew I had to contribute. Those guys worked as hard, if not harder, in practice than they did in the games. I had to keep up.
"Now, all these years, we're still brothers. Billy told us we would have a bond for life. He was right. It's so tough to win a title in any sport. It doesn't come easily. Nothing is guaranteed. From Day One, I knew if we stayed healthy, we were the team to beat. The ride was awesome and seeing these guys all these years later makes time stand still. I love all of my teammates.
"At the time, I didn't realize how special it was. I know how special it is now. Incredible in every way and it's a bond I'll have with my teammates and the city of Philadelphia forever."
When it was over and the Sixers returned to Philadelphia, the support was overwhelming.
The parade down Broad Street drew nearly 2 million adoring fans. They were lined up on both sides of the street in droves.
What an amazing scene.
What an amazing memory three decades later.
"I've never seen anything like it," says Clemon Johnson, who was acquired by the Sixers midseason and became a key contributor off the bench. "There were people everywhere. They were all wearing Sixers shirts and Sixers hats. They were chanting and cheering. I mean, it was kind of surreal. It gave me chills and still does to this day. Sixers fans were so incredibly supportive and to see that many people on Broad Street was a sight I'll never, ever forget."
Earl Cureton, whose hook shot over Abdul-Jabbar in the Finals is forever etched in Sixers lore and championship highlights, recalls looking around at the fans during the parade and simply being in awe.
"They were high-fiving each other and high-fiving us," Cureton says. "They were so happy and you could see how badly they wanted it. We knew that the fans cared so much. When you saw that many people lined up to party, you soon figured out what it truly meant. I think that made it even more special to us as players."
The players celebrated for quite a while following the sweep of the Lakers. It was well deserved.
After all, they earned it.
The trek began at training camp. One by one, they just knew. They weren't going to be turned back in 1982-83.
"I knew it the minute I got to Philadelphia," Malone says. "We didn't sit around and talk much about what we needed to do. We had the talent. We knew what we needed to do. And we did it. We started off great and just kept it going. We didn't slow down ever. The task and the challenge was to win a title. Nothing else was good enough that year. Just win, baby.
"We were on a mission in the regular season and we carried the momentum with us into the playoffs. I knew no team was going to outwork us. I was willing to put the team on my shoulders. When we did it, we were excited. We knew we were the best team and we proved it. Winning it in Los Angeles was cool because it just proved we could beat any team in any arena. The Lakers had our number before. This one was all ours."
This story was originally published from the 2013 Official NBA Finals Program