The Dicken Brothers Enjoy Best of Times, and Worst of Times
Mike and Jeff Dicken grew up in the Pennsauken neighborhood where former Philadelphia Warriors great George Dempsey lived. They became fans of the 76ers and enjoyed the best of times with the 1983 World Championship and endured the worst of times, but they have remained fans and continue to bring their sons to 76ers games.
By Kevin Callahan
Mike and Jeff Dicken grew up in the Pennsauken neighborhood where former Philadelphia Warriors great George Dempsey lived and like the constant bounce of the basketball, they heard stories about the old NBA and the man they thought was as tall as Wilt Chamberlain.
“It was a big deal,” Jeff Dicken said about seeing “Mr. Dempsey.”
“He would come out the back gate and walk all the way across the field and we were all like, ‘Mr. Dempsey's coming, Mr. Dempsey is coming.’
“My biggest memory was his walk from his house to the court. It was cool.”
The Dicken brothers were teenagers in the mid-1970’s when they played pickup basketball at the court on Githens Avenue across from the baseball field. The Dickens went on to star for the Pennsauken powerhouse football teams under coach Vince McAneney, but they embraced the countless days and nights playing hoops in their hood.
And those games became extra special when George Dempsey would make the walk from his home beyond centerfield, through right field and across Githens Avenue and onto the blacktop court with half-moon metal backboards.
“I remember as little kids running around his legs trying to cover him,” Mike Dicken said.
Dempsey, who will be 88 in July, was born in Philadelphia, but his family moved to Merchantville. In 1947, he led the Merchantville High School team to the New Jersey Group II state championship over Weehawken.
The rugged, 6-foot-2 guard went on to play at King’s College in New York before he played in the NBA from 1954 to 1959 with the Philadelphia Warriors. A point guard and shooting guard, he played in 315 games over five seasons and averaged five points and 2.3 assists in his career.
In 1956, he averaged 20 minutes in playing 72 games, shooting .475 percent from the field in helping the Warriors win the league title.
The Warriors finished the regular season under coach George Senesky with a 45-27 record.
Villanova great and NBA Hall of Famer Paul Arizin led the Warriors at 24.2 points a game. Philadelphia college legends Tom Gola of La Salle, Ernie Beck of Penn, Larry Hennessy and Bob Schafer of Villanova also played for the champion Warriors.
On January 28 of the championship year, Dempsey scored a season-high 19 points in a game against the Minneapolis Lakers and NBA Hall of Famer George Mikan. Dempsey scored 17 and 16 points in back-to-back games against the Celtics and NBA Hall of Famer Bob Cousy.
Dempsey was traded in the 1959 season to the Syracuse Nationals, where he finished his pro career after the season and moved to Pennsauken.
Dempsey and his wife Doris have lived in the same house in Pennsauken for 58 years and it is where they raised their five children - Steve, Pete, Patty, Derrick and Dan – who were all outstanding athletes themselves.
“I remember when I was back in Temple and I called home and I was talking to my dad on the phone and he said he had someone over there we were shooting in the backyard,” recalled Derrick Dempsey, who played baseball for the Owls. “He said to my dad, ‘you can't do this shot.’ and my dad held up his championship ring and said, ‘well you don't have one of these.’
“And he said, ‘we all want one of those,’ and it was Dr. J shooting baskets.”
In the 1956 playoffs, George Dempsey scored 10 points in a Game 3 win in the Eastern Division Finals over the Syracuse Nationals. In the Game 5 championship-clinching win over the Fort Wayne Pistons, Dempsey scored three points.
“We just thought it was a neat thing as kids and what was amazing about my dad was he never pressured his kids to play a sport,” Derrick Dempsey said about having a famous father. “He just said whatever you want to play I will help you out.”
Pete Dempsey was drafted by the Phillies out of Temple after his junior year and he went right to Double A. He reached Triple A and then was traded and tore up his shoulder.
“The Dempsey's were all such good athletes,” Jeff Dicken said. “And they were all great kids.”
Derrick Dempsey, a chiropractor, proved to be a great man, too. He moved to Portugal for 15 years to do mission work there through some local churches and treat underprivileged patients.
“I was working in Chicago and they needed some help so I sold my home and that was 1997,” said Dempsey, who went with his wife and young daughter, Emily,
Dempsey, who moved back to the United States four years ago and is now living in South Carolina with his family, still followed the 76ers while in Portugal and soon his sons – Graham, who just finished his freshman year at Clemson and Josiah, who will be junior in high school – became fans of the 76ers.
“My sons were born and raised in Portugal and I am a fan of Philly sports and these guys just love basketball and they are a diehard Sixers fans,” Dempsey said. “And it's not like something I pressed upon them.”
Just like his father didn’t force sports on him, Derrick Dempsey allowed the joy of sports to come to his sons.
“If you were around Githens Field, he was the steady quarterback for all the kids,” Derrick said about his dad. “He was the fungo king. He hit baseballs from my backyard and over the swings at the basketball court.”
Mike and Jeff Dicken used to catch those fungoes.
“He would show up at Githens Field when we were like 10-years-old and he would play with the neighborhood kids,” Mike Dicken said. “I remember everyone said that Mr. Dempsey played with the 76ers … he was very humble.”
Mike Dicken, who lives in Deptford, works closely with kids now, too. He is the Superintendent of the Gloucester County Institute of Technology. He has been serving children in education for over 30 years.
During the past season, he treated his own kids - sons Mike and Matt – to a 76ers game. Jeff Dicken, who lives in Marlton, and his son Jeff also attended the game as well as their sister Jill's son, Jake.
“We wanted to take all the Dicken’’ boys to a Sixers game,” Mike Dicken said. “When we were younger, we went all the time. I have two boys and Jeff has one and my sister has a boy, so we all went.
“We're going to try to do it every year, just a boys night out,”
As kids themselves, after hearing stories of George Dempsey, the Dicken brothers became fans of the 76ers.
“I remember going to watch the Sixers in the early 70s and you were getting into the game with a Tastykake wrapper,” Mike Dicken said with a fond laugh.
And the Dicken Brothers will never forget watching George Dempsey shoot baskets on Githens Avenue with them.
‘We just knew he played professional,” Jeff Dicken said. “He was big, he wasn’t a skinny 6-foot-2.”
For Mike and Jeff Dicken and the rest of the Pennsauken neighborhood kids who have grown up themselves, George Dempsey still seems 7-foot tall.