1937-49: It All Started in 1937
The original Philadelphia 76ers were neither in Philadelphia nor called the 76ers. But the team did begin in a northeastern city and did have a patriotic name, the Syracuse Nationals. The Nats had been in the NBA since the league's first year of existence and came to the City of Brotherly Love in 1963, just after the Warriors had abandoned Philadelphia for San Francisco. Thus began the Philadelphia 76ers, an organization that has featured one of the best NBA teams ever to swagger onto the court (68-13 in 1966-67) and one of the worst to be blown off it (9-73 in 1972-73).
Along the way such figures as Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, and Charles Barkley have registered some of their finest seasons in a Philadelphia uniform. Other notables, such as Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham and Maurice Cheeks, have earned their reputations with the team as well. Philadelphia, one of the country's great basketball cities, and its 76ers are an important part of the league's history and of its future.
1949-50: Syracuse Joins the NBA
The three-year fight for survival between the NBL and the BAA ended when the two leagues merged for the 1949-50 season. Six franchises from the NBL, including Syracuse, were brought into the BAA for the 1949-50 season, and the new league became the National Basketball Association. (Philadelphia's heritage in the new league is worth noting: the Philadelphia Warriors were one of 11 charter members of the BAA and were in the original NBA.)
The new league was a mess. It contained three divisions and 17 teams, with the divisions aligned so that the older BAA squads were separated from small-town NBL leftovers such as Sheboygan, Waterloo, and Anderson.
Syracuse was placed in the Eastern Division with New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore, beginning the franchise's longtime rivalries with the Celtics and the Knickerbockers. Syracuse stormed onto the NBA scene by posting a 51-13 record to win the division title. Syracuse then proved it belonged in the league by beating Philadelphia, two games to none, and New York, two games to one, in a complicated playoff schedule. The Nationals met the Lakers in the first-ever NBA Finals.
The Nats, with a 31-1 record at home, had the home-court advantage, meaning that Minneapolis had to win a game at Syracuse to take the crown. The Lakers pulled that trick in the first game, 68-66, on a 40-foot shot by Bob Harrison at the buzzer. Mikan scored 37 points. The Lakers went on to win the championship, four games to two, with Mikan averaging 31.3 points in the postseason.
1950-55: The Franchise's First Star
Syracuse was led by 6-8 Dolph Schayes, who averaged 16.8 points for the year, sixth best in the new league. Schayes, who joined the team in its last season in the NBL and contributed 12.9 points per game as a rookie, was one of the first players to combine size with shooting skills. A player with a deadly long-distance two-handed set shot and a rugged game inside, he would lead the team in scoring for 13 consecutive years, pace the team in rebounding in 10 of 11 years, and earn a spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He would also father a son, Danny, who would have a lengthy career of his own in the NBA some three decades later.
Dolph Schayes was joined on the team by Player-Coach Cervi, center George Ratkovicz, forward Alex Hannum, and guards Billy Gabor and Paul Seymour. For 1950-51 the NBA was down to 11 teams as Chicago and St. Louis folded and Anderson, Denver, Sheboygan, and Waterloo left to reorganize the NBL with four new franchises. Syracuse stayed in the NBA (a wise decision as it turned out).
The Nats finished the regular season at 32-34, fourth place in the Eastern Division, but earned a playoff spot. They made the most of it, sweeping the division-champion Warriors in the first round. However, New York got past Syracuse in the division finals, three games to two, to advance to the Finals against the Rochester Royals. In the first seven-game Finals in NBA history, played partly in a 5,000-seat armory in New York City because a circus was occupying Madison Square Garden, the Royals triumphed, four games to three.
Individually, Schayes tied for sixth in scoring (17.0 ppg), first in rebounding (16.4 rpg), and 10th in assists (3.8 apg). Despite such stellar statistics, Schayes was not selected to the All-NBA First Team. It was comprised of Mikan, Alex Groza, Ed Macauley, Ralph Beard, and Bob Davies. For Syracuse, Ratkovicz shot .415 from the field to finish among the league leaders. Fred Scolari, who played for both Washington and Syracuse during the year, finished eighth in the league in assists with 3.9 per game.
Syracuse finished in first place in the Eastern Division in 1951-52, edging Boston and New York in a close race. Cervi, playing less and coaching more, emphasized a patient offense and a scrappy defense-the team led the league by yielding a stingy 79.5 points per game. On offense, Schayes topped the team with his 13.8 points per game, the 16th-best mark in the NBA. Red Rocha, a 6-9 player who joined the club from Baltimore, averaged 12.9 points, and rookie George King added 10.0 points per contest. In the playoffs Syracuse defeated the Philadelphia Warriors for the second consecutive year, though it took three games in 1952. In the Eastern Division Finals, the Knicks took the first game on the Nats' floor, 87-85, and then sent Syracuse home for the season by winning Games 3 and 4 in New York. Syracuse Survives A "Foul" Season.
The 1952-53 NBA season was particularly rugged. League officials were experimenting with rule changes to limit fouling in the final minutes. The rules still needed adjustment-the average number of fouls per game rose to 58 during this season. The Eastern Division race was a close one. The Nats fell half a game short of New York for the division title and needed a tiebreaker to take second place from Boston. But the Celtics got revenge with a two-game sweep of Syracuse in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The series consisted of an 87-81 Celtics win at Syracuse and then an amazing four-overtime, 111-105 Celtics victory at Boston. Schayes finished fifth in the league in scoring (17.8), third in free throw percentage (.827), and third in rebounding (13.0). He was named to the All-NBA First Team at season's end. Back-To-Back NBA Finals.
Syracuse found the bright lights of the NBA Finals twice during a two-season span that ended with the Nationals' only championship in 1955. It was a time when basketball was becoming a major national sport and the NBA was searching for its identity. The game was still marred by fouls but benefited from a plethora of skilled scorers.
The Indianapolis Olympians folded prior to the 1953-54 season after key players Alex Groza and Ralph Beard, who had helped form the team, became embroiled in a gambling scandal linked to their days with the University of Kentucky. Indianapolis's departure left nine teams in the NBA. The league's top five teams continued to slug it out. New York finished two games ahead of both Syracuse and Boston in the Eastern Division, while Minneapolis edged Rochester by a pair of games in the Western Division. (Fort Wayne also made the playoffs.)
A wacky playoff system--the top three teams in each division played in a round-robin to determine four finalists--resulted in division championship matchups of Syracuse-Boston and Minneapolis-Rochester. The Nats conquered Boston in two straight, while the Lakers triumphed in three games. The Nats-Lakers series went seven games, with neither team reaching 90 points in a single contest. The struggle opened in Minneapolis, where the Nats stole one of two games, but the Lakers countered by winning two of three at Syracuse. A 65-63 Nats win in Game 6 forced a seventh contest, which the Lakers won, 87-80, to post their fifth title in six years (cementing Mikan's place as the most dominant player of the NBA's early years).
In 1954-55 Syracuse won the team's only NBA championship. Schayes enjoyed a superb season (18.5 ppg, 12.3 rpg), but the Nationals' crown was earned by a balanced team well equipped for the new 24-second shot clock and for the retirement of Mikan. Syracuse's Paul Seymour (6.7 apg) and George King (4.9 apg) were two of the top eight assists men in the league, while Seymour scored 14.6 points per game and spearheaded the league's stingiest defense. Red Rocha (11.3 ppg), John Kerr (10.5), and Earl Lloyd (10.2) all made solid contributions on the offensive end.
1955-57: A Gut-Wrenching Championship Series
With the old Baltimore Bullets folding early in the season, eight teams remained in the NBA. The top three teams in each division made the playoffs, and the division winners each received a bye to the division finals. Syracuse took the bye and then thumped Boston, three games to one, to reach the NBA Finals against Fort Wayne, a young team that had outgunned Minneapolis and Rochester.
The seven-game Finals was a classic; the largest margin of victory was only seven points. In Game 7, King sank a free throw to give the Nats a one-point lead, then came up with a steal to preserve the 92-91 victory. The series and the shot clock infused the league with excitement. The Nationals, however, had advanced as far as they would go until landing in Philadelphia eight years later.
In 1955-56 Syracuse had trouble repeating its success. Seymour missed 15 games due to an injury, and the team finished in third place in the Eastern Division, escaping a last-place finish only by beating New York in a tiebreaker. In the playoffs the Nats were stronger, defeating Boston, two games to one, in the division semifinals before falling to the Philadelphia Warriors in the Eastern Division Finals. Philadelphia went on to win the championship.
The 1956-57 season began the Celtics' incredible stranglehold on NBA crowns (11 titles in 13 seasons). Rookie Bill Russell brought defense, rebounding, and shotblocking to a team that was already flush with shooters and ballhandlers such as Tom Heinsohn, Bob Cousy, and Bill Sharman. Syracuse could only watch. The Nationals got off to a slow start that cost Al Cervi his job as coach. Seymour replaced Cervi, and Syracuse closed with a flourish to finish in second place in the Eastern Division at 38-34. The Nationals advanced past Philadelphia in the division semifinals but offered little resistance to the championship-bound Celtics, who dropped Syracuse in three straight. Schayes finished third in the league in scoring (22.5 ppg) and rebounding (14.0 rpg). Ed Conlin was the team's No. 2 scorer at 13.4 points per game.
1957-59: Small-Time Syracuse Fields A Big-League Team
In 1957-58 Fort Wayne and Rochester, two of the smaller cities whose teams began in the NBL, saw their franchises move to Detroit and Cincinnati, respectively, to seek higher revenues. Minneapolis and Syracuse remained as the league's only small-market franchises.
On the court the Nationals were still big-league caliber. The team finished in second place in the Eastern Division at 41-31 but was tossed from the playoffs by Philadelphia, two games to one. Schayes led the team in scoring (24.9 ppg), but the Nats had three other players hover around 15.0 points per game: swingman Conlin (15.0 ppg), center Johnny Kerr (15.2), and guard Larry Costello (14.9).
A couple of additions to the Nationals' roster for 1958-59 propelled them back into the playoffs with a 35-37 record. Rookie Hal Greer, a 6-2 guard from Marshall, threw in 11.1 points per game coming off the bench, and the team obtained George Yardley, the previous season's scoring champ, 46 games into the year. Yardley (19.8 ppg) combined with Schayes (21.3) to give the Nationals a high-powered frontcourt. Syracuse finished in third place in the Eastern Division behind Boston and New York but then swept the Knicks in two straight in the Eastern Division Semifinals. In the division finals the Nationals took the Celtics to seven games in a high-scoring series, only to fall, 130-125, in Game 7. Boston then swept the Minneapolis Lakers to take their second championship in three years.
1959-61: Nats Wilt After Chamberlain Arrives
Wilt Chamberlain arrived in the NBA in 1959-60, bringing a wave of offense to a league suddenly awash with scorers. Chamberlain's 37.6 points per game led the NBA, followed by gunners Jack Twyman (31.2 ppg), Elgin Baylor (29.6), Bob Pettit (26.1), and Cliff Hagan (24.8). Schayes, a set-shooter from the old school, held his own with 22.5 points per game, which ranked seventh in the league, and he posted the circuit's best free-throw percentage at .893. The Nationals tried to keep pace with the Celtics and Warriors. They added rookie Dick Barnett, a guard with a good shot, to strengthen the bench. Costello, joined in the backcourt by Greer, ranked fourth in the NBA in assists (6.3 apg) and fifth in free throw shooting (.862).
The team finished in third place in the Eastern Division with a 45-30 record, not good enough to surpass Chamberlain and the Warriors in the regular-season standings or in the playoffs. The Warriors ousted the Nationals, two games to one, in the division semifinals. In 1960-61 Syracuse turned in a disappointing third-place finish behind Philadelphia and Boston, posting a 38-41 record. But the Nationals proved that, as powerful as Chamberlain was, he couldn't win a championship single-handedly. In the playoffs the Nats pressured the other Philadelphia players and swept the Warriors in three games to advance to the Eastern Division Finals. Boston took care of business there, handing the Nats a five-game series defeat.
As the country entered a new decade, the NBA stretched across the country-the Lakers moved to Los Angeles for the 1960-61 season-and was more high-powered than ever. In 1961-62 Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points, including a record 100-point outing on March 2, while Walt Bellamy, Oscar Robertson, Bob Pettit, and Jerry West each topped 30.0 points per game.
1961-63: Syracuse Hangs Tough Without Injured Star
Schayes missed 24 of 80 games with a broken jaw, and his 14.7 points per game weren't enough to place him among the league's leaders. As a result, Greer (22.8 ppg) became the first player other than Schayes in 14 years to lead the Nationals in scoring. Dave Gambee averaged 16.7 points for Syracuse, which continued to hang tough in the standings, finishing 41-39 and third in the Eastern Division behind Philadelphia and Boston. The Nationals advanced to the 1962 NBA Playoffs but lost to Chamberlain's Warriors, three games to two, in the division semifinals.
Philadelphia has long been a basketball town. Professional teams have been in and around the city since before World War I. The Philadelphia SPHAs were one of the top barnstorming clubs between the wars, while the Philadelphia Warriors were an original BAA and NBA team. Several colleges in the city have traditionally fielded strong programs. But in the 1962-63 season there was no professional basketball in Philadelphia. Warriors owner Eddie Gottlieb had sold his club to a San Francisco group, which took the team west. The void was to be filled within a year.
The Nationals, still in Syracuse for 1962-63, should have had a hard time winning half of their games. Schayes (9.5 ppg) was running out of tricks, and the team was consistently outsized. But the club hustled to a 48-32 record on the shooting of Greer and Lee Shaffer and the scrappy play of center John Kerr. The team was upended in the Eastern Division Semifinals by Cincinnati, which was led by Oscar Robertson. The series went five games, with Cincinnati prevailing in Game 5, 131-127, in overtime.
1963-66: Basketball Returns to Philadelphia
In the spring of 1963, Irv Kosloff and Ike Richman teamed to buy the Syracuse Nationals and moved the team to Philadelphia as the 76ers. Despite the changes, the new team didn't look all that different on the court. Schayes spent the season, his last, as player-coach; Greer poured in 23.3 points per game; and Chet Walker, a 6-7 second-year player, added 17.3 points per contest. Shaffer, Kerr, and Costello were still with the team, though Shaffer and Costello each missed almost half of the season with injuries. The team finished with a record of 34-46 and was knocked from the playoffs again by Cincinnati.
With professional basketball back in Philadelphia, it wasn't long before the city's greatest individual talent returned. Wilt Chamberlain had left his native Philadelphia to play college ball at the University of Kansas and had then toured with the Harlem Globetrotters. Possessing a unique combination of both height and agility, Chamberlain entered the NBA in 1959 at home with the Philadelphia Warriors. With the Warriors he quickly became the most dominant scorer in league history. Yet, as the franchise resettled out West, not all was well with the team and its star. The Warriors, despite Chamberlain's continued scoring bursts, were having trouble winning games and fans in 1964-65. The team wanted to unload "the Big Dipper" and his salary for new players and big money. The 76ers welcomed the proposition.
Halfway through the 1964-65 season the Warriors traded Chamberlain for guard Paul Neumann, center Connie Dierking, forward Lee Shaffer (who never signed with the Warriors or played again in the NBA), and cash. The trade was the start of something very good for Philadelphia's second NBA team. The 76ers finished the 1964-65 season at 40-40, good enough for third place in the division behind Cincinnati and Boston. They advanced past Cincinnati in the Eastern Division Semifinals, then battled the Celtics for seven games in the division finals before falling, 110-109, in Game 7.
Prior to the 1965-66 campaign, with Chamberlain entering his first full season with the Sixers and getting support from Hal Greer, Chet Walker, rookie Billy Cunningham, and Wally Jones (obtained from Baltimore), many fans felt it was finally time to dethrone Boston, which had claimed seven straight division titles. The observers were only partially correct. Chamberlain averaged 33.5 points, the lowest output of his first seven seasons. But it was a well-balanced Sixers squad that won 18 of its final 21 games, including the last 11, to finish at 55-25, a single game ahead of the Celtics.
However, a first-round bye dulled the 76ers' edge, while the Celtics sharpened their attack with a three-games-to-two series win over Cincinnati. In the Eastern Division Finals the Sixers managed only a six-point win in Game 3 against the Celtics and dropped the series in five games.
1966-67: Chamberlain Loses Scoring Title, But Sixers Win NBA Title
Dolph Schayes was subsequently ousted as head coach, and Alex Hannum took control of what turned out to be one of the finest teams of all time. Hannum instructed Chamberlain to pass more and shoot less in 1966-67. Chamberlain's average dipped to 24.1 points per game, the first time in eight years he hadn't won the scoring title. But he may have been more effective than ever, ranking first in field goal percentage (.683), first in rebounding (24.2 rpg), and third in assists (7.8 apg).
The team was simply awesome. Walker (19.3 ppg) and Cunningham (18.5) were deadly from the corners, and Luke Jackson (8.9 rpg) was active in the paint. Greer was a master scorer and playmaker, finishing with averages of 22.1 points and 3.8 assists per game. The other guard was Jones (13.2 ppg), and top reserves included rookies Matt Guokas and Billy Melchionni and veteran Larry Costello.
The team won 45 of its first 49 games, flattening most of the opposition en route to a 68-13 regular-season record, eight games ahead of the Celtics, who managed 60 wins for the year. In the playoffs the 76ers kept rolling, eliminating Cincinnati in the division semifinals.
In the Eastern Division Finals, Chamberlain scored 32 points against Bill Russell in a Game 1 win, and the 76ers surprised the Celtics with a 107-102 Game 2 victory at Boston. The teams split the next two before Philadelphia exploded for 140 points to win Game 5 and the series, advancing to the NBA Finals and ending the Celtics' hopes for a ninth-straight title.
Philadelphia's championship, which was Chamberlain's first, was almost anticlimactic. The 76ers overwhelmed the San Francisco Warriors in six games to take the crown. That Sixers team has since been recognized as one of the greatest ever. As part of the NBA's 35th-anniversary celebration in 1980, the 1966-67 Sixers were voted the best team in NBA history. Cunningham, Guokas, and Costello each would go on to coach in the league while Chamberlain piloted a team for one season in the ABA.
Lacking the mission but not the talent of the year before, the 76ers were strong again in 1967-68. They stormed to a 62-20 regular-season record to finish in first place in the Eastern Division. The seemingly ageless Celtics came in runners-up but then shocked the Sixers by rallying from a three-games-to-one deficit in the Eastern Conference Finals to win the series and advance to the NBA Finals.
1967-72: A Short-Lived Dynasty
Indeed, the 76ers' dynasty was short-lived, and the team was quickly transformed. For the 1968-69 season Coach Hannum went to the Oakland Oaks of the ABA, leaving General Manager Jack Ramsay at the helm. Desiring a running club, Ramsay traded Chamberlain to Los Angeles for guard Archie Clark, center Darrall Imhoff, forward Jerry Chambers, and cash.
The new Sixers, with Billy Cunningham ranking third in the league in scoring (24.8 ppg), managed 55 wins for a second-place showing behind Baltimore. But Philadelphia didn't possess the power to compete in the playoffs and lost to Boston, four games to one, in the Eastern Division Semifinals. The trade of Chamberlain had ushered in a period of decline that would drag the 76ers to new depths in the NBA. In 1969-70 Philadelphia finished 42-40 and in fourth place in the Eastern Division. The club then fell to Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs. The following season (the first in which the NBA was split into four divisions) the Sixers placed second in the Atlantic Division. Cunningham, Hal Greer, and Archie Clark fired the team to a 47-35 regular-season mark, but the flame was doused in a seven-game series loss to Baltimore in the conference semifinals.
The 1971-72 club brought in Bob Rule, Fred Carter, Bill Bridges, and Kevin Loughery, but Philadelphia dropped to a dismal 30-52 record and failed to make the playoffs, despite an All-Star season from Cunningham. It would get worse.
1972-76: Victories Hard To Come By
The 1972-73 Sixers set an NBA record for futility, finishing 9-73 for the year. The team's ineptitude stemmed from many factors; Cunningham had fled to the ABA, trades had not been favorable, and draft choices had been busts. Carter, who would later coach the team, was the top scorer (20.0 ppg) on a miserable roster that shuffled players in and out but never came close to a winning formula. Freddie Boyd, Manny Leaks, and Leroy Ellis were other starters. Rookie coach Roy Rubin didn't last past his 4-47 start, and his replacement, player-coach Kevin Loughery, didn't fare much better. The team set the standard by which bad NBA teams would be judged for years to come.
Things were slightly better in 1973-74, as the Sixers climbed to a 25-57 mark. Tom Van Arsdale (19.6 ppg), acquired from Kansas City-Omaha the previous year, was with the team for the full season and finished second behind Carter (21.4) for the club's scoring lead. Steve Mix, who had been playing semipro ball, added an unexpected 14.9 points per game.
In 1974-75 Philadelphia managed a 34-48 record but ended the season 26 games behind division-winning Boston. Carter (21.9 ppg), Cunningham (19.5), second-year player Doug Collins (17.9), and Mix (15.6) had solid seasons, but Van Arsdale was traded to Atlanta nine games into the season. As the nation celebrated its 200th year of independence in 1976, the 76ers rejoiced in their return to the playoffs. Former ABA big gun George McGinnis signed with the Sixers for 1975-76 and scored 23.0 points per game, while Collins chipped in 20.8 points per contest. The team finished 46-36 but was dismissed in the first round of the playoffs by Buffalo and Bob McAdoo, who led the league in scoring with 31.1 points per game.
1976-79: Basketball's $6 Million Man
Just as quickly as they had fallen from grace, the 76ers ascended. Fitz Eugene Dixon bought the club in May 1976 and soon gave it a reputation as a team built on dollars. Dixon opened the vault immediately, paying $6 million for Julius "Dr. J" Erving ($3 million to the ABA New Jersey Nets and $3 million to Erving's bank account) prior to the 1976-77 season.
Erving's contributions to professional basketball were incomparable. By expanding on the high-flying, creative game originally made popular by Connie Hawkins (and later taken to new heights by Michael Jordan), he helped develop the sport's acrobatic aesthetics and, in turn, its enormous success. Erving's on-court elegance was matched by his off-court eloquence.
In 1976-77 Erving and McGinnis combined for more than 40 points per game, leading the Sixers to a 50-32 record. The 76ers advanced to the NBA Finals, which they were expected to take from the Portland Trail Blazers. However, the Blazers had team chemistry and a big guy named Bill Walton. They rallied from an early two-game deficit to win four straight and claim the title.
With Erving and a deep-pocketed owner, Philadelphia remained a powerful team. In the late 1970s the club had more than its share of colorful players. Alongside the popular Erving was McGinnis, with his one-handed jump shot; Lloyd B. Free, a free-flinging guard who later changed his name to World B. Free; and Darryl Dawkins, a massive youngster who skipped college, wore a tangle of jewelry, and named his colossal dunks.
Billy Cunningham took over as coach in 1977-78, and the Sixers captured the Atlantic Division title with a 55-27 record. They then swept the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals but were upset by the Washington Bullets, four games to two, in the conference finals. In 1978-79, the 76ers couldn't push the bulky Bullets-who had a front line of Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, and Mitch Kupchak-out of first place in the Atlantic Division. The Sixers eliminated New Jersey in a best-of-three playoff series but fell to San Antonio, four games to three, in the conference semifinals.
1979-82: Sixers Enjoy Magical Season, But Lakers Have More "Magic"
In 1979-80 Philadelphia kept the talent stream flowing right to the NBA Finals. Maurice Cheeks took over as point guard. Newly-acquired Bobby Jones was remarkably efficient at forward. Although Collins' career came to an end beecause of injuries, Lionel Hollins, who was obtained from Portland , helped to add scoring from the backcourt. The team won 59 games but fell short of the 61-21 Celtics, who had reloaded with Larry Bird.
Nevertheless, the Sixers' experience carried them past Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals. Philadelphia met Los Angeles (with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jamaal Wilkes, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, and Norm Nixon) in the 1980 NBA Finals and fell in six games. The series will long be remembered for rookie Magic Johnson's remarkable 42-point performance in Game 6, which the Lakers had to play without the injured Abdul-Jabbar. The Sixers and Lakers would meet again in the Finals two of the next three seasons. Bird's Celtics and Moses Malone's Rockets took the championship spotlight away from Philadelphia and Los Angeles during the 1980-81 season, a campaign that nevertheless found the Sixers and the Celtics on fairly equal ground. Both teams finished the regular season with 62-20 records, and they split their six regular-season matchups. In the playoffs the Celtics had the home-court advantage against the Sixers, and they needed every bit of it. In a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals, with five of the first six contests having been decided by two points or less, Bird cashed in a last-minute jumper for a 91-90 win at Boston Garden in Game 7. For the regular season, Erving was voted the NBA Most Valuable Player.
Harold Katz, a self-proclaimed "sports fanatic," bought the team in July 1981. He had purchased a winner. With Erving, Bobby Jones, Caldwell Jones, Maurice Cheeks, Lionel Hollins, Darryl Dawkins, and shooter supreme Andrew Toney, the team was talented, experienced, and deep.
The Sixers finished behind the Celtics in 1981-82 but got revenge for the previous season's playoffs with a seven-game triumph in the Eastern Conference Finals. In the NBA Finals, though, the Lakers' Abdul-Jabbar was too much in the middle, and Los Angeles won the championship, four games to two.
1982-84: 76ers Sign A Savior In Moses
The Sixers needed a center, and after the 1981-82 season they went out and got a great one. Moses Malone, who had become the dominant man in the pivot at Houston, came to the Sixers through a trade that was prompted by his free agency. After Malone signed a lucrative offer sheet with Philadelphia, Houston matched the offer and then traded Malone to the Sixers for Caldwell Jones and a 1983 first-round draft choice.
Malone's arrival gave the 1982-83 team a starting five for the ages: Erving (21.4 ppg), Bobby Jones (9.0 ppg, often off the bench), Malone (24.5 ppg, 15.3 rpg), Toney (19.7 ppg), and Cheeks (6.9 apg, 184 steals). Clint Richardson, Clemon Johnson, and Marc Iavaroni also played valuable roles. The team demolished the East with a 65-17 record; swept New York in the Eastern Semifinals; beat Milwaukee in five; and then overwhelmed the Lakers in the NBA Finals in four straight. It was a playoff run with only one loss. Malone was named Most Valuable Player for both the regular season and the Finals. The beginning of the 1983-84 season brought with it a steady decline for the Sixers that would last into the 1990s. Then again, most anything would be a decline from Philadelphia's dominant championship run in 1983. The 1983-84 team was still stronger than most of its competition, going 52-30 and finishing runner-up to Boston in the Atlantic Division. But the upstart New Jersey Nets, led by Buck Williams, shocked the defending champs by ousting them in a wild, five-game first-round playoff series in which the home team lost every game.
1984-87: Charles Is In Charge, But So Are The Celtics
Charles Barkley was the only significant addition to the 1984-85 Philadelphia team. Barkley, who would become one of the game's most prolific players, was a raw 6-6, 260-pound rebounding machine. His enthusiasm sparked the Sixers to a 58-24 record, a three-games-to-one series win over Washington in the first round of the playoffs, and a sweep of Milwaukee in the conference semifinals. But Boston had another date with Los Angeles in the NBA Finals and dismissed the 76ers, four games to one, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
For 1985-86 Philadelphia settled into its familiar position-second to Boston in the Atlantic Division. Andrew Toney missed the season with a stress fracture, and the Sixers missed his jump shots. Moses Malone was shelved with an injury just before the playoffs, and new coach Matt Guokas saw the team fall to Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, losing Game 7 by a single point. The struggles continued in 1986-87. The team traded Malone, Terry Catledge, and two draft picks to Washington for big bruiser Jeff Ruland, who later suffered a knee injury that would ultimately spoil his career, and Cliff Robinson . Toney's comeback wasn't sensational, and newcomer Roy Hinson was no George McGinnis. The team still finished second to Boston in the regular season, thanks to the zealous play of Barkley. Philadelphia advanced to the postseason but lost to Milwaukee in the first round.
1987-90: "Dr. J" Calls It A Career
Julius Erving retired after the 1986-87 season, having scored 30,026 points in his combined ABA and NBA career. He played 11 marvelous NBA seasons with the Sixers-totaling 18,364 points-and left in third place on the team's all-time scoring list behind Hal Greer (21,586) and Dolph Schayes (19,249). Erving was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.
Jim Lynam replaced Matt Guokas as head coach in Philadelphia midway through the 1987-88 season, but the 76ers were without the firepower to manage a winning record, finishing at 36-46 and out of the playoffs. Barkley had a tremendous season, finishing fourth in the league in scoring (28.3 ppg) and sixth in rebounding (11.9 rpg). Cliff Robinson was the team's second-leading scorer at 19.0 points per game. Philadelphia enlisted rookie bomber Hersey Hawkins and swingman Ron Anderson for the 1988-89 campaign. They were welcome additions, and they teamed with Barkley (25.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg) and center Mike Gminski (17.2 ppg) to compile a 46-36 record and a second-place finish in the Atlantic Division (behind New York but ahead of Boston). Philadelphia met the Knicks in a first-round playoff series and lost in three straight.
Barkley's era with the 76ers peaked in 1989-90. Rick Mahorn was enlisted to give the Sixers 500 pounds of forwards, while Johnny Dawkins and Hersey Hawkins formed the league's best-rhyming backcourt. Hawkins scored to the tune of 18.5 points per game; Dawkins chimed in with 14.3 points per contest. The Sixers finished at 53-29 and edged Boston by one game for the Atlantic Division title. They then slipped past Cleveland in a tightly-contested five-game playoff series but ran into a rising Chicago Bulls team in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Chicago would begin its three-year title reign the following season, and in 1990 Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were too much for Philadelphia, as the Bulls won the best-of-seven series in five games.
1990-92: Injuries Take Their Toll
In 1990-91 Philadelphia charted a similar course through the playoffs, winning a first-round series before losing to the Bulls again in the conference semifinals. During the regular season a Sixers team in decline had won nine fewer games than the previous year and had finished second to the Celtics in the Atlantic Division.
Dawkins was lost to a knee injury four games into the 1990-91 season, knocking a hole in the team's chances for a long postseason run. Barkley was brilliant as ever, averaging 27.6 points (fourth best in the NBA), shooting .570 from the field (also fourth), hauling in 10.1 rebounds per game, and capturing the NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award. Hawkins was a model of consistency at off guard, contributing 22.1 points per contest.
Injuries took their toll, however. The only two Sixers to play in all 82 games were Ron Anderson and Manute Bol, a 7-7 former tribesman from Sudan who blocked 247 shots (fourth best in the NBA) despite playing just 18.6 minutes per game.
The 1991-92 Sixers dipped below .500, finishing 35-47 and fifth in the Atlantic Division. The club let Rick Mahorn go to Italy, a move that did not sit well with Barkley, and suffered from injuries and poor chemistry throughout the year. The 1983 championship team now seemed a distant memory, as positions once played by Moses Malone, Julius Erving, and Maurice Cheeks were now occupied by Charles Shackleford, Armon Gilliam, and Johnny Dawkins.
1992-93: Rebuilding Sixers Trade Barkley
Although the Sixers didn't make the playoffs, Barkley kept them in the headlines with his tremendous play (23.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg) and his public restlessness in Philadelphia. At season's end, the Sixers obliged Barkley and took a major step toward rebuilding when they traded their portly superstar to the Phoenix Suns for guard Jeff Hornacek, forward Tim Perry, and center Andrew Lang.
The Sixers also changed coaches, moving Jim Lynam into the general manager position and hiring Doug Moe to run the team. Philadelphia then scored in the 1992 NBA Draft with the selection of Southern Mississippi's Clarence Weatherspoon, an explosive forward who, ironically enough, reminded many of Barkley.
The changes didn't produce immediate results, though. Hornacek averaged 19.1 points, but Perry and Lang didn't excel, and Dawkins seemed to fall out of favor. Weatherspoon was a pleasant addition, averaging 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds and earning selection to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.
With the team stalled at 19-37 after a 56-point loss to Seattle, Philadelphia replaced Moe with Fred Carter, a former Sixers player who had spent 12 years as an NBA assistant. The team finished with a 26-56 record and with the No. 2 pick in the 1993 NBA Draft. (Barkley, meanwhile, carried Phoenix to the NBA Finals and won the league's Most Valuable Player Award.)
1993-94: Sixers Stumble, Then Look To Lucas For Help
The Sixers used their No. 2 pick on Shawn Bradley, the most intriguing prospect in the 1993 NBA Draft. Bradley was a 7-6 center with undeniable athletic ability, but he had played only one year of college basketball before spending two years as a Mormon missionary in Australia. Nevertheless, Philadelphia made the untested giant the center of its rebuilding effort. Prior to the 1993-94 season the Sixers released several players and shipped Hersey Hawkins off to the Charlotte Hornets in a deal that brought Dana Barros to Philadelphia. Then, at midseason, the Sixers traded Jeff Hornacek to the Utah Jazz for Jeff Malone. The team started slowly as Bradley, who hadn't played for two years, tried to learn the NBA game. He quickly developed into one of the leading shotblockers in the league, improved his scoring gradually, and often kept the Sixers competitive. But on February 18 he dislocated his kneecap and was lost for the rest of the year. The team fared poorly after that, dropping 11 straight home games in one stretch and 17 of its final 19 contests on the road to finish at 25-57. Clarence Weatherspoon, who was quietly developing into one of the league's best young forwards, topped the Sixers in both scoring (18.4 ppg) and rebounding (10.1 rpg). In the summer of 1994 Philadelphia's rebuilding effort continued at a frantic pace. The Sixers replaced Fred Carter with John Lucas, who came over from the San Antonio Spurs to serve as the team's head coach and general manager. Then, wielding two first-round picks in the NBA Draft, Philadelphia came away with center Sharone Wright and point guard B. J. Tyler, two intriguing prospects. And finally, the Sixers signed free agent Scott Williams.
1994-95: Barros's Brilliant Breakthrough
The Philadelphia 76ers were weak again in 1994-95, finishing at 24-58 and out of the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. Philadelphia fans nevertheless found a few reasons to be hopeful for the future. Foremost among them was the play of 5-11 Dana Barros, who won the NBA's Most Improved Player Award after emerging as one of the league's most dangerous point guards. Barros ranked second in the league in minutes (3,318), third in three-point shooting (.464) and free throw shooting (.899), 10th in steals (1.82 per game), 11th in assists (7.5 apg), and 18th in scoring (20.6 ppg). On March 14 he poured in 50 points to become only the third player under 6 feet tall in NBA history to reach that mark, and he finished the campaign with a single-season NBA record of 58 games in which he made at least one three-point field goal. He played in the All-Star Game, set a franchise single-game road record with 19 assists, and registered his first career triple-double on April 8.
Philadelphia received another solid season from Clarence Weatherspoon, as well as inspired and promising work at forward and center from both rookie Sharone Wright and newly acquired Scott Williams. Center Shawn Bradley's development continued on an upward path. Early in the season he was frequently in foul trouble-he led the league in disqualifications-yet he flourished in the second half of the campaign, posting 13 double-doubles in points and rebounds in his last 17 contests. Bradley finished third in the league in blocks with 3.34 per game.
A foot injury that limited off guard Jeff Malone to only 19 games resulted in a gap in the Sixers' attack. Looking for help at that spot and on the bench, Philadelphia used a team-record 20 players during the year. The team called up three players from the Continental Basketball Association and used four others who were frequent minor league performers. The Sixers were 9-26 in games decided by six points or less, losing more games by that margin than any other team in the league. Philadelphia's outlook for the 1995-96 season got a little brighter when they selected underclassman Jerry Stackhouse out of North Carolina with the third overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft.
1995-96: Sixers "Stack" Deck for Future
The addition of Jerry Stackhouse gave the Sixers one of the brightest young stars in the NBA. He and Clarence Weatherspoon provided a nice young nucleus from which to build. However finding talent to surround them with was often difficult, as injuries and personnel moves forced the team to dress 24 players, the second-most in franchise history.
The team stumbled home with a record of 18-64, finding a dubious place in NBA history as the first team to see its losses increase for a sixth straight season. Dana Barros had left before the season, signing with the Boston Celtics as a free agent. Shawn Bradley, the onetime future of the team, was dealt to New Jersey in a trade that brought Derrick Coleman to Philadelphia, but injuries limited Coleman to only 11 games.
Stackhouse led all NBA rookies with 19.2 ppg, and was the Rookie of the Month in March, but even he wasn't immune to injuries. He suffered an injured thumb on April 5, and was lost for the final weeks of the season. Weatherspoon added 16.7 points and led the team with 9.7 rebounds.
The Sixers' four biggest moves came in the offseason. The team was sold by Harold Katz to Pat Croce, a former 76ers strength and conditioning coach, and the Comcast Corporation. The coaching reins were handed from John Lucas to Johnny Davis. The team moved from the Spectrum, their longtime home, into the new CoreStates Center for the 1996-97 season, and having won the first overall pick in the 1996 NBA Lottery, tabbed point guard Allen Iverson to run the team's offense.
1996-97: Iverson Points the Way
Billed as "The Answer," Allen Iverson arrived on the NBA scene and immediately became one of the league's most exciting players. With unmatched quickness, Iverson wowed crowds at the new CoreStates Center with a spectacular crossover dribble and a seeming ability to score at-will. While he couldn't save the Sixers from a disappointing 22-60 season, his play gave every indication that he is indeed the Answer to many of the Sixers' struggles.
Iverson proved his worth under the national spotlight on All-Star Saturday, winning Most Valuable Player honors at the Schick Rookie Game. But the telltale sign of his explosiveness came in April, when he set an NBA rookie record by scoring 40 or more points in five consecutive games, highlighted by a 50-point outburst against the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 12. He was named the NBA's Rookie of the Year.
Iverson (23.5 ppg) and teammate Jerry Stackhouse (20.7 ppg) were one of the highest scoring duos in the NBA. Forward Derrick Coleman was hampered by an assortment of injuries but averaged 18.1 ppg and 10 rpg, while Clarence Weatherspoon continued to improve. But a lack of depth proved costly to the Sixers.
Solving that problem was high on the list of priorities for Larry Brown, who was named the team's head coach at season's end, replacing Johnny Davis. Brown began to reshape his team after the 1997 NBA Draft by acquiring veterans Eric Montross and Jimmy Jackson and draftees Tim Thomas and Anthony Parker in exchange for second overall pick Keith Van Horn and three expendable veterans.
1997-98: Brown Begins to Build a Winner
A new day dawned in Philadelphia in May, when Larry Brown hired as the new head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. Brown, a master of improving the fortunes of young teams, spent the 1997-98 season tinkering with his latest project, and the result was a Sixers team that was much different, and much better, than the one which took the court on opening night.
By season's end, only five players remained from the previous summer's roster. The Sixers ended the season with a record of 31-51, a nine-game improvement. Despite not making the playoffs, Philadelphia accumulated enough impressive wins to indicate that Brown and his team are on the right track, and the fanatic Philly fans turned out in record numbers to show their approval.
Allen Iverson followed last season's Rookie of the Year performance with a strong sophomore season, leading the team in scoring (22.0 ppg, 8th in the NBA), assists (6.2 apg) and steals (2.20 spg, 5th). The 22-year-old continued to develop his game and improved his shooting percentage from last season's .416 to a respectable .461.
Derrick Coleman was the team's leading rebounder (9.9 rpg) and second-leading scorer (17.6 ppg). When healthy, Coleman combined with Iverson to provide the Sixers with a powerful inside-outside tandem. The other constant in Philadelphia's lineup was rookie forward Thomas, an athletic player who averaged 11.0 points and 3.7 rebounds.
On Dec. 18, the nucleus of players around Coleman, Thomas and Iverson began to take on a new look. The Sixers traded Jerry Stackhouse and Eric Montross to Detroit for forward-center Theo Ratliff, guard Aaron McKie and a conditional first-round draft pick. Though Stackhouse was a visible presence in Philaelphia, he appeared to be worth the price of obtaining Ratliff, who led the Sixers in blocks (3.15 bpg) and field goal percentage (.513). Prior to the trade with the Pistons, the Sixers ranked 18th in the league in blocked shots per game. With Ratliff on board, Philadelphia moved up to fifth. Philly's other big move came on Feb. 17, when Jim Jackson and Clarence were sent to Golden State in exchange for forward Joe Smith (14.6 ppg and 6.0 rpg) and guard Brian Shaw.
The new-look Sixers had success against teams it had not beaten for some time. The Sixers, who beat defending NBA champion Chicago twice, snapped losing streaks against the Bulls (16 games), the Cavaliers (12 games) and the Rockets (11 games), and notched their first win over the Suns at America West Arena. In addition, the Sixers swept the season series against the Lakers for the first time since the 1982-83 season and won all their home games against rival New York for the first time since 1989-90.
1998-99: Iverson Claims Scoring Title as the Sixers Capture the Heart of the City
The 1998-1999 NBA Season was one never to be forgotten in Philadelphia. It began post-lockout in January and ended in May with the Sixers first post-season playoff berth in eight years.
February ended with an 8-5 record, marking the first time since January of 1994 that the Sixers registered a winning month. After averaging 28.5 points, 6.0 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 2.31 steals in 40.3 minutes per game, Allen Iverson made his way into the record books by becoming the fourth player in team history to earn League Player of the Month honors.
In March the Sixers claimed a 15 point victory over the Lakers (105-90), before a sell-out crowd at the First Union Center. This was Philadelphia's largest victory over LA since 1978 and marked the third straight time the Sixers had defeated the Lakers.
April saw the Sixers record double-figure home victories over Orlando and Indiana, both on national TV and in front of sellout crowds. The team won each of their final six games in the month and went 5-5 on the road.
In May the Sixers beat Toronto at home, clinching a playoff spot for the first time since the 1990-91 season. The Sixers finished the regular season with an overtime win over Detroit. Allen Iverson finished the game with 33 points and became the first 76er since Wilt Chamberlain to win the NBA scoring title. Allen finished the year averaging a career high of 26.8 points, the sixth best in franchise history. Larry Brown finished second in the race for Coach of the year and Eric Snow finished second in the race for Most Improved, along with being selected as the Divisional winner for the 1998-1999 NBA Sportsmanship Award. The Sixers ended the regular season with a 28-22 record.
The Sixers returned to the NBA Playoffs ending their longest postseason drought in franchise history. They upset Orlando in the first round capturing the best-of-five series, three games to one. With the win over the Magic, the Sixers advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals to take on the Indiana Pacers. Although the Pacers took the series 4-0, 3 of the four meetings were decided by four points or less.
The incredible part of the Sixers playoff run included more than just the team. The support of the fans was truly amazing. From ralley towels to "Croce Crew Cuts", the fans were in the game 100% from beginning to end. There were signs filling the arena claiming "Allen Iverson for MVP", "Larry Brown Coach of the Year", and "Let It Snow." However, the one that stood out the most and will remain clear was "We'll Be Back."
1999-2000: Sixers Make Second Straight Playoff Appearance
The opening of the 1999-2000 season showcased the Sixers' ability to exhibit a team effort, as six different players tied or led the team in scoring during the first month: Allen Iverson, Aaron McKie, Tyrone Hill, Larry Hughes, George Lynch and Eric Snow. Rookie center Todd MacCulloch also made an impression on Sixers fans as he filled in admirably for Theo Ratliff and Matt Geiger, who were both injured.
Because of the wide array of talent being exhibited by the team, the loss of Iverson for 10 games when he suffered a fractured right thumb did not cause a major disruption. The 76ers rallied in his absence and were 6-4 while their star was out. Upon his return on Dec. 15, Iverson took over the scoreboards, leading the team in scoring for 22-straight games.
To start the New Year, the Sixers scored 100 or more points in nine straight games. On Jan. 22 the team avenged their 0-4 sweep out of the last season's playoffs by Indiana, when they defeated the Pacers in front of a sold-out home crowd and a prime-time national TV audience.
In February Iverson became the first 76er to be voted a starter for the Eastern Conference All-Star team since Charles Barkley in 1992. Even though the Eastern Conference Team fell to the West, Iverson led all scorers in the game with 26 points.
Toni Kukoc, who the Sixers acquired in a three-way deal with Golden State and Chicago, recorded a triple-double in March. This was the first triple-double for the team in five years. Kukoc's contribution, along with Iverson's scoring, the consistent rebounding of Hill and an outstanding overall number of assists by Snow, led the team to win five of their last six games. This secured a spot in the playoffs for the second straight year.
The Sixers dispatched of the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the playoffs, 3-1 and advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. There they squared off against the Pacers once again. Although Philadelphia did not come close to enduring the sweep of the previous season, the Sixers ultimately fell to the Pacers in Game 6 after putting up an amazing fight. The season seemed to make quite an impression overall on the fans of Philadelphia, as the team once again shattered previous attendance marks. New highs were set for both average attendance and total attendance this season, and Philadelphia fans knew that the following year promised to be even brighter for their 76ers.
2000-01: Sixers Go for Greatness Once Again
The Sixers came out of the gate full throttle in the beginning of the season and never slowed down. They began the season with a franchise record 10-straight wins, beginning with a 101-72 victory over the Knicks in New York.
Head Coach Larry Brown would have one of his bigger coaching challenges in December as injuries began to take their toll on the squad. Despite the losses of Eric Snow and Allen Iverson, the Sixers began a franchise high 13-game road win streak with wins in Vancouver and Portland. Aaron McKie closed out the month of December by recording his first career triple-double versus the Kings and earned Player of the Week honors.
Aaron McKie began the new year the same way he ended the last with a triple-double. Iverson was named Player of the Week for the first week of Jan, making him and McKie the first back-to-back Player of the Week winners since Chicago's Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan. The Sixers 13-game road winning streak ended in Toronto on Jan 28.
Larry Brown, Allen Iverson and Theo Ratliff represented the Sixers in the All-Star Game in Washington, DC. Iverson earned MVP honors for the game in the East's come-from-behind victory. Ratliff had to sit out of the game because of injuries and eventually had surgery on his wrist. After missing 32 games, Eric Snow returned to the Sixers lineup versus the Bucks on Feb 13. A few days after the All-Star Game, General Manager Billy King pulled the trigger on six-player trade that sent Ratliff, Nazr Mohammed, Toni Kukoc and Pepe Sanchez to Atlanta for Dikembe Mutombo and Roshown McLeod.
The Sixers clinched their first Atlantic Division crown since 1989-90 on Apr 6 against Cleveland. The following game on Apr 9, they officially claimed the best record in the Eastern Conference with a victory over the Celitcs. They ended the regular season with a 56-26 record.
The playoffs proved to be just as exciting as the regular season for the Sixers. They knocked off the team that ousted them the previous two seasons, the Pacers. After a scare in Game One, the Sixers won the series in four games. Their opponent in the Eastern Conference Semis were the Toronto Raptors. This exciting series was extended to seven games and came down to the last shot and resulted in the Sixers in the Eastern Conference Finals. This is where they faced the Bucks in another grueling seven game series that sent the Sixers to the NBA Finals versus the defending champion Los Angels Lakers.
The underdog Sixers went into the Finals against the heavily favored Lakers and pulled out a Game One victory. But they eventually fell to the Lakers in five games.
If there was one impressive and lasting impression of the Sixers 2000-2001 season, it was the constant overcoming of adversity. From playing a league-high second-most back-to-back contests and sweeping 10 of them, to overcoming numerous injuries such as losing No 1 draft choice Speedy Claxton in the preseason to starting point guard Eric Snow for 32 games to Allen Iverson for 11 games to Matt Geiger for 43 games to Aaron McKie for six games, the Sixers continued to persevere.
Aside from the trip to the NBA Finals the season will also be remembered for the individual achievements. The Sixers became the first team in NBA History to win four major awards: MVP (Allen Iverson), Coach of the Year (Larry Brown), Defensive Player of the Year (Dikembe Mutombo) and Sixth Man of the Year (Aaron McKie).
2001-02: Sixers Show Tenacity and Resiliency Despite Injuries
The injury-plagued Sixers got off to a slow start at the beginning of the 2001 season, with reigning MVP Allen Iverson, Sixth Man of the Year Aaron McKie, and starting point guard Eric Snow all sidelined due to injuries. The Sixers started out 0-5, their worst start since Head Coach Larry Brown's first year with the team in 1997-98.
Fortunately, things picked up with the return of Iverson and McKie, which helped the Sixers win their next seven consecutive contests. Brown won his 1,200th career game as a college and NBA head coach on Nov. 21 with a victory versus Detroit. During the week of Nov. 12, Iverson was named the NBA's Eastern Conference Player of the Week for his performance in the seven-game winning streak.
Dikembe Mutombo led the Sixers to victory against Chicago on Dec. 1, where he recorded his first triple-double as a Sixer (10th career) and tied an NBA record with eight blocks in the third quarter of that game. Later in the month, Brown earned his 800th NBA victory in his 30th year as a head coach when the Sixers knocked off the L.A. Clippers on Dec. 26.
The Sixers came out strong in the new year, winning three of their first four contests in January. Perhaps this success was due to the headbands that the team sported for the first time at Phoenix on Jan. 2 as a statement of unity. Iverson recorded his first career triple-double versus the L.A. Clippers on Jan. 7, and knocked down his 500th career three-pointer on his way to 58 points in an overtime victory versus Houston on Jan. 15. His 58 points proved to be a career-high, NBA season-high, and tied for the fourth-best mark in Sixers history. For his play in the month, Iverson was named the NBA's Eastern Conference Player of the Week twice, becoming the first player to win back-to-back awards since Karl Malone in 1997.
In February 2002 both Iverson and Mutombo were starters for the Eastern Conference team in the 2001-02 NBA All-Star Game played in Philadelphia. After the All-Star break, the Sixers began a roller-coaster ride with the .500 mark.
The Sixers had been battling injuries all season long, and had only been able to play with a full roster on three occasions. Following a streak of six-straight road victories in March, the Sixers had to face the fact that they would be playing the remainder of the season without Iverson, who suffered a fractured left hand in a March 22 game at Boston. The team rallied to win the Boston game despite playing the entire second half without the NBA's leading scorer. Snow scored 25 points in the game and began a stretch that lasted the final 22 games in which he shouldered the scoring load. In nine of those 22, Snow scored 20 or more points per game, with an overall average of seven assists per game.
A 95-89 victory at Orlando in April assured the Sixers of a playoff berth for the fourth straight season. The team ended the regular season sixth in the Eastern Conference and fourth in the Atlantic Division.
After trailing the Celtics 0-2 in the first round series, the Sixers extended the best-of-five contest to a fifth and deciding game when they came back to win both Games 3 and 4. Unfortunately, their bid to become the seventh team in NBA history to win a series after trailing 0-2, fell short in Boston. They were handed their third-worst loss in Philadelphia playoff history with a 120-87 defeat.
Despite the final loss, this season will be commemorated for the tenacity and resiliency showed by the Sixers throughout the season despite numerous injuries affecting many of their key players. In addition, the various awards, honors, and milestones by both the players and Head Coach Larry Brown made the 2001-02 season one to remember.
2002-03: Sixers Stage Second Half Surge; Brown Steps Down As Coach
The Sixers opened the 2002-03 season with the additions of Todd MacCulloch and Keith Van Horn in the line-up after an offseason trade with New Jersey. Allen Iverson captured back-to-back Player of the Week honors on Nov. 25 and Dec. 2, when he led the Sixers to a 7-1 record.
The 76ers won their first 10 home games, their longest streak to begin a season since 1966-67. In a December 18 three-team trade, the Sixers acquired forward Kenny Thomas from the Rockets. Two nights later, Iversons 32 points and team-record-tying nine steals carried Philadelphia to a 107-104 overtime victory against the Lakers.
After heading into the New Year with a 13-2 home record, the 76ers posted a 2-8 record at the First Union Center in January. Iverson scored his 12,000th career point in the second quarter against Boston on Jan. 20, becoming the 11th fastest player in NBA history to reach the plateau.
A midseason slump left the Sixers with a 25-24 record at the All-Star Break. After the break, the 76ers rattled off eight-straight wins. On Feb. 26, Eric Snow recorded his first career triple-double against Memphis with a season-high 22 points, 11 assists and a season-high 10 rebounds.
Larry Brown earned back-to-back Coach of the Month honors in February and March as he guided the Sixers to an 11-5 record in March, including wins in nine of 12 road games. On March 6, the Sixers held Portland to a 76ers post-shot clock opponent low 60 points. Philadelphia erased double-digit deficits in wins against East leaders Indiana on March 12 and the Nets on March 16. The month ended as the Sixers clinched their fifth-straight playoff berth in an overtime win at Orlando. Iverson had a season-high 42 points. With 24 points and 20 rebounds, Kenny Thomas had Philadelphias first 20-20 performance since 1997.
Without the services of MacCulloch since February with foot neuropathy, the Sixers also lost Van Horn and Coleman for multiple games in April. Luckily for the depleted Sixers, Thomas posted 10 double-doubles in the seasons final 15 contests. In a win against the Pistons on April 8, Iverson scored 37 points, including the 13,000th point of his career, and broke the Sixers single-season steals record set by Steve Mix (212) in 1973-74. A season-best crowd of 21,257 sent Michael Jordan off in his final NBA game on April 16 with a 107-87 against Washington, clinching home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
The Sixers defeated New Orleans in the first year of the NBAs best-of-seven First Round format. Allen Iverson started off the playoffs with gusto, scoring a franchise playoff-record 55 points in a 98-90 win in Game 1 against the Hornets. The teams split the two games in New Orleans before the Hornets stole Game 5 at the First Union Center to close the gap to 3-2. Iversons 45 points in Game 6 helped the Sixers advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the fourth time in five years.
Philadelphia fell to top-seeded Detroit in a Semifinal series that included two overtime losses and another defeat at the buzzer for the 76ers. Facing a 2-0 deficit, Iverson totaled 61 points and 22 assists in the two home contests as the Sixers knotted the series at 2-2. Colemans goaltending violation on a Chucky Atkins layup with 0.9 seconds to play lifted Detroit to a 78-77 Game 5 victory at Auburn Hills. The Sixers and Pistons went to overtime in the Game 6 elimination contest, where Chauncey Billups scored nine of his 28 points to end Philadelphias season.
Ten days after bowing out of the Eastern Conference Semifinals and after six years at the helm, Brown announced on May 26, 2003, that he was stepping down as the 76ers coach and vice president of basketball operations. At the same time it was announced that General Manager Billy King was named president of the team, and that Dave Coskey, the teams executive vice president, was expanding his duties to become president of a new Comcast-Spectacor Marketing Division.
2003-04: Despite Injuries, Sixers Show Potential
First-year head coach, Randy Ayers, earned his first career win, as the Sixers defeated the Heat in the season opener. After dropping the first two road games of the year, Glenn Robinson made his 76ers debut and helped the team earn its first road win of the year over Portland. However, a left ankle sprain would sideline Robinson for the next month. Allen Iverson earned Easter Conference Player of the Week honors for the week ending on Nov. 16, helping the Sixers post a 2-1 record that included a 36-point, 12-assist performance in a win over defending champion San Antonio Spurs. Philadelphia dropped four of their next six games, but bounced back with a victory over the Detroit Pistons in Larry Browns first return to Philadelphia. Iverson finished November with his sixth career 50-point performance against Atlanta, as the Sixers evened their record at 9-9.
Forward Marc Jackson suffered an injury in a loss to Toronto that would force him to miss the next 46 games. The Sixers bounced back with a three-game win streak to put them in first place of the Atlantic Division, but without their leading scorer, Iverson, the Sixers lost momentum and eight out of the next ten games, falling to 14-18 by the end of December. However, the team showed potential. During a six-game stretch, Aaron McKie posted three 20-point games. In the Sixers loss at Boston, rookie Kyle Korver connected on 5-of-5 attempts from three-point range for a then-career-high 18 points, tying a franchise record for three-point field goal percentage in a single-game.
After losing the first two games of the New Year, Iverson's return sparked wins in three out of the next four games, improving the Sixers' season record to 18-20. On Jan. 14, the Sixers erased a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit at Dallas to force overtime, but the Mavericks held on and won in double-overtime. In the losing effort, two Sixers players - Robinson and Iverson - scored 30 points or more for the first time since April 1, 1998. Additionally, center Samuel Dalembert recorded a career-high with 24 points, adding 16 rebounds and four blocks. After dropping seven of their next eight games, Philadelphia fell to 19-27 on the year, marking the first time in which Philadelphia had been eight games under .500 since the end of the 1997-98 season. The struggles continued, as Iverson's career-best streak of 51-consectutive games with at least one steal came to an end in the Sixers' loss to Memphis on Jan. 17. On Jan. 23, in a loss to Orlando, Iverson became the 10th-fastest player in NBA history to reach the 14,000-career point plateau.
The Sixers dropped four of the first five games in February. However, in a win over the Lakers, Robinson became the 12th active player with 14,000 career points. On Feb. 10, 76ers President and General Manager, Billy King, announced that Chris Ford would serve as Interim Head Coach for the remainder of the season. In Ford's first game, the Sixers easily defeated Washington 113-88 and entered the All-Star break with a 22-31 record.
Iverson became the first Sixers player since Julius Erving to start in five-consecutive All-Star games. Kyle Korver was the first rookie ever to participate in the Three-Point Shootout.
The 76ers lost seven of their next nine games, but turned around with a four-game win streak, the longest of the season. During the streak, the Sixers staged their largest comeback of the season, erasing a 20-point deficit to defeat Milwaukee. In a double-overtime victory over divisional rival, New York, forward Kenny Thomas became the first 76ers player to have 10-straight double-doubles since Charles Barkley accomplished the feat during the 1989-90 season. The Sixers lost the next four games, but managed to win four of the final five games in March, extending their season-best seven-game home win streak. On March 30, King announced that Iverson would miss the remainder of the regular season due to injury. With Robinson sidelined since March 6, the Sixers were without their top-two scorers for the final 12 games of the season.
The Sixers managed just one win in their final seven outings of the regular season. However, the injuries allowed other players to gain valuable game experience. On April 1, Dalembert had a career-high 19 rebounds and, on April 3, he was one blocked shot shy of tying a franchise record and recording his first career triple-double. Philadelphia posted its only April win at Atlanta, as Willie Green led the Sixers with a career-high 26 points, the most points scored by a Sixers rookie since Tim Thomas scored 27 points in 1998. Dalembert posted his career-best fourth-straight double-double with 18 points and 18 rebounds against the Hawks.
The Sixers, who lost their final four games of the season, were officially eliminated from playoff contention following a loss at New Jersey on April 11. The Sixers closed out the season with a loss at Orlando, completing the season with a 33-49 record. Dalembert ended the season on a streak of 17-straight games with at least one blocked shot and completed the season with 189 blocks, which ranked him sixth in total blocks in the NBA and seventh on the Sixers all-time single-season record books. Ford guided the Sixers to a 12-18 record, as injuries took a toll on the Sixers lineup. Philadelphia was forced to use 25 different starting lineups and Sixers' players missed a league-high 350 games.
2004-05: With Webber, Sixers Return to the Playoffs
The Sixers opened their season at Boston (11/3) where under first-year head coach (and Philly-native) Jim OBrien, Philadelphia overcame an 18-point deficit to defeat his former team, 98-95. Rookie forward Andre Iguodala became the team's first rookie to start on opening night since 2001-02 (Speedy Claxton). On Nov. 12 vs. Indiana, second-year forward Kyle Korver connected on a career-high seven three-pointers and Allen Iverson hit his first career game-winning "buzzer-beater." The team finished November 6-7.
The Sixers started December and had their longest losing streak of the year, losing six-straight games. On Dec. 14 against the Nuggets, Iverson became the 93rd player in NBA history to eclipse the 15,000-point mark. From Dec. 18-22, Iverson had three-straight games with 40-plus points, including back-to-back games with 50 or more points--he was the seventh NBA player to accomplish this feat. Iversons performance earned him Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors; the first of three times that he would win the award in 2004-05.
The Sixers wrapped up a six-game West Coast road trip with a 4-2 record. After losing three-straight games (1/7 to 1/12), the team captured four of the next six games. On Feb. 12, Iverson would become the second Sixers player in franchise history to score 60 or more points in a game, finishing with a career-high 60 points vs. Orlando. The Sixers entered the NBA All-Star Break with a 26-27 record.
Three players Iverson, Iguodala, and Korver represented the Sixers at All-Star Weekend in Denver. Iguodala and Korver competed in the got milk? Rookie Challenge. Korver also competed in his second-straight three-point shootout, finishing second and Iverson earned his second All-Star Game MVP award after leading the Eastern Conference with 15 points, nine assists and four steals.
During the All-Star break, the Sixers acquired five-time All-Star Chris Webber along with Michael Bradley and Matt Barnes from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Brian Skinner, Kenny Thomas and Corliss Williamson. The Sixers also dealt Glenn Robinson to New Orleans for Rodney Rogers and Jamal Mashburn (2/24). Webber made his Sixers debut against his former team on Feb. 26 at the Wachovia Center before a crowd of 21,068, the fifth largest crowd in the arena's history. A put-back by Webber fell short and the Kings held on for a 101-99 win, spoiling Webbers debut.
The Sixers started March by winning three of their first four games and won six of eight games between March 11 and March 27. On March 13, Iguodala recorded his first NBA triple-double (10 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) becoming the second rookie in franchise history to record a triple-double (1953-54, Jim Tucker). After a win against the Lakers, the Sixers improved to 35-34 on the season, the first time the 76ers had a winning record since Nov. 14 (4-3).
The Sixers won their first four out of five games in April. Iverson set a new career-high in assists with 16 twice (vs. CLE, 4/8 and vs. MIL 4/16). The Sixers finished the season winning eight of their last 11 games.
The Sixers earned the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs after finishing with a 43-39 record overall. They faced the Detroit Pistons, guided by former Sixers Coach Larry Brown. The Pistons protected home court, capturing Game 1 and Game 2. During a Game 3 victory at the Wachovia Center, Iverson checked in with 37 points and 15 assists, becoming the fourth player in NBA Playoff history to have at least 35 points and 15 assists in a game. The Sixers won the game 115-106. In Game 4, the Sixers led by nine points in the fourth quarter before Detroit went on a 14-5 run. The game would go to overtime where Detroit outscored Philadelphia 14-9 and won the game 96-91. The series returned to Detroit, where the Pistons clinched the series in Game 5 with an 88-78 win.