In Celebration of Maurice Cheeks
Few point guards in NBA history could command, corral, and cajole like Maurice Cheeks. A lesser point guard may have been overwhelmed by trying to satisfy the offensive needs of players like Moses Malone, Doug Collins, Andrew Toney, Charles Barkley, and Julius Erving, but Maurice was had a knack for keeping the 76ers in offensive equilibrium. During his career with Philly, Cheeks averaged 7.3 assists per game in his quest to feed all these hungry mouths.
Those dimes from Cheeks were often finished in dazzling style by Barkley, Malone, Erving, Darryl Dawkins, and Bobby Jones. And in his post-Philly career, Cheeks was still dishing off to Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, and Dominique Wilkins. Despite always playing on teams with scorers itching for a shot, Mo nobly accomplished the job and kept folks happy. With the cavalcade of scorers, Maurice didn’t need to look for his own shot. When the opportunity arose, though, he wouldn’t hesitate for a second to slice down the lane or storm up the court on unsuspecting opponents for quick points. The man once shot 57% from the field for a season.
Always in control, Cheeks knew when to make defenses pay for not respecting his own scoring ability, but getting those points was always in the flow of the offense. Despite that gentlemanly and equitable offensive disposition, Cheeks took the velvet gloves off when it came to defense. Don’t get things twisted. He played that nasty defense fairly, but it was nasty nonetheless. You can’t fully quantify defensive filthiness, but watching Maurice hunker down into his defensive stance was an imposing sight for opposing guards.
He hounded, harassed, and harangued them into horrible shooting and passing nights. When Mo retired in 1993, no player in NBA history had grabbed more steals than his 2,310 and his average of 2.1 steals per game still remains in the all-time top 10. In his very first postseason, way back in 1979, you can see all the guile, wisdom, and athleticism that would make Cheeks a Sixers great. And you could also see how his vigilant defense could quickly turn into easy points.
But since Maurice had such a quiet demeanor and played alongside such personalities as Dr. J, the Round Mound of Rebound, and Chocolate Thunder, he never quite garnered the full amount of appreciation deserved of such a great point guard. His defensive acumen did draw the most interest as Cheeks was selected to the All-Defensive 1st Team for four straight years (1983-’86) and added an All-Defensive 2nd Team selection in 1987. Cheeks did make an impressive four All-Star Games, but never an All-NBA Team. And despite retiring fifth in total assists and being the first player to surpass 2000 career steals, Cheeks has yet to make the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. When it comes to Sixers basketball, though, no one else will ever wear Cheeks’s #10, which was retired in February 1995.
Leaving aside those personal accolades, it’s no coincidence that during his 13 years as a starter inthe NBA, Cheeks missed the postseason just once. Three times he started for the 76ers in the NBA Finals including the great 1983 team that won it all. And in atypical fashion, Maurice let himself get a little rowdy at the end of that ’83 Finals. With Philly in the final seconds of sweeping Los Angeles, Cheeks dished off to a jubilant Moses Malone who slam-dunked the ball. Then the Sixers got possession right back with just a few seconds remaining. Instead of dribbling the clock away, Maurice sprinted down the court for an exclamation dunk of his own. Think we can forgive Cheeks for saving the last points of that season for himself after serving up buckets for everyone else all year.