Written for Sixers.com by @SixersHistory's Curtis Harris
Eight times this season, the 76ers will don their City Edition jerseys inspired by the classic film Rocky. The uniforms are highly distinctive and stand out in Sixers history as the first to have gray as its dominant color.
Of course, every jersey in franchise history has some distinction about it. Otherwise, why change up the threads?
For a franchise that’s been around for over seven decades, you can believe the 76ers have indeed had a lot of different threads.
With that wealth of history in mind, every night this season that the Sixers rock the City Edition Rocky uniforms, we’ll take a quick look back at a previous 76ers jersey.
For previous installments of the series, click the links below:
The 76ers’ current primary jerseys trace their origins to the early 1970s. At that time, with the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence looming, the franchise decided to match the impending occasion with a patriotic jersey.
Although existing in three subtlety different iterations, the star-spangled jerseys of the ‘70s retained a core essence - white jerseys for home games, blue jerseys for road games, and SIXERS emblazoned across the chest, plus a column of stars along the sides of the torso.
The festive jerseys perfectly evoked the celebratory atmosphere of a Fourth of July fireworks display.
Debuting in the 1971-72 season, these starry jerseys had a less than stellar start, with the franchise missing the playoffs for the first time. Ever.
Dating back to 1946-47, the organization’s first season as the Syracuse Nationals in the old National Basketball League, the Nats/Sixers had always made the playoffs.
But like that, 25 straight years of postseason hoops was gone.
The 30-52 record compiled in 71-72 was wondrous, however, compared to the next season, when the Sixers sank to an NBA-worst 9-73. By the end of that woebegone season, the last holdovers from the ’67 title team were gone - Billy Cunningham departed for the ABA, while Hal Greer and Luke Jackson were retired.
Fortunately, the Sixers would soon get back on track in time for the Bicentennial, thanks to a series of risky gambles by general manager Pat Williams.
Before making those radical gambits, the Sixers hired Gene Shue as head coach prior to the 1973-74 season. A five-time All-Star as a player, the league’s Coach of the Year with the Baltimore Bullets in 1969, and sporting a crewcut years, Shue might have seemed the embodiment of the establishment.
But even coach Shue, upon joining the Sixers, ditched his signature look for a shaggier hairdo. It was the 70s, man. Gotta get hip.
As for the roster, the main holdover from the 9-win campaign was Fred “Mad Dog” Carter. When the native Philadelphian’s jump shot got cooking, there was no better scoring guard in the NBA.
In the 1973 draft, the Sixers shored up that guard depth by drafting the fleet-footed Doug Collins, who would routinely average about 20 points per game, thanks to his own magnificent jumper and slashing cuts to the basket.
The surprise find of the ’73 offseason, however, was the burly forward Steve Mix. He had played four seasons of professional basketball in the NBA, the ABA, and the CBA without much success.
Getting a chance with the Sixers, Mix busted loose averaging 14.9 points and 10.5 rebound per game in the 1973-74 season, as the Sixers rebounded to a 25-57 record.
For the 1974-75 season, the squad welcomed back Cunningham from the ABA, and, in another great find, Harvey Catchings was drafted 138th overall in 1974.
Whereas Carter, Cunningham, and Collins gave the Sixers offensive fireworks, the shot-blocking Catchings began to shape the club’s tough defensive identity that fully blossomed in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. The Sixers finished 1975 with another improved record, 34-48.
Then, for the Bicentennial season of 1975-76, the franchise struck paydirt. ABA MVP George McGinnis jumped over to the NBA, signing a free agent contract with the Sixers.
The deal made him the biggest free agent acquisition in franchise history to that point.
Two more risky maneuvers occurred in that year’s draft. GM Williams swiped high schooler Darryl Dawkins and freelancing guard World B. Free with the fifth and 23rd overall picks, respectively.
The thunder-dunking Dawkins was the first NBA player without college experience in a generation.
Given the talent Williams had assembled, it was no surprise that Shue’s team blitzed up and down the court with a style all its own. The Sixers were near the top of the league in points, rebounds, steals, fouls, and turnovers per game, a sign of their eagerness to push the pace and turn games into track meets.
With a 46-36 record, the Sixers delivered a Bicentennial gift of a playoff return, and promises of a better future. No one could have expected just how good things were about to get, though.
The NBA-ABA merger of ’76 had the Sixers again hitting the jackpot.
Three-time ABA MVP Julius Erving and ABA All-Star center Caldwell Jones joined the ranks as a consequence of the two leagues joining. Additionally, veteran NBA point guard Henry Bibby was pilfered from the New Orleans Jazz.
Dr. J obviously delivered more highlight reel offensive action, while Jones and Bibby further upped the team’s defensive acumen. These additions helped offset two untimely developments - the retirement of Cunningham due to injury, and the trading of Carter to the Milwaukee Bucks for a 1978 second-round pick.
The 1976-77 Sixers delivered the best record in the Eastern Conference with 50 wins. And, the team was practically a traveling roadshow.
Fans delighted in seeing Dr. J, Big Mac, and Chocolate Thunder do warm-up line dunks before games, and the Sixers were part of setting an NBA attendance record when they traveled to New Orleans in October ’76.
Dramatic playoff victories over arch nemesis Boston and the upstart Houston Rockets whetted appetites for an NBA title.
An epic Finals versus the equally exciting Portland Trail Blazers nearly sated the thirst, but the Blazers prevailed in six games. Despite the loss, the Sixers clearly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
Still, there was significant change afoot.
The 1977-78 season was the last hurrah for the star-spangled, star-studded threads. Early in the campaign, Gene Shue was replaced by Billy Cunningham as head coach, and the Sixers reached 55 wins, the most since the 1969 season.
The team nearly returned to the Finals, but lost to the eventual champion Washington Bullets in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
With that loss, the Sixers relented somewhat on their pell-mell offensive approach, and decided to give more focus to defense. In that spirit, George McGinnis was traded to the Denver Nuggets for Bobby Jones.
World B. Free was dealt to the San Diego Clippers for a 1984 first-round pick. That pick wound up being Charles Barkley.
And what about that 1978 second-round pick Milwaukee sent over for Fred Carter? That was used to select a relatively unknown guard named...Maurice Cheeks.
Although the Sixers never quite reached THE top in the Bicentennial uniform era, the threads donned by the team gave fans their final glimpses of legends like Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham on the court, while also welcoming in new favorites like Doctor J and Chocolate Thunder, who would ultimately resurrect and continue success well into the 1980s.