Introduction | Spirit of The Champion

Introducing : Spirit of the Champion

By Curtis Harris

This season marks the 50th anniversary for one of the greatest teams in basketball history. The 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers were star-studded, record-breaking, and fascinating in a myriad of ways. As a basketball historian and junkie, every time I look at the team and what they did, I always find myself in disbelief.

The squad started a scorching hot 46-4 en route to a final record of 68 wins and 13 losses. Wilt Chamberlain captured his second of three straight MVP awards thanks to averages of 24 points, 24 rebounds, eight assists and 68(!) percent shooting from the field. The indomitable Chamberlain was flanked by an array of Hall of Fame talent in Hal Greer, Chet Walker, and Billy Cunningham. Sterling role players in Wali Jones and Matt Guokas alongside former All-Stars Larry Costello and Luke Jackson backed up the Hall of Fame stars. As if that weren’t enough, their coach was Alex Hannum a man named one of the NBA’s 10 greatest coaches in 1996 and their general manager was Dr. Jack Ramsay.

This team just oozed talent.

It also provided a silly array of compelling narratives that takes the team from merely “all-time great” to “mythical” status. It was these 76ers, after all, who dethroned the eight-time champion Boston Celtics in rather demolishing fashion. In the process, Wilt finally got the best of Bill Russell and ended a string of heartbreaking losses that became almost comical in their absurdity and frequency. In the NBA Finals, the 76ers threw down with Philadelphia’s old franchise (the Warriors) who had moved to San Francisco some five years earlier. Hot shot scorer Rick Barry and Wilt’s old teammate Nate Thurmond gave Philly a hard-fought, high-scoring series for the ages in the process. And that’s just scratching the surface of the stories waiting to be told.

Over the course of this season, I look forward to sharing the stories and celebrating the people who made it happen. It’s an epic opportunity to take stock some 50 years later on how the 76ers truly became Philadelphia’s basketball team after moving over from Syracuse. It’s exhilarating to break down the epic rivalry with Boston and find new wrinkles in the classic tale. It’s absolutely an honor hearing from the players, journalists, and other observers who saw this magnificent team in action.

Along the way, I also want to show love and appreciation for Philadelphia’s overall basketball spirit. The city and its surrounding area have always been integral to basketball. Just up the Delaware River in Trenton, the first professional basketball team formed 120 years ago. Shortly afterwards, teams in Philly and southern New Jersey formed competing with that Trenton squad in the first professional basketball league in 1898. The 1967 76ers may be the single greatest Philadelphia basketball team, but it’s clear they were heirs to a long basketball tradition. It’s well worth celebrating how the city became and still is basketball crazy in so many ways, especially as a new crop of young stars looks to take the 76ers back to lofty heights.

Hope y’all will enjoy the ride as much as I will.