E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, the 1967 76ers | Spirit of The Champion


E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, the 1967 76ers

By Curtis Harris


The 1967 Philadelphia 76ers had a squad assembled of Hall of Famers, All-Stars, role players, and men fighting for a place in the NBA. When all of their careers were said and done, every man on the roster had left a sizeable impact on professional basketball. Men of this caliber hadn’t been assembled altogether in Philadelphia for one common goal since the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

Wilt Chamberlain was definitely the George Washington of the team. Alex Hannum was James Madison and Larry Costello probably was the Ben Franklin of the group. Wikimedia.


Before going over each man’s contributions, first let’s look at what they accomplished as a whole over their NBA and ABA careers…

MVPs: 5 by Wilt and Cunningham
All-Stars appearances: 45 by seven players
All-NBA/ABA appearances: 24 by five players
Coaching wins: 2023 by five players and Coach Hannum
Championships other than the 1967 title: 7 by five players and Coach Hannum
Other Finals Appearances: 15 by five players and Coach Hannum
Hall of Famers: Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Chet Walker, and Alex Hannum

Now for a closer look at the individuals who made this team so awesome and memorable.

THE PRIDE OF THE NATIONALS

Future ’67 Sixers on the 1962 Syracuse Nationals roster. Front Row: Hal Greer (1st from left), Larry Costello (3rd from left), Dave Gambee (5th from left). Back Row: Coach Alex Hannum (1st from right); Getty Images


The Syracuse Nationals moved to Philadelphia for the 1963-64 season. Rechristened the 76ers, by 1967 only four of the original Sixers remained on the team: Hal Greer, Chet Walker, Larry Costello, and Dave Gambee. In addition, head coach Alex Hannum had played for the Nationals in the early 1950s, coached the team in the early 1960s, and had also won a title as coach of the St. Louis Hawks in 1958. He would win an ABA title with the Oakland Oaks in 1969.

Costello was the oldest player on the team (35) and his career encapsulated the many strands of Philly basketball and the 76ers franchise. He began his pro basketball career in 1954-55 with the Philadelphia Warriors before being sold by them to the Syracuse in 1957. Costello would then spend the rest of his NBA career with the Nationals and then 76ers retiring after the 1967-68 season. A six-time All-Star as a point guard, Costello was one of the last players to use a set-shot in the NBA and twice led the league in FT%.

Gambee joined the franchise for the 1960-61 season after brief stints with the St. Louis Hawks and Cincinnati Royals. Gambee was the team’s resident “tough customer” who protected other Nats and Sixers if games got rough and hostile. Not merely an enforcer, Gambee five times averaged double figures scoring for the franchise and was an excellent free throw shooter like Costello. After seven seasons with the Nats/Sixers franchise, Gambee finished his career with brief stops in San Diego, Milwaukee, Detroit, and San Francisco retiring from the NBA in 1970.

Behind Costello, Hal Greer was the second-longest tenured member of the franchise and the team’s leading playoff scorer when they won the 1967 title. Drafted by Syracuse in 1958 Greer was quickly known as the league’s best mid-range jump shooter. He put that sweet shot to good use averaging between 18 and 24 PPG from 1961 to 1971 making the All-Star all but one of those seasons. Greer also made the All-NBA 2nd Team every season from 1963-’69. Greer retired from the team after the 1972-73 season spending his entire 15-year career with the franchise.

And then there was Chet Walker. The Jet was drafted by the franchise in 1962 for their final season in upstate New York. Walker’s array of one-on-one moves made him a three-time All-Star in his seven years with the club. Despite his superior scoring abilities, the small forward sacrificed his shots and touches to share with Greer and the litany of other great scorers on the team. In 1969 Walker was traded to the Chicago Bulls where he would make four more All-Star teams before retiring in 1975.

#MadeInPhila

The 1967 title team also featured five players from the Philly area: Wilt Chamberlain, Wali Jones, Matt Guokas, and Bill Melchionni plus Bob Weiss from nearby Easton.

Wilt Chamberlain score over Bill Russell. Getty Images.


Chamberlain is obviously the big kahuna among the group. During his days with the Philly Warriors, Wilt would set all kinds of records some of them unbreakable like his 48.5 minutes per game in the 1962 season. During his stint with the 76ers in the late 60s, Wilt won three straight MVP awards and set a then-record of 68% shooting from the field in 1967, which he himself would top (73%) in 1973 during his final NBA season. Despite his penchant for big-time scoring, Chamberlain led the Sixers in assists in 1966, 1967, and 1968 showing off his full repertoire of skills.

With Wilt orchestrating the offense, the wonderful Wali Jones was free to bomb away from the perimeter. During his seven seasons in Philly, Jones averaged double-figures in scoring five times. His career highs in scoring, rebounds, assists and FG% all came in the 1967 title season making him a key cog in the team’s success, particularly after Costello injured his knee midway through the season. Jones retired after the 1976 season.

Guokas, just a rookie on the team, provided some scoring punch off the bench. His father Matt Sr. played on the 1947 title-winning Philadelphia Warriors. Thus they became not only the first father-son duo in NBA history, but also the first father-son duo to win championships. His playing career lasted 10 seasons (four with the Sixers) ending in 1976.

Melchionni and Weiss saw little playing time with the squad, but proved it was largely due to the talent present not their own shortcomings. Like Guokas, Melchionni was a rookie on the team while Weiss was in his second NBA season. After two seasons as a back-up point guard in Philly, Melchionni would go on to star in the ABA for the New York Nets making three All-Star teams, leading that league in assists twice, and winning two titles alongside future 76ers star Julius Erving. Weiss meanwhile got his chance to start as a point guard in with the Chicago Bulls in the early 1970s playing with his old Sixers teammate Chet Walker there.

THE KANGAROO KID AND BIG LUKE

The 1967 76ers had the enormous benefit of drafting Billy Cunningham in 1965. The springy Kangaroo Kid was a jack-of-all-trades forward and sixth man who could drive, shoot, pass, and rebound with the best small forwards in the league. Cunningham would ultimately play nine seasons with the Sixers in addition to two seasons with the ABA’s Carolina Cougars where he was named that league’s MVP in 1973.

Luke Jackson skies for a rebound versus Boston. Getty Images.


Lastly, there was big Luke Jackson drafted by Philly in 1964. Showing enormous promise and potential, Jackson was named an All-Star his rookie season. Initially a center, Jackson shifted to power forward to accommodate the arrival of Wilt Chamberlain midway through his rookie season. The arrangement worked because Jackson was a great outside shooter for a big man. And of course he was a titan on the boards. The combo of Wilt and Jackson was probably the physically strongest yet seen in NBA history. Jackson spent his entire eight-year career with the 76ers retiring in 1972.

All things considered, this team was amazing from top to bottom. Perhaps more so than any other team in NBA history.