Cheeks Headed to the Hall

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Whether Maurice Cheeks realized it or not at the time, his career intersected with Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan’s life on a number of different occasions before they joined forces in Oklahoma City in 2015.

First, there were the winter afternoons in Rockville Center, NY, when a young Donovan watched NBA games featuring Cheeks’ 76ers. Despite being a New York kid, Donovan was drawn to fellow Long Islander Julius Erving, and the Sixers’ floor general, Cheeks.

Then, about a decade later, there was Donovan’s own cup of coffee in the NBA. In Donovan’s very first offensive possession in his first preseason game, he tried to make an entry pass and Cheeks was there to guard him, easily making a steal and streaking down the court for a layup.

Lastly, there was a chance encounter while Donovan was at the University of Florida, when he first had a real chance to meet Cheeks while sitting on a sunny beach in the Key West. Cheeks was a Hall of Famer in Donovan’s book all of those years, and now, the league announced it’s official with the Basketball Hall of Fame too.

“(Cheeks) obviously had an incredible career. He’s a great human being,” Donovan said. “He represents the game in a really terrific way.”

A Chicago native, Cheeks began his playing career in the NBA after he was drafted in the 2nd round out of West Texas A&M in 1978. After 11 years with the 76ers and a year each with the San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and New Jersey Nets, Cheeks retired with an incredible resume. He won a championship with the 76ers in 1983, was a four-time All-Star, a four-Time All-Defensive First Team Selection and his No. 10 jersey was retired by the 76ers. At the time of his retirement, he was the NBA’s all-time steals leader.

It took Cheeks hardly any time after finishing his playing career to continue his career in the NBA, this time along the sidelines. He served as a 76ers assistant coach from 1994-2001, with his final season there culminating in a run to the NBA Finals with Allen Iverson. His work as an assistant resulted in head coaching opportunities with the Portland Trail Blazers, 76ers and then with the Detroit Pistons in between his two stints with the Thunder as an assistant.

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Cheeks was with the Thunder from 2009-13, including Oklahoma City’s trip to the NBA Finals, and then returned to the team in 2015 when Donovan took over the helm. His ability to not only see the game from a point guard’s perspective but also to understand team dynamics has been a crucial element of his work with Russell Westbrook. The NBA’s reigning MVP and seven-time All Star has leaned on Cheeks for most of his career as a mentor and guide through the challenges that can arise during an 82-game season.

Between his significant contributions as a player, as a head coach and an assistant coach in the NBA, Cheeks is beyond deserving of his induction into the Hall of Fame. That’s not even to mention his priceless personality. A wry smile always streaked across his face, Cheeks puts his fellow coworkers and players at ease, and brings a levity, wit and an element of fun to the game that permeates through the Thunder facility.

On the court, in the locker room and in the hallways, cheeks has been a Hall of Fame person, and the Thunder is thrilled to see him rewarded for his advancement of the game of basketball.

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