The Greatest Players in 76ers Franchise History
After spending nearly a decade in rebuilding mode, there is a popular school of thought that the Philadelphia 76ers may have finally turned the corner and reached contender status. Fresh off a summer which may have been the most productive in the league (especially considering the early-season implosion by a certain team from Southern California), expectations have reached a level not seen since the days of Allen Iverson, Larry Brown, and a bunch of complimentary pieces who played their role to a tee.
This time around, however, the added pieces have the potential to do more than compliment.
With established veterans like Andrew Bynum, Dorrell Wright, Jason Richardson, and Nick Young joining a still-young and improving nucleus of Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Thaddeus Young, et al, the future looks bright in the City of Brotherly Love.
But can any of these future pieces become historic fixtures?
For a franchise which has had its share of memorable moments over the past half-century or so, it has, in turn, spat out its share of memorable players. It remains to be seen if any of this season’s cast of characters will one day join that rank. However, before knowing where we’re going, it can be good to know where we’ve been.
Here is one man’s view of the greatest players, by position, to put on a Sixers uniform, plus the first runner up on the bench.
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Point Guard: Maurice Cheeks
Now that Artis Gilmore finally got the call last year to join the ranks of the immortals in Springfield, that may leave “Mo” at the front of the line as the biggest exclusion to the Basketball Hall of Fame.
A fixture as a player, assistant coach, and, ultimately, head coach in Philly for over two decades, Cheeks’ easy-going nature was a stabilizing force for a squad which went to the NBA Finals three times in four years during the 1980s and won it all in 1983. Unfortunately his reign – and style – as head coach wasn’t nearly as fruitful.
On the bench: Eric Snow. Not nearly the same pedigree as Cheeks (nor anyone else on this roster), Snow was still a fantastic leader and game manager throughout the late 1990’s and 2000’s for the Sixers and embraced that previously mentioned “complimentary piece” role. That said, Holiday may supplant him here in the very near future.
Shooting Guard: Allen Iverson
Say want you want about Iverson, the individual: he’s a diva, he hates practice (Practice?!), he was incredibly fragile – physically and emotionally. Through it all, Iverson the player may wind up as the greatest “small” man to ever play the game.
For over a decade, A.I. dazzled crowds with spectacular drives over, around and sometimes through opponents nearly twice his size.
He single-handedly carried his hobbled cast of castoffs to the NBA Championship in 2001, setting up a David vs. Goliath matchup against Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers, leading them to a Game One victory in one of the more entertaining contests in Finals' history. His passion and heart fit perfectly for a city which thrives on both.
On the bench: Hal Greer. A ten-time all-star and member of the 1966-67 championship squad still considered by many as one of the best teams ever assembled, as well as being named one of the 50 greatest players in history. This one is a no-brainer.
Small Forward: Julius Erving
Let’s face it (and you can ask His Airness yourself): Without a Julius Erving, there may not have been a Michael Jordan. One of the first to play a finesse, above-the-rim style, Dr. J helped take basketball to brand new heights (pun intended) in the 1970s and into its heyday of the ‘80s. Unquestionably the greatest star of the ABA era, he didn’t miss a beat when transitioning to the NBA.
An eternal face of the franchise – and the inspiration to the slam dunk contests which used to mean something – The Doctor remains as beloved to Philadelphians now as he was when he hung up his shorts 25 years ago.
On the bench: Billy Cunningham. Like Erving, The Kangaroo Kid achieved success in both the NBA and ABA. Unlike Cheeks, he was also as successful a coach as he was a player, serving a key role on both Sixer championship teams.
Power Forward: Charles Barkley
Like Iverson, Sir Charles may go down as the greatest “small” man at his position. But what he lacked in height as a “4” (generously listed as 6’6’’ in the books), he more than made up for in heart and determination. Never at a loss for words or rebounds, Barkley was simply a warrior on the court and sound bite gold off of it.
Another “greatest” distinction he’d rather not have: as one of best to have never won a ring. That said, he seems to be getting by just fine in his second career as an analyst for TNT.
On the bench: Dolph Schayes. Although he played the majority of his career as a member of the Syracuse Nationals—the predecessor to the Sixers—Schayes left his mark on the franchise—as well as the league, compiling totals of 18.5 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game, thus making him the greatest man named "Dolph" to ever play basketball.
He too, like Cunningham and Cheeks after him, coached the Sixers upon his retirement.
Center: Wilt Chamberlain
This seems obvious, but it is hard to believe that Wilt the Stilt, a West Philadelphia product who will forever live in this city’s folklore, only wore a Sixers uniform for four seasons (plus another few for the Warriors while they were based in Philly). But man, what an amazing four seasons they were.
Chamberlain, who apparently scored just as much off the court as he did on it, was the first to truly change the way the game was played. Yet all the adjustments in the world couldn’t stop him from dominating his opponents, as he posted averages of over 30 points and over 20 rebounds per game during his short tenure in town. Unfathomably, he even led the league in assists during his final season with the team!
On the bench: Moses Malone. Another whose time in town seemed longer than it actually was. But regardless, his Philly legacy was solidified in his first season after being acquired in a blockbuster trade from Houston.
That year, 1983, Moses became the missing piece needed to finally knock off the Lakers, as he parted the figurative seas and took the Sixers to the “promised land.” A three-time MVP and 12-time All-Star for his career, Moses definitely left his mark.
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