Ranking the Top 25 Players in Philadelphia 76ers History

Kyle Neubeck@@KyleNeubeckContributor IIAugust 16, 2013

Ranking the Top 25 Players in Philadelphia 76ers History

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    The dawn of a new era is upon the Philadelphia 76ers, so now seems like a perfect time to look back at the best 25 players in the history of the franchise.

    What does it mean to be one of the top players in franchise history? A combination of several factors. Individual accolades, gaudy stats and team success all have weight when summing up a player's career.

    The back end of this list will have a few names that many have long forgotten, but the top will be filled with familiar stars. For historical accuracy, only players from the Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia 76ers will be considered.

    Apologies to the Philadelphia Warriors

    Wilt Chamberlain, Allen Iverson, Julius Erving and more put on dazzling performances for the Sixers, so there's plenty of competition for the top spot.

    Read on to to see who made the cut.

25. Lee Shaffer

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    Lee Shaffer only laced up for a few seasons with the 76ers, but his impact on the franchise as a player and a trade chip is well worth a spot in the top 25.

    This 6'7" forward out of the University of North Carolina averaged a respectable 16.8 points and 6.3 rebounds over three seasons for the franchise.

    Shaffer's game went to another level in the postseason. In the 1963 playoffs, his 27.2 points trailed only Elgin Baylor, Bob Pettit, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, who would all be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

    Most importantly for the 76ers, he was one of three players, along with cash, sent to the San Francisco Warriors to acquire a player who will come up later in this list, Wilt Chamberlain.

    Shaffer infamously retired following the trade at the age of 24, choosing to walk away from the game rather than report to the Warriors.

24. Caldwell Jones

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    Caldwell Jones, better known as "Pops," had a long career in basketball because he did one thing extraordinarily well: block shots. He did exactly that for the Philadelphia 76ers.

    Jones averaged 1.9 blocks per game over six seasons with the Sixers, never dipping below 1.6 in a single season. 

    For his efforts on the defensive end, Jones was named a member of the All-Defensive First Team in back-to-back years in 1981 and 1982. Jones was the defensive anchor for those teams, which advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals, respectively.

    As luck would have it, Jones got moved for a transcendent big man, just like Lee Shaffer. He was the only player traded in the deal that brought back Moses Malone.

23. Steve Mix

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    Younger Philadelphia 76ers fans may remember Steve Mix as the color commentator during their last title run, but "The Mayor" had a successful playing career in the city as well.

    Mix was never a jump-out-of-the-gym athlete, but he squeezed every drop out of the talent he had.

    “I think I got the most out of my ability I could,” he said. “There was nothing left in the tank when I retired.”

    All-Star appearance? Check. Three NBA Finals appearances with the Sixers? Check. Not a bad career for a guy who started with the Continental League's Pickers for an average of $95 a game.

22. Archie Clark

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    Archie Clark was a two-sport star at the University of Minnesota. Luckily for the 76ers, he chose to turn his attention to basketball.

    Whether it was run production in baseball or getting buckets on the hardwood, Clark was no stranger to scoring points. Each successive season in Philadelphia saw his scoring average increase, rising from a paltry 13.5 points in 1968 to a scorching 29.0 in his final half season with the Sixers.

    Clark was a remarkably efficient scorer, shooting 48.5 percent from the field in his four full seasons in Philadelphia. This is especially noteworthy, considering the league average at the time was a full three percentage points beneath him

21. Fred Carter

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    Who was the leading scorer on the Philadelphia 76ers' worst team ever? He may be the 21st-best player in Philadelphia 76ers history, but Fred Carter is better known as the answer to that trivia question.

    Carter has done more than a few interviews about averaging 20.0 points on the 1972-73 Sixers team that went 9-73, but he still keeps a sense of humor about it, per Steve Aschburner of NBA.com:

    I was voted the team's Most Valuable Player and I asked the guys in the media when they had the banquet, "Did I lead this team to nine wins or did I lead them to 73 losses?" To me, it was kind of embarrassing to be a team's Most Valuable Player on a team that accomplished nothing. Forget what they would have done without me -- what did I do?

    Not just a flash in the pan, Carter's 20.6 points per game over four full seasons with the Sixers was a glimmer of hope inside a sea of despair.

    Carter combined with No. 1 overall draft pick Doug Collins to form a backcourt that many in the league envied in the mid-1970s, despite the disrepair of the rest of the roster.

20. Darryl Dawkins

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    Darryl "Chocolate Thunder" Dawkins jumped to the NBA straight out of Maynard Evans High School in 1975, breaking rims and igniting runs off the bench to earn his place in Philadelphia 76ers lore.

    Dawkins and his powerful dunks shattered two separate backboards in 1979, which led to the creation of the breakaway rims that are still used in the league today. Chris Broussard, then of the New York Times, quoted Dawkins as saying: 

    ''The first one was an accident, but I wanted to see if I could do it again when I got back to Philadelphia,'' The 6-foot-11, 275-pound Dawkins, who smashed his first backboard in Kansas City, said. ''All the fans were hollering, 'You've got to do one for the home crowd,' so I went ahead and brought it down. Everybody was in awe. Fans were running out grabbing the glass. People's hands were bleeding. I felt like I was doing something no other human could do."

    More than just a sideshow, Dawkins was a member of two Sixers teams (1977 and 1982) that went to the finals. Playing time became available as he matured mentally and physically, leading to his most productive season in Philadelphia in 1981, when he averaged 14.7 points and 8.7 rebounds.

    This production came at one of the most efficient rates in the league. Dawkins finished second in field-goal percentage in 1978 and 1981.  

19. Luke Jackson

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    Luke Jackson may have been in the shadow of Wilt Chamberlain, but if you let Chamberlain tell the story, it was Jackson who made Philadelphia's 1967 championship team tick:

    Luke Jackson was the ultimate power forward. That's because he created the position. He had power and could rebound, but he also had grace and could shoot. He could have been a great center, but he adapted his game to become a forward. He was a hustling intelligent player. I think we complimented each other's abilities very well.

    When he went for a rebound, he instilled the fear of God in people.

    Member of both the 1965 All-Rookie and All-Star teams, Jackson instilled that fear from the get-go.

    His quiet, determined personality played the perfect complement to the often aloof Chamberlain. While his counterpart drove the headlines and shattered records, Jackson lurked in the background, keeping the engine of a finely tuned team running. 

18. Andre Iguodala

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    Andre Iguodala might not have lived up to reputation of the other A.I. for the Philadelphia 76ers, but he was a valuable player who helped keep a shaky roster afloat.

    Many people who obsess over point totals and a small sample of shots in the clutch fail to appreciate a defensive genius like Andre Iguodala. From Kobe Bryant to LeBron James, he has battled the best of the best on the wing in the NBA.

    Iguodala spent eight underappreciated years in Philadelphia, appearing in an All-Star game and winning a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. CBS Sports' Matt Moore openly pondered if the trade that moved titans Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard to different coasts finally forced his talent into the spotlight:

    The world might not know Iguodala, but his attitude this season has some things it would like to show the world. The only question is if this new opportunity will finally put him on the map and if a new role in a new city with a new team means a new Iguodala.

    He never scored more than 19.9 points in a single season for the 76ers, but the human Swiss Army knife contributed plenty on both ends of the court to warrant his spot on the list.

17. Paul Seymour

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    Paul Seymour's inclusion on this list is a reflection of his play for the Syracuse Nationals, but it is his forward thinking that make him truly noteworthy.

    Seymour appeared in three All-Star games and won an NBA title in 1955, averaging a staggering 41 minutes during this championship season.

    A hard worker himself, Seymour valued that quality in his players when he later became coach for the St. Louis Hawks.

    Although newspaper reports claim he was fired because veterans complained he was overplaying rookie Cleo Hill, ESPN's 2008 documentary Black Magic detailed the racial reasoning behind the firing. Seymour stood up for Hill, an African-American, and ended up being forced out by Hawks leading scorer Bob Pettit.

    It may not have any bearing on his on-court impact for the Sixers, but it's a nice bonus to have former players who stand for something, rather than sit for everything like Andrew Bynum.    

16. George McGinnis

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    Long before the 2008 Celtics ushered in an era of Big Threes, George McGinnis and Julius Erving were a superstar tandem for the Philadelphia 76ers.

    Before the Doctor tantalized fans, it was McGinnis who drew the headlines:

    "He would make moves that you'd swear were physically impossible," says Phil Jasner of the Philadelphia Daily News, who covered McGinnis' first season in Philadelphia. "We would watch him do unbelievable things, then we'd look at each other and say, 'Don't write it down, it never happened.'"

    Just like Erving, McGinnis came from the ABA to Philadelphia with enormous expectations, and he did his best to live up to them.

    McGinnis averaged 21.6 points and 11.5 rebounds in three seasons with the Sixers, appearing in All-Star games during his first two seasons in Philadelphia.

    That second season (1977) was his apex, as McGinnis finished in the top 10 in rebounding and defensive rating while being named to the All-NBA second team.

    McGinnis was later traded to the Denver Nuggets for a player who will be appearing a few slides down the line.

15. Red Kerr

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    Born and raised in Chicago, where he would later become a successful coach and broadcaster, Johnny "Red" Kerr spent a 12-year detour with the Philadelphia 76ers franchise.

    Kerr was virtually an automatic double-double who averaged 13.8 points and 11.2 rebounds for his professional career.

    The other area where he was automatic was in just showing up. The original NBA "Iron Man," Kerr's record of 844 consecutive games played stood from 1965 to 1983. As luck would have it, the man who precedes him on this list, Paul Seymour, is the coach who sat him and ended the streak.

    Kerr would later appear in three All-Star games after winning a championship during his rookie season in 1955.

14. Andrew Toney

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    Andrew Toney was one of the most gifted players in the history of the Philadelphia 76ers, but injuries robbed him of what should have been a long NBA career.

    Toney was an essential piece on the 1983 champions, the man dubbed "The Boston Strangler" for his propensity to torture the Celtics.

    Sports Illustrated's Anthony Cotton wrote of Toney:

    Boston has learned the hard way that it doesn't pay to leave Toney alone anytime. Since he came into the NBA from Southwest Louisiana four years ago, the 6'3", 190-pound guard has almost made a career of destroying the Celtics with a jumper that he launches while thrusting his chest forward, in the manner of Mr. America. His career scoring average is 16.7 points a game, yet against Boston it's 20.3.

    That scoring average was rising during the 1983-84 season, when Toney scored a career-best 20.4 points on 53.0 percent shooting, but poorly managed foot injuries derailed his career after back-to-back All-Star appearances and a championship.

    Fans can only wonder what might have been, as they do with the next player (and later coach) on this list. 

13. Doug Collins

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    The same old, gray Doug Collins who has patrolled the sidelines for the 76ers the past few seasons once ran up and down the hardwood for the team, surrounded by floppy hair and hopeful fans.

    Taken No. 1 overall as the reward for the 1972-73 Sixers finishing with the worst full-season record of all time, Doug Collins, along with George McGinnis and later Julius Erving, would restore the once-proud franchise back to prominence.

    Collins made four straight All-Star teams from 1976 to '79 before ravaging his knee in the second half of the 1978-79 season. He would play only 48 more games from 1979 to '81 before being forced to retire.

12. Larry Costello

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    Larry Costello sounds more like the manager of a restaurant than one of the top Philadelphia 76ers ever, but he was good enough to instill fear in Boston Celtics Hall of Famer Bob Cousy. Per Richard Goldstein of the New York Times:

    ''People ask me who gave me the most trouble,'' Cousy, a Hall of Famer who played for the Boston Celtics, said in 1995. ''It wasn't Oscar or Jerry,'' he said of Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. ''Larry had this animal determination.''

    Costello was one of the league's great free-throw shooters, a category that he led outright in the 1962-63 and 1964-65 seasons. 

    This, along with steady contributions of 3.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game, led to his selection to five All-Star games between 1958 and 1965. Costello was also a member of the title-winning 1967 team.

11. Bobby Jones

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    Bobby Jones is in a spot familiar to the former Sixth Man of the Year: just out of the top 10 on the list of best Philadelphia 76ers ever.

    While Julius Erving was performing highlight-reel dunks and Moses Malone grabbed every rebound in sight, Jones did the dirty work in a supporting role.

    His efforts did not go unnoticed. Jones was named to seven straight All-Defensive teams from 1979 to 1985, including six straight on the first team.

    So, what was the source of his defensive prowess? He saw it as a survival tool. According to 76ers.com, Jones stated:

    I actually made two First Team All-Defensive teams in the ABA so I really had 10 in a row. Those days were tougher because back in the old ABA there was Julius Erving, George Gervin, Larry Keenan and George McGinnis. It seemed like the ABA was filled with great forwards that I had to guard as a rookie and it was difficult but it was something that helped me figure out that playing defense was how I was going to stay in the league so that’s what I tried to concentrate on.

    The talented, humble Jones would probably be happy to surrender the first spot in the top 10 to one of his former teammates. That goes to... 

10. Maurice Cheeks

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    No slouch on the defensive end himself, Maurice Cheeks is one of the Philadelphia 76ers' and the league's best defensive guards ever.

    "Mo" made the All-Defense team five straight times from 1983 to '87, largely off the strength of his pick-pocketing. Cheeks would finish in the top 10 in steals each of his first 10 years in the league, and still ranks fifth with 2,310.

    Cheeks was also no stranger to setting up his teammates. He ranks 11th all time in total assists, after averaging 6.7 assists per game over 15 seasons in the NBA.

9. Chet Walker

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    Seven-time All-Star Chet "The Jet" Walker's reliability was something that Philadelphia 76ers fans and national press took for granted, a wrong they finally corrected by inducting him into the Hall of Fame in 2012.

    "Steady as he goes" is the perfect phrase to describe Walker, who averaged the same 18.2 points in both the regular season and the playoffs.

    Perhaps that's the reason he made the playoffs in every one of his 13 seasons in the league, the first seven of which came with Philadelphia.

    Walker also brought a fiery attitude that the Sixers needed to conquer the rival Boston Celtics, best displayed by his claim that, "I'll murder [Bill Russell]."

8. Dolph Schayes

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    The first superstar in franchise history, Dolph Schayes sounds like a player the Philadelphia 76ers could use now: a big man who can shoot and rebound.

    Schayes was the (literal) center of attention for the 1955 champion Syracuse Nationals and one of the top players of the NBA's fledgling era. It was Schayes, along with other men of his talent level, who helped the league grow into an attractive business.

    But he's not just a pioneer. Eleven straight All-Star appearances along with averages of 18.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game are numbers that speak for themselves.

7. Billy Cunningham

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    One of the best players in Philadelphia 76ers history, Billy Cunningham also holds the unique distinction of being the franchise's most successful coach.

    "The Kangaroo Kid" accumulated 21.2 points and 10.4 rebounds across 11 seasons in the NBA and ABA, on top of winning a title in 1967 and appearing in four All-Star games for the Sixers.

    If you thought that'd be enough to satisfy him, you thought wrong.

    Cunningham took the reins of the team that drafted him following his retirement in 1976 and never looked back. He became the quickest coach to 200 and 300 wins in league history, and stewarded the franchise to another title in 1983.

    His final coaching record is 454-196, good for a winning percentage of .698, second only to Phil Jackson.

6. Charles Barkley

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    He might be right that he's not a role model, but the 76ers would be lucky if they could find more players with the talent of Charles Barkley.

    "Sir Charles" defied his shorter, round stature to become one of the best rebounders the NBA has ever seen. So how did a man generously listed at 6'6" average 11.7 rebounds for his career?

    "I always laugh when people ask me about rebounding techniques," said Barkley. "I've got a technique. It's called just go get the damn ball."

    On top of getting the damn ball, Barkley was a versatile scorer and willing passer who appeared in six straight All-Star games for Philadelphia.

    Hall of Famer Bill Walton said of Barkley, per Slam magazine (via NBA.com):

    Barkley is like Magic [Johnson] and Larry [Bird] in that they don't really play a position, ... He plays everything; he plays basketball. There is nobody who does what Barkley does. He's a dominant rebounder, a dominant defensive player, a three-point shooter, a dribbler, a playmaker.

    But it takes men of superior size and/or skill to crack the top five.

5. Moses Malone

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    Moses Malone had the size and skill to be one of the greatest big men in NBA history. The only thing holding him back in Philadelphia 76ers lore is the brevity of his stay.

    After winning MVP awards with the Houston Rockets in 1979 and 1982, Malone was brought to Philadelphia via trade to put an already loaded Sixers team over the top.

    He did that, and so much more.

    Malone won his second straight MVP award in 1983, leading the Sixers to 65 wins in the regular season and a dominating 12-1 rampage through the NBA playoffs.

    Malone's infamous statement before the 1983 playoffs remains a part of Sixers history:

    Before the Sixers' magical playoff run in 1983, a reporter asked Sixers center Moses Malone how the team would do. He predicted a playoffs sweep with this now famous response: "Fo', fo', fo'!"

    Instead of 12-0, the Sixers went 12-1, losing one game to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

    In four seasons with the Sixers, Malone accomplished everything there is to accomplish. He averaged 23.9 points and 13.4 rebounds per game to go along with four straight All-Star appearances and a seat at the head of the NBA table.

    And then he was whisked away before fans knew what hit them, traded for spare parts.  

4. Hal Greer

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    The speedy jackrabbit to Wilt Chamberlain's towering colossus, Hal Greer would be the finest guard in the history of the 76ers if not for a certain braided gentleman from Virginia.

    Though Chamberlain received much of the press, Greer was with him every step of the way. During the 1967 title season, he scored 22.1 points to Chamberlain's 24.1.

    This flipped in the 1967 playoffs, with Greer pouring in 27.7 points, six more than Chamberlain's 21.7.

    Greer spent his entire career with the Sixers, appearing in 10 straight All-Star games from 1961 to '70, averaging 19.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists for his career.

    His sustained excellence helps him stand out from some of the other legendary players on this list, but greater heights were reached by the remaining players. 

3. Allen Iverson

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    He came to Philadelphia with baggage and tattoos that were too much for some, but Allen Iverson's talent and determination pushed him to be one of the greatest players in 76ers history.

    Iverson's rants about practice and gaudy chains were occasional distractions from an otherwise dynamic game. He hit his apex in 2001, when he averaged 31.1 points and 2.5 steals per game en route to winning the NBA's MVP award.

    Surrounded by a cast of career role players, Iverson led the 2001 Sixers all the way to the NBA Finals before succumbing to the Shaq-and-Kobe-era Lakers.

    Iverson was never able to win a championship in Philadelphia, but his individual achievements more than make up for his lack of team success. Just to name a few things, Iverson was:

    • Rookie of the Year
    • One-time MVP
    • 6-time All-Star
    • 7-time All-NBA

    A.I. was a diminutive, ferocious warrior, who will one day be elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Our final two are already there.   

2. Wilt Chamberlain

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    Philadelphia native Wilt Chamberlain's outrageous production seems like a surefire ticket to the top spot, but his time in a 76ers uniform was actually fairly short.

    Chamberlain's early years were spent with the Philadelphia Warriors, where more than a few of his notable numbers were achieved. The 50-point average and 100-point game both took place with that franchise, removing them from consideration for a Sixers conversation.

    Still, he was no slouch for the 76ers.

    Chamberlain won MVP awards in all three of his full seasons with the Sixers, equaling the total MVPs by everyone else in franchise history. That's a staggering individual achievement.

    And the numbers? 27.3 points, 24.2 rebounds and 7.2 assists sounds like something out of a video game. Combine that with leading the 1967 Sixers to 68 wins and basketball immortality, and you have what is perhaps the most dominant force in basketball history.

    So what stopped him from being No. 1? A giant afro. 

1. Julius Erving

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    That's right: Julius Erving, otherwise known as "Dr. J," is the greatest player in the history of the Philadelphia 76ers. 

    Standing in contrast to the concentrated excellence of Wilt Chamberlain, Erving was the picture of sustained greatness.

    In 11 seasons with the Sixers, Erving made—wait for it—11 All-Star teams. What's even more remarkable is the consistency of his output from beginning to end.

    Erving was awarded the 1981 MVP with averages of 24.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, the apex of his high-wire act that preceded the vicious dunkers of the modern game like LeBron James and Vince Carter circa 2000.

    Even as he trailed off in the twilight of his career, Erving was still an effective player with gas in the tank. When your rock bottom is 16.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists on 47 percent shooting, you know you've had yourself a heck of a career. 

    Looking at the numbers, it's perplexing that he only captured one MVP award considering how remarkably similar they look year in and year out.

    Still, an NBA title, an iconic nickname and seven All-NBA appearances are a collection of individual and team accolades fitting of the greatest player in Philadelphia 76ers history.

    So what do you think of the list? Who got shortchanged? Who's overrated? Use the comments to sound off with all your feedback.

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