Philadelphia 76ers: Top 5 Playoff Moments from 1983 Championship Season
More than five years after Philadelphia 76ers' forward Julius Erving made his infamous "We owe you one" vow following the 1977 NBA Finals, the 76ers had yet to live up to that promise, falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in both the 1980 and 1982 Finals.
After that second Finals loss, the 76ers knew that they'd have to make some significant changes if they had any chance of taking out the Celtics and the Lakers - their two main obstacles on the way to the Walter A. Brown championship trophy.
A busy offseason and a sterling regular season later, Philadelphia was primed for one of the most impressive playoff runs in the history of the NBA. When all was said and done, the 76ers rolled through the playoffs with a near flawless 12-1 record. Here is a look at the five most memorable playoff moments for the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers.
5) Malone Makes Infamous "Fo', Fo', Fo'" Prediction
Despite an impressive roster of stars (Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, Bobby Jones), the 76ers knew that they were still lacking a big man who could dominate in the paint. So, on September 15, 1982, they acquired center Moses Malone from the Houston Rockets for forward/center Caldwell Jones and a first-round draft pick (Rodney McCray) - a move that would set the tone for the entire franchise.
"When we made that trade, you could just see the change in the whole team," said Billy Cunningham, the 76ers' head coach back in 1983. "They understood, they knew: 'This is the man.' And he was on a mission, and he had come to Philadelphia to get a ring."
Malone would lead the team with 24.5 PPG and 15.3 RPG during the 1982-83 regular season as the 76ers finished with a league-best 65-17 record.
When asked by reporters how the playoffs would go, Malone responded "Fo', fo', fo'" - boldly predicting that his team would sweep every playoff series: a feat that had never before been accomplished.
4) Malone Puts Injury Concerns to Rest Against Knicks
There were some questions surrounding the health of Moses Malone as he began the playoffs suffering from tendinitis in his left knee. Those fears were soon quieted as he went off for 38 points and 17 rebounds in a 112-102 victory against the New York Knicks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
In all fairness, New York was at a slight disadvantage due to the fact that they had to play a first-round, best-of-three series against the New Jersey Nets (which they swept 2-0). As Atlantic Division champs, the 76ers had the benefit of a week of rest before the two teams faced off - a week which allowed Malone to regain the dominant form he had shown all season.
The Sixers had won five of the teams' six meetings during the regular season, so it was no surprise that they would have little trouble with New York, winning both games in Philadelphia relatively easily. The Knicks were more competitive when the series shifted to Madison Square Garden for Games 3 and 4, but the 76ers would go on to sweep New York in four games.
3) Milwaukee's Game 4 Win in Eastern Conference Finals Ends 76ers' Perfect Run
After winning four straight against the Knicks, the 76ers nearly came through on Malone's prediction as they captured the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks were fresh off of an impressive four-game sweep of the Boston Celtics - it marked the first time in NBA playoff history that the Celtics had been swept in a series.
The Bucks couldn't quite carry that momentum into their set against the 76ers, but they did find a way to win Game 4 100-94, handing Philadelphia its first and only loss of the 1983 postseason. Milwaukee had played the 76ers tough for most of the series to that point, and the team had its fair share of talent, with swingman Marques Johnson and Sidney Moncrief combining for more than 40 points per game during the Bucks' playoff run.
After the defeat, Malone amended his prediction to "fo', fi', fo'", resolute in his belief that the 76ers wouldn't drop another game during their playoff run.
2) Erving Takes Control of Game 4 of the NBA Finals
With just over two minutes to play in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the Sixers trailed the Los Angeles Lakers 106-104. On a court filled with superstars and future Hall of Famers, it was only natural that one of them would step up and take control of the game at such a critical juncture. Fortunately for 76ers fans, that player just happened to play for their team.
Beginning at the 2:09 mark of the fourth quarter, Julius Erving put on a clinic over the next minute-and-a-half, scoring on a fastbreak dunk, a three-point play, and an 18-foot jumper. What once was a two-point deficit quickly became a 111-108 lead, and the 76ers would never trail again.
"There wasn't time to drive, there wasn't time to swing the ball, so I let it fly," Erving later said about the final shot of that sequence. "I didn't find that shot. It found me."
While NBA Finals MVP Moses Malone paced the 76ers in Game 4 with 24 points and 23 rebounds, Erving was clearly the most valuable player on the court that particular night, making the plays necessary to close out the Finals in the hostile Great Western Forum.
1) Maurice Cheeks Puts a Bow on '83 Finals with Dunk
Without question, the most memorable moment of the Sixers' playoff run in 1983 occurred at the end of Game 4 of the NBA Finals when Maurice Cheeks scored on a fastbreak dunk at the end of regulation, sealing the 76ers 115-108 victory.
The image of him soaring through the air is indelible for a number of reasons: not only did it cap the team's first championship since 1967, but it was also one of the few dunks of Cheeks' career. While point guards are typically taught to dribble the clock out in situations such as those, it was clear that Cheeks was caught up in the moment.
"Of course, it was the thrill of the moment that made me dunk it," said Cheeks when interviewed about the slam years later. "I knew the game was over."
It was the perfect exclamation point to a near-perfect playoff run, and it set off a wave of celebration in the City of Brotherly Love. The next day, an estimated 1.7 million people lined Broad Street as the 76ers made their way through the city towards their victory party inside Veterans Stadium. The 1983 championship would be the last title won by a major professional sports team in Philadelphia for 25 years.