Dear Fellow Long-Suffering Sixers Fans

Dear Fellow Long-Suffering Sixers Fans:

I am a 44-year-old diehard Sixers fan who has been waiting for a legitimate championship contender since I fell madly in love with basketball more than 35 years ago.   My first experience of watching professional basketball came in the 1986-1987 NBA season when the great Julius Erving made his final appearances on a basketball court.

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The Doctor is In

Known as “Doctor J” for his high-flying dunks and flamboyant on-court play, Erving came to Philadelphia in 1976 and instantly made the Sixers a perennial championship contender again.  The 1976-1977 Sixers, with the Doctor and fellow All-Star George McGinnis, are arguably one of the most talented teams not to win an NBA championship.  They were favored against the Bill Walton-led Portland Trailblazers in the NBA Finals that season and the Sixers blew a 2-0 series lead.   

This prompted the famous Dr. J television commercial when he said, “We owe you one.”  The Sixers would make the NBA finals four times during the Doctor J era:  1977, 1980, 1982, and 1983.  After losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1980 and 1982, the Sixers acquired center Moses Malone from the Houston Rockets.  The Sixers’ acquisition of Moses finally brought the NBA title back to Philly, as we swept the defending NBA champion Lakers in the 1983 Finals.  The 1983 Sixers were one of the best teams in NBA history. They were 65-17 in the regular season and only lost one playoff game in a dominant post-season run.  Sixers center Moses Malone predicted before the playoffs, the Sixers’ postseason record would be “FO, FO, FO.”  His prediction was not far off.

1983 Was All the 80s Had to Offer

Unfortunately, the team never made it back to the NBA finals in that era, as they had to contend with the great Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics.  The Sixers had solid competitive teams during the middle of the 1980s, but they proved no match for Boston. The 1984 NBA season ended in great disappointment, as the Sixers were upset by the underdog New Jersey Nets at the Spectrum.  Off the court, the club made a major acquisition by drafting future Hall of Fame (HOF) power forward Charles Barkley from the University of Auburn with the fifth overall selection.  

The Sixers acquired this pick way back in 1978 from a trade with the then-San Diego Clippers.  During this time, the Sixers’ General Manager (GM) was Pat Williams.  Williams was one of the NBA’s best GMs in that era. He always toed the line between the Sixers contending for annual championships and always looking to the future of the franchise.

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Round Mound of Rebound

As the “Round Mound of Rebound,” “Sir” Charles Barkley made an immediate impact as a rookie by averaging 14 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game.  Barkley would go on to have a HOF career, playing 16 seasons and averaging 22.1 ppg.  He often credits Moses Malone for giving him “tough love” by telling him to “get his fat butt into shape.”  The Sixers were a veteran team who had been through the grind of many playoff runs, so the infusion of a young, future HOF player in Barkley was just what the Sixers needed.  After two more playoff exits in 1985 and 1986, the Sixers entered the NBA draft with the number one overall selection in the 1986 NBA draft, which they acquired in a Williams-engineered 1979 trade of Joe Bryant to the Clippers.

Draft Debacle

The 1986 NBA draft was the turning point in Sixers’ history: a dark day where the franchise made two disastrous personnel decisions that set the team back more than two decades.  William’s run of great trades was over.  When the Sixers made these two transactions, Williams later stated that this was the most dramatic day of trading in the history of the organization.  These moves would take the Sixers from perennial contenders to the shallow depths of NBA purgatory.   First, the Sixers traded the draft’s number one overall pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for power forward Roy Hinson.  

With the first pick, Cleveland would select future All-Star center Brad Daugherty from North Carolina.  Second, the Sixers then traded Moses Malone, power forward Terry Catledge, and two middle first-round selections to the Washington Bullets for center Jeff Ruland and power forward Cliff Robinson.  Ruland was an excellent rebounder and outlet passer.   The trade’s rationale hoped that Ruland could rebound the basketball and then outlet pass it to Barkley for fast breaks directed at another end of the court.  The plan was solid, but Ruland had chronic knee problems.

Against Doctors’ Advice

The Sixers’ doctors advised then-team owner Harold Katz against the trade, but Katz overruled his advisors and made the transaction.  Ruland would only play five games in his first year in a Sixers’ uniform.  Ultimately, Ruland would play with the club briefly a few seasons later.   Roy Hinson was acquired because he put up great numbers against the Sixers, and he was acquired with the intent of defending against Boston’s All-Star power forward, Kevin McHale.  Hinson was a perfect example of a guy who put up numbers on a bad team.  However, he was not talented enough to help the Sixers return to the NBA Finals.  All Sixers fans knew in the final analyses that these moves would prove detrimental to the franchise.

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Things Start Slipping Away

These poor personnel acquisitions, coupled with shooting guard Andrew Toney’s foot problems and Erving’s eventual retirement, ruined Barkley’s chances at winning a title in Philadelphia.  Barkley was establishing himself as one of the game’s greatest players during this period, but he had little assistance from his teammates. His best chance at winning an NBA title in Philadelphia came in the 1989-1990 season when they won the NBA’s Atlantic Division with a 53-29 record.  The Sixers were led by head coach Jim Lynam, and the Sixers had acquired power forward Rick Mahorn, previously of the world champion Detroit Pistons (aka “Bad Boys”).  This team was fun to watch, as Mahorn and Barkley were affectionately called “Thump and Bump” for their physical style of play.  However, they proved no match for the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, losing four games to one in that postseason’s Eastern Conference semifinals.

Barkley was unhappy with the direction of the franchise in general and with team owner Harold Katz in particular.  Ultimately, Barkley forced a trade following the 1991-1992 season to the Phoenix Suns.  Barkley would go on to win the NBA’s MVP award in his first year with the Suns, and he led the team to the NBA finals, where they would lose to the defending NBA champion Bulls in six games.    The Sixers’ return on the Barkley trade proved less than ideal:  the Sixers received guard Jeff Hornacek, center Andrew Lang, and forward Tim Perry.  Hornacek had a nice career with the Sixers, but the franchise then became the NBA’s equivalent to “Dead Man Walking.”

Missed Playoffs

For the remainder of my childhood, the Sixers were a perennial disaster.  The team missed the playoffs until the 1998-1999 season. The front office made one bad draft selection after another.  The worst was Shawn Bradley in 1993, who was picked second in the overall NBA draft.  Bradley was drafted in between future NBA All-Stars Chris Webber and Anfernee Hardaway.

New Ownership

In 1996, the Sixers were under new ownership, as Comcast purchased the team from Harold Katz.  Pat Croce became the president and face of the ownership, bringing a level of passion not usually scene from the front office.   The Sixers won the NBA draft lottery and selected the “Answer,” Allen Iverson.  Iverson brought exciting basketball back to Philly immediately as he won Rookie of the Year Award on his way to an NBA Hall of Fame career.  Many Sixers fans will never forget him crossing over Jordan in his rookie season.  The Iverson years proved quite exciting, but the only true team success during his tenure came in 2000-2001 when the Sixers made a remarkable run under coach Larry Brown to make the NBA finals.  Ultimately, the Sixers would lose the NBA Finals that year four games to one to the Shaq and Kobe-led Lakers dynasty.

In 2006, Iverson was traded to the Denver Nuggets, and for the next six seasons, the franchise resided in basketball purgatory.  This is the worst place to be in most professional sports, but in the NBA, nothing appears more dismal to a diehard fan.   With Andre Iguodala as the team’s best player, the Sixers were a perennial seventh-or-eighth playoff seed, or they just missed the playoffs.  A new ownership group bought the team in 2011.  In 2012, the team attempted to move forward by trading for Lakers center Andrew Bynum.  This proved to be another disaster, as Bynum never played one game in a Sixers uniform.

The Process

The failure of the Bynum trade became the impetus for “The Process.”  The new owners decided to take the drastic measure of “tanking” and collecting assets.  The NBA frowned on this move, but as a fan who was tired of constantly rooting for an irrelevant franchise, I embraced this measure.   The Sixers hired Sam Hinkie as GM from the Houston Rockets, where he was an assistant to the current-Sixers GM, Darryl Morey.   During the Process, the Sixers missed many high-level draft selections.  Jahlil Okafor, Markelle Fultz, and Zaire Smith come immediately to mind.  The rationale behind the process was to acquire and stockpile star talent not only through the draft but also through trades free agency.  

In 2014, the Sixers were fortunate enough to have selected Kansas center Joel Embiid as the third pick in the NBA draft.  Embiid was injured for a few seasons before starting his playing career in Philly, but he has been the star the franchise needed to build around.  LSU star Ben Simmons was selected as the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, and although he never became the Magic or Lebron-type of played as projected, Simmons would become the key trade chip in acquiring future HOF guard James Harden from the Brooklyn Nets.  The team also got extremely lucky in having a young star guard, Tyrese Maxey, slide to them with the 21st pick in the 2020 NBA draft.  Ironically that pick was acquired by trading the Sixers’ former number one overall pick, arguably the franchise’s biggest draft bust known as Markelle Fultz.

Could the 2022-2023 Season End Sixers Fans Long-Suffering

Now we fast forward to the upcoming 2022-2023 season, forty years after willing the 1983 NBA Championship with Moses leading the team to the Promised Land.  2000-2001 was a great, unexpected run, but for the first time in my life as a Sixers fan, I legitimately feel that this season can really be “our” year.  I look at the landscape of the NBA, particularly the Eastern Conference, and I concede that it is a minefield.  Any of us can make a legitimate argument that at least 10 teams can win this year’s NBA title.  I cannot remember this many deep, solid, and evenly-matched teams. The NBA East is stacked:  Boston, Milwaukee, Miami, Brooklyn, Atlanta, Chicago, Toronto, and now Cleveland (after acquiring guard Donavan Mitchell from Utah Jazz) will all prove to be big-time challenges.

Although these teams are talented, strong, and well-coached, they have to contend with the Philadelphia 76ers.  In my view, this season’s Sixers has the most talented and deepest roster that I have ever witnessed.  The Sixers are led by All-Star center Joel Embiid.  Embiid should’ve won the NBA MVP award last season, averaging 30.6 PPG, 11.7 RPG, and 4.2 APG.  Embiid is one of six centers in NBA history to average more than 30 PPG.  The others are HOF members Moses Malone, Bob McAdoo, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, and Walt Bellamy.  

Is Harden Back?

The Sixers have another star with “The Beard,” future HOF point guard James Harden.  Harden had a hamstring issue last year but still averaged 22 PPG, 10.3 APG, and 7.7 RPG.  By all reported accounts, Harden appears to be in phenomenal shape this preseason.  Further, and equally as important, the Sixers have a young player in Tyrese Maxey, who is on his way to becoming a perennial All-Star.   Maxey averaged 17.5 PPG and 4.3 APG last season.  Maxey looked even better this preseason when the Sixers went 4-0.   The sky is the limit for this kid, and the city has fallen in love with his infectious personality.

Finally Depth

The main reason for my optimism is the depth that has been added in the offseason. The bench was the weak part of the team in losing to the Miami Heat in six games in the season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals.  Sixers GM Darryl Morey did a great job adding pieces to this roster with an assist from James Harden, who took less than the league’s max contract so Morey could sign additional talent.   Initially, Morey signed free agent power forward PJ Tucker away from the Miami Heat.  Tucker is a long-time veteran who has extensive NBA playoff and championship experience.  Pj does all the little things that teams need to win close-ball games.

Tucker will grab a big rebound, deflect a shot, take a charge, and have the guts to take and make a wide-open corner three in a big spot.  In addition, Morey signed small forward Danuel House.  Like Tucker, House also played with James Harden in Houston.  In my opinion, House is an upgrade over Danny Green, as he is much more athletic.  Last season, House averaged 37 percent from downtown.  In playing with the Sixers (and especially Embiid and Harden), House should get many more wide-open looks.  

Morey Signings

Morey also signed free-agent backup center and power forward Montrezl Harrell.  Harrell will be a great addition off the bench.  He is a former Sixth Man of the Year Award Winner, a great rebounder, and an all-around high-energy, hustling player.  Harrell is another player that will do the little things in a game that do not go into the stat sheets.  Harrell will pay big dividends in the games Embiid does not play, and he will do anything to win.  

However, I believe the best move Morey made in the offseason may be De’Anthony Melton, former point guard of the Memphis Grizzlies.   Melton is 24 and extremely athletic.  Although he is only 6’ 2” tall, Melton possesses a 6’ 8” wingspan.  He shoots about 37-to-40 percent from the three-point range, and he is a tenacious defensive player.  Melton will be a major upgrade to the second unit.  Although Maxey is not a great defensive player, I eagerly look forward to having Melton help out on the defensive end when Maxey runs the point with the second team.  This Sixers team goes ten deep now.   Gone are the days of begging for a good shooting stretch from Furkan Korkmaz.  On-court minutes will have to be earned to play regularly with this team.

Dear Fellow Long-Suffering Sixers Fans

I recognize the great challenges of beating teams like Boston, Milwaukee, and Brooklyn in the NBA playoffs.   However, I believe that this Sixers team is the best team in a tough Eastern Conference and that they will prove it this season.  Further, I predict that our Sixers will win this season’s NBA title and bring the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy back to Broad Street by beating the Golden State Warriors in six games.  The 40-year drought is finally about to be over.  This makes me extremely nervous to say after years of heartbreak, but as Sixers radio announcer Tom McGinnis says, “Philadelphia, Get Excited!” Let’s go, Sixers!! Fellow long-suffering Sixers fans has our time finally come?

Joe Sullivan
Joe Sullivan

My passion for sports began at 8 years old when I won Sixers tickets at a father and son night. Since then, Saturdays meant Notre Dame football, and Sundays were for the Eagles. My passion continues to this day, and I have the great privilege of hosting the Sully Squad on Monday nights and the Old School Show on Friday Nights.