Nickname Week rolls on here at Philly Sports History. So far, we’ve taken care of the Eagles and the Flyers. Today we take a look at the best nicknames in the history of the Philadelphia 76ers. There are way too many nicknames in team history to remember them all, but here are 10 of the best in no particular order. As always, let us know if you can think of any others that should have cracked the Top Ten.
- “World” Lloyd Bernand Free - Lloyd was given the nickname “World” in high school for his all-world talent, so he did the reasonable thing and officially changed his name to World B. Free.
- “The Boston Strangler” Andrew Toney – The origin of this nickname is pretty obvious. He dominated the Celtics in the playoffs, most memorably with a 34 point night in Game Seven of the ’83 Eastern Conference Finals.
- “The Round Mound of Rebound” Charles Barkley – As a stocky 6’5″ forward who took home the rebounding title in ’86-’87, it’s not surprising Sir Charles was given this moniker.
- “Chocolate Thunder” Darryl Dawkins - Dawkins’ nickname came from an unlikely source: Stevie Wonder. In an interview with Dime Magazine, Dawkins told the story: “Stevie Wonder used to come the ball games and they would have a guy sitting with him. And the guy would be holding on to his arm, telling him what’s going on, and he would say, ‘Hey, the big chocolate guy just put down a thunder dunk. The chocolate guy with another monster dunk.’ And Stevie Wonder actually gave me the nickname Chocolate Thunder. So a guy who never saw me can give me that name. I think I can wear that well. I don’t even know if he remembers, it’s been so long, but I’ll keep that.”
- “Dr. J.” Julius Erving - Julius Erving had a buddy in high school, Leon Saunders, who “could outtalk anybody to the point where would lecture whoever else was around.” Because of this, Erving called him the “Professor.” Saunders figured they both should have professional sounding nicknames, so he started calling Erving the “Doctor” and it stuck. It was later shortened to “Dr. J” when he started playing pro basketball.
- “The Answer” Allen Iverson - Although his nickname growing up in Hampton, VA was “Bubba Chuck,” once he was drafted by the Sixers he became “The Answer” for the struggling franchise.
- “Pooh” Johnny Dawkins – Dawkins was nicknamed “Pooh” by his family when he was a child and it lasted.
- “Jellybean” Joe Bryant - A high school teammate gave Bryant the nickname “Jellybean” because he had all the moves of the guard, even though he was a 6’9″ power forward.
- “The Kangaroo Kid” Billy Cunningham – Cunningham was called “The Kangaroo Kid” because of his insane leaping ability.
- “The Big Dipper” Wilt Chamberlain – Wilt had many nicknames, but preferred “The Big Dipper,” which was coined by friends at Overbrook H.S. because he had to dip his head to get through doorways.
Well eventually we were going to come across a person who didn’t grow up here (besides myself). So today we present to you Brandyn Campbell, better known to her fans as the Philly Sports Muse. If you went to Penn State, you may actually enjoy her memory, as it has to do with a loss by one of your chief rivals. And strangely, numerous members of the 1992 Ohio State team she talks about have Philly connections.
My strongest and most vivid memory has to do with a team and a sport that may surprise you.
If you’ve ever met me or stumbled upon my blog, Philly Sports Muse, you know that I am a football fan. Yet my early days of sports fanaticism were devoted to another sport.
My junior high and high school years were spent in Michigan. I rooted primarily for the Detroit Pistons. It was the era of Isaiah Thomas before the sexual harassment allegations and Dennis Rodman before he lost his mind.
The only thing I loved more than the Pistons was Ohio State’s basketball team (sorry, Penn Staters). The team at the time included some names that may be familiar to you as Philadelphia sports fans.
My beloved OSU team was coached by Randy Ayers, who followed my inspired lead and made his way to Philadelphia as assistant coach of the 76ers for 6 years beginning in 1997, then was head coach for the team from 2003-2004.
Jim Jackson (right), OSU’s star who in his younger days went by Jimmy, was my hands down favorite member of the team and overall favorite college athlete. He also made his way to Philly for one year, along with a a whopping eleven other stops in the NBA.
Lawrence Funderburke was on the team, a player who sadly had a short and lackluster career in the NBA. Chris Jent, my second favorite player on the squad experienced a similar fate in pro ball as Funderburke. But as luck would have it, Jent too made his way to Philadelphia in 2003 as an assistant coach for the Sixers.
Back in Columbus, Ohio State was the #1 regional seed two years in a row during the NCAA Championship, in 1991 and 1992. Both years they failed to make the most of the opportunity.
I don’t remember much about what happened in 1991. However, the tragedy of what occurred in ’92 sticks with me.
OSU was in the Elite Eight. The last minutes of their game against Michigan’s Fab Five were gut-wrenching, as they always are in college basketball. Ohio State was sure to win. They held a 4 point lead with a few minutes left. But Michigan came back to tie the game, and a last second shot by the Buckeyes rimmed out.
The game went to overtime, which Michigan dominated, talking trash the whole time. The Fab Five, with a 75-71 win (here’s an article about that game written by Mike Missanelli), were headed to the Final Four. Ohio State was headed home.
It felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I couldn’t believe that the run was over.
Somehow after those last minutes I wound up on the floor of my house. And there I sat for a half hour, uttering a word to no one.
Though the teams and sports I root for now are different, I will never forget that moment. Why?
Because it’s my clearest and earliest memory of displaying everything I believe about being a sports fan. If my full body, heart, mind and soul aren’t committed to a game, then there is no point in watching. Why bother to root for a team if you’re not going to pour everything you have into it?
This story actually makes me smile because, in hindsight, this early heartbreak was perfect preparation for becoming a Philadelphia sports fan.
Larry Mendte needs no introduction. I doubt there is a Philadelphian who doesn’t know his name. He has a house swimming in Emmys for his terrific television work (including two earlier this year). And though his career at KYW ended in scandal in 2008, he has since recovered nicely, writing for Philly Mag, doing commentary for WPIX in New York, and becoming an advocate for the 9/11 First Responders. And this isn’t the first time he’s been gracious enough to respond to an inquiry from me. In 2006, he talked to me about ghosts. Well, here he talks about the ghosts of 1972, when Philly sports hit rock bottom, and how surviving during the lean years has made the recent success of Philly sports all the sweeter.
The present is the best of times for Philadelphia sports fans. The Phillies are the best team in baseball. The Eagles will be the Super Bowl favorites in football. The Flyers made moves that put them in the mix for a Stanley Cup run. Even the Philadelphia 76ers are showing signs of something better than mediocre thanks to the return of my favorite Sixers’ player, now my favorite Sixers’ coach, Doug Collins.
And that takes us back to the worst of times. For to truly be able to bask in what is, you need to have suffered through what was. In 1972 I was 15 years old and a sophomore at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, Delaware County. It was an age and a year when you were fully invested in your sports teams for better or worse. But in Philadelphia there was no column A – everything was worse, record setting worse.
The Philadelphia 76ers started out the year losing their first 15 games and the season went downhill from there. In the middle of the year they suffered a then record setting 20 game losing streak. And yet I can remember the names of every player on that team as I used to go to the Spectrum, buy a nose bleed seat and by the 3rd quarter I was courtside. The team was so bad I had the urge to yell “next.” When the team ended the season 9-73, the worst record in NBA history, it was depressing.
But the 76ers were not alone, every team was pitiful. I challenge anyone to come up with a worse year in Philadelphia sports than 1972 bleeding over to the beginning of ’73. I contend it stands as the worst year in Philadelphia professional sports history.
The Philadelphia Phillies were 59 – 97 that year and finished last in the National League East. Cy Young award winner Steve Carlton won 27 of those games. Without Carlton the Phillies could have easily contended for the title of worst team in Major League Baseball History. One shudders to think how many games the team would have lost without Lefty.
The other team to play at The Vet was even worse. The Philadelphia Eagles were 2-11-1 in 1972 and finished last in the NFC East. They beat the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Oilers both by one point, so they were just two points away from a winless season. The team scored just 12 touchdowns in a 14 game season.
The Philadelphia Flyers finished with a 26-38-14 record in 1972. In a city of last place teams, the Flyers fourth place finish in the NHL West made them a giant among midgets. But there was more than that, a new coach named Fred Shero seemed to have a vision. And Bobby Clarke in his third season had the making of a superstar.
The four teams I mentioned had a combined record of 96-219-15. 1972 may not only be the worst year in Philadelphia sports history, but the worst year that any city with at least four major league franchises has ever suffered.
Philadelphia was dubbed The City of Losers. It was depressing for a 15 year old kid in Lansdowne who felt a deep connection with the teams. It was no wonder that Big 5 basketball and Penn State football was so big in the early 70’s. The college teams gave Philadelphia our only taste of winning.
But that would quickly change, for Fred Shero did have a vision. The very next year, the Philadelphia Flyers would shed their reputation for mediocrity; emulating the swagger of a city that had something to prove and nothing to lose. I watched all six games of that Stanley Cup series from the kitchens and living rooms of friends and family. It was on everywhere.
Famously, before game six against the great Boston Bruins, Shero posted a note in the locker room. “Win today and we walk together forever.” They won game six and the Stanley Cup series 1-0 thanks to the brilliance of goalie Bernie Parent.
That night I remember celebrating with my friends and a few hundred other people in the middle of street in Yeadon, Delaware County. The crowd chanted “1,2,3,4. Who the F—is Bobby Orr.” There was sheer elation. Philadelphia became a hockey town that year. The team known as the Broad Street Bullies defiantly ripped the label “City of Losers” from all of our chests.
Philadelphia became a hockey town that year. Suddenly kids, who used to play stick ball, pick-up basketball and touch football, were playing street hockey. And Fred Shero’s prophecy came true, as Clarke, Shultz, Barber, Parent, DuPont, Dorhoefer and Saleski were overnight household names. They were walking together forever into Philadelphia Sports immortality.
Everything seemed to change after the cup came to town. The Flyers would win again and the Phillies, 76ers and Eagles all seemed to drink from it. The City of Loser was now the City of Winners. Clarke and Parent were joined by Schmidt, Dr J and Vermeil. Within the next ten years the City would have a World Series win, an NBA Championship and a Super Bowl appearance. I was there when Tug McGraw lifted the trophy over his head at JFK stadium and I chanted “Fo, Fo, Fo” as Moses moved down Broad Street in a victory parade. But my favorite sports moment in Philadelphia happened at the intersection of Church and Whitby when I shared in shared in a loud and emotional mass transformation of Philadelphia sports fans from what we were, repressed and resigned, to what we are today, proud and passionate.
The suffering of 1972 made 1974, 1980, 1981 and 1983 more meaningful. It makes those of us who remember 1972, the worst of times, treasure today, the best of times.
This is Part 4 of our series on Philly sports memories. Here are the previous entries.
Part 1, with Nick Staskin of Phillies Nation.
Part 2, with John Finger of CSN Philly.
Part 3, with Maxx of Black Landlord.
The Sporting News recently ranked the Top 10 NBA teams of all time, and the 1982-83 Sixers were ranked 7th, while the ’66-’67 Sixers team was ranked 6th. We may have to match these two teams up in the future to determine who was better.
On July 6th, 1929, the Cardinals defeated the Phillies 28-6. June Green would pitch the last 4.2 innings of that game, giving up 12 hits and 11 runs. He would never play in the majors again. Claude “Flunky” Willoughby (seriously, that was his nickname) was the losing pitcher for the Phils. The funny thing is, it was the 2nd game of a doubleheader. The Phils won the first game 10-6. Here is the box score of the 28-6 game.
The Phils demolished the Marlins last night, 14-2, with Cole Hamels on the hill. Two years ago today, they demolished the Reds, 22-1, with Cole Hamels on the hill. They don’t seem to hit for Hamels very often. But when they do, look out.
Ok, so it’s not local, but it’s too good to pass up. A few weeks ago, Lalli told you about Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus getting shot by a crazed fan. It’s not the only time a ballplayer has been shot by a madwoman. On this date in 1932, a showgirl shot Cubs shortstop Bill Jurges twice. He recovered, however, and went on to help lead the Cubs to the World Series that year.
Most people in Philadelphia remember the 1996 draft as the one in which the Sixers drafted Allen Iverson with the #1 overall pick. And no wonder. Iverson was the player who, for better or worse, defined this team for the next decade. But the Sixers 2nd round picks were fairly remarkable as well, but for very different reasons.
With the 31st pick in the 1996 draft, the Sixers selected 6’9″ Forward Mark Hendrickson. Hendrickson made the team, but played sparingly. After the season ended, he was signed by the Kings. He played a season in Sacramento and a season in New Jersey before calling an NBA career quits and deciding to give baseball a try. He was hardly a hardball superstar, but he was good enough to kick around the league from 2002-2010, pitching for the Blue Jays, Devil Rays, Dodgers, Marlins and Orioles.
The Sixers also held the very next pick in the draft, and used it to select Ryan Minor. Minor was a superstar guard at Oklahoma, averaging over 23 PPG his junior year and 21 PPG his senior year. His junior year, he was named the Big 8 Player of the Year. And he might have played here alongside Iverson if the Sixers didn’t already have a full roster. According to a 1998 Inky article about Minor:
“I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on with that organization,” said Minor, pounding a baseball into the palm of his glove as he sat in front of his locker.
“They drafted three guys in that second round when they already had 12 guys under contract,” Minor said. “They knew exactly who was going to be on their team that year, so all the guys they picked had no shot, no shot at all. What I don’t understand is, if they knew that, why didn’t they just trade a couple of the picks? That would have been the fair thing to do.”
Instead Minor got cut, was picked up by Baltimore, and became the answer to a trivia question: who played 3rd base for the Orioles the night Cal Ripken’s streak finally ended? He is currently the coach for the Delmarva Shorebirds, the Orioles Single A farm club.
The 1986 NBA draft is one of the most memorable in sports history. The #2 pick died of a cocaine overdose, and three other players threw away their talents with drugs. The first round was almost a complete bust, with only one player ever making an All-Star team, while the 2nd round was a huge success. Dennis Rodman, Mark Price, and Jeff Hornacek all had long and productive NBA careers. It was also the draft in which the Sixers dismantled their team, making two of the worst trades in NBA history within a few minutes of each other, and destroying a once proud franchise.
The Sixers were sitting pretty on draft day of 1986. They had gone 54-28 that previous season, and had won two or more playoff series in 5 of the previous 7 years. (They were only prevented from making it 6 of 7 by missing a last second shot against the Bucks in Game 7 of the 1986 playoffs.) They had a young star named Charles Barkley to build around. And despite the winning record, a trade they had made 7 years previous (when they sent Kobe’s dad, Jellybean Bryant, to the Clippers) had given them the #1 pick in the draft. Rarely has a team been is such prime position on draft day. And then, in the space of just a few hours, the Sixers defied the odds and destroyed their team.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but in this case foresight was 20/400. The Sixers front office pulled off two blunders that made picking Sam Bowie over Jordan seem like a reasonable move. After shooting down Detroit’s offer of Kelly Tripucka, Bill Laimbeer, and Vinnie Johnson for Moses and the #1 pick, they made a deal with Washington. They traded away Moses Malone and Terry Catledge to the Bullets for Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson. Sixers owner Harold Katz saw Moses as over the hill. Malone could have been over the mountain and spent the rest of his career dropkicking the ball into the basket and still have been better than Ruland. To put how bad this trade was in perspective, consider this: Malone scored more points in his first five games on the Bullets than Ruland would score in his entire Sixers career. (Cliff Robinson for Terry Catledge was a wash, with Robinson being slightly better but Catledge being a lot healthier.)
But the Sixers weren’t done. They still felt the need to throw away the first pick in the draft. And they did just that, trading the #1 pick (who everybody knew would be Brad Daugherty) to the Cavaliers for Roy Hinson and cash. What was remarkable about the deal is that the Cavaliers made it despite not having a GM or a coach at the time. Yep, the Sixers got fleeced by a dead end franchise without a front office or a coach. Said Katz a couple of years later (btw, the 1988 Inky article I just linked to is a must read if you want to see the anatomy of this disaster. It’s like reading A Night to Remember, that book about the Titanic.):
“When I first heard that Cleveland had called us and offered Hinson, I thought it was a joke. Hinson was coming off a great, great year. He had to be rated one of the top three or four power forwards in the league. He was just 25. He had great stats.
“The excitement in that room about Roy Hinson being available was shared by everyone. There were statements – I’m not going to stay by whom – that it was a no-brainer . . . Let’s not even think about it. Let’s do it. But we did think about it. We made some phone calls. And everything we heard (about Hinson) was all positive.”
The Sixers front office was obviously in a bubble. Everyone in Philadelphia knew instantly that these deals were disastrous. In an article in the Inquirer the next day, a Sixers fan said to the reporter, “That trade was the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard of. How can you trade an all-star for Jeff Ruland?”
In that same article, Moses showed that he was indeed a prophet. ”I thought Harold Katz should have been man enough to call me the night before the trade instead of having (assistant general manager) John Nash call me. I brought them a championship. He should have had enough respect to call me and ask if I wanted to be traded. When Charles Barkley gets to be about my age . . . not my age, but after he’s played about five years, I think they might do the same thing to him.”
Of course, Moses was off by one year. 6 years later, the Sixers would trade Barkley in the 2nd stupidest trade in team history (Or possibly the 3rd. The Wilt trade was pretty terrible too.)
As for this deal, everything about it was disastrous. Moses would average 18 or more points and 10 or more rebounds in each of the next 4 years, while Jeff Ruland’s knees held up for all of 5 games on the Sixers. (He took a 5 year sabbatical, then came back to play 13 ineffective games for the team in 1992.) Roy Hinson never meshed with the Sixers, lasting a disappointing season and a half before being dealt, while Brad Daugherty became the Cavs all time leading scorer and rebounder. The team that had won two or more playoffs series 5 of the 7 years before the Moses trade has won 2 or more playoff series once in the 25 years since the trade.
Harold Katz would remain owner long enough to make the Barkley trade, and also to draft Shawn Bradley, Clarence Witherspoon, and Sharone Wright with top 10 picks. But despite all of the disastrous decisions he made over the years, none compares to that day in June of 1986 when he took a flamethrower to a dynasty. 25 years later, the franchise still hasn’t fully recovered.
One website I am really digging these days is called funwhileitlasted.net, a site dedicated to short-lived pro sports teams. It was from that site that I learned about the Philadelphia Kings, a pro basketball team that played in West Philly in front of crowds that were only slightly larger than your average Wednesday night quizzo crowd, and whose short but sordid history includes cocaine, arson, and fraud.
Larry Lavin was a dental student at Penn when he started dealing cocaine, and within a few short years he was a millionaire. Of course, all of that money was cash coming in untaxed, so he had to find something to invest it in. Enter Mark Stewart, business manager for Freddie Shero, coach of the Flyers, as well as for a couple of Eagles. Stewart convinced Lavin to purchase the Philadelphia Arena, located at 45th and Market Street.
The Arena had housed numerous basketball and hockey teams through the years, with the Warriors and later the Sixers even playing occasional games there before the Spectrum opened. It was best known, however, as a boxing venue. Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Frazier, and Gene Tunney all fought there through the years.
By 1980 it had fallen into disrepair, as the Spectrum made it somewhat superfluous. But Stewart convinced Lavin to buy it for $100 k, and then convinced him to purchase the Lancaster Red Roses of the Continental Basketball Association and move them into his new arena. In an effort to generate local goodwill, they named the Arena Martin Luther King, Jr. Arena and named the team the Kings.
Stewart hired former Sixer great Hal Greer to coach the team and signed former NBA star Cazzie Russell to lead them on the court. Russell was as advertised, scoring 19 ppg, but that didn’t seem to excite the local populace…two months into their inaugural season, they were averaging about 150 fans per game. After the season, the team was sent back to Lancaster.
Now without a team, the storied Philadelphia Arena was essentially worthless. Stewart tried bringing in roller derby. As you might suspect, that went over like a lead balloon in an all-black neighborhood. Desperate to bring in anybody, the Arena was then booked with dubious preachers, including one who claimed to raise people from the dead. Lavin stopped giving money to Stewart, who was now on the hook for a worthless, dilapidated building. So Stewart did what any right thinking criminal would do. He had the place burned down. But the job was incomplete, and only the roof, the roof, the roof caught on fire. Stewart tried to claim his insurance, but his insurance company, seeing that the fire was highly suspicious, declined the claim. In 1983, the building was set on fire again, and this time burned to the ground.
The FBI and IRS had begun studying Stewart, and it was while investigating him that they came across a dentist named Larry Lavin. Stewart was charged with tax fraud and sentenced to 4 years in prison. Lavin would be arrested in 1984, skip town while on bail, and live under an assumed identity in Virginia Beach for two years before being found, arrested, and sentenced to 42 years in prison. He made parole several years ago, and currently lives in Tampa, FL.
So while the cocaine funded Philadelphia Kings were but a blip on the local sports radar, the cocaine funded Philadelphia Arena was destroyed after an illustrious 63 year career. And in a somewhat ironic twist, a google search of “Philadelphia Arena” and “fire” turns up this little gem: the Doors playing Light My Fire at the Philadelphia Arena in 1968, 13 years before Mark Stewart took their advice.
On June 17, 1992, the Sixers made one of the worst trades in the history of the franchise. While some would say Charles Barkley had worn out his welcome in Philly by then, trading away a legitimate NBA superstar for three role players is never a good move.
The trade came after the 1991 – 1992 season, which was Barkley’s 7th year. By that point in his career, he had already earned 6 All-Star selections. In the ’91-’92 season, Barkley led the Sixers in points per game (23.1), led the team in rebounds per game (11.1), and was second on the team in assists per game (4.1). Barkley was the best player on that team and one of the best players of his, or any other generation. But as we all know, this trade wasn’t just about statistics.
Barkley’s temper and off-court behavior had been an ever-increasing distraction throughout the season and divided the locker room. Some of his own teammates questioned whether he wanted to win with the team as it became more and more was clear he wanted out of Philly. Doug Moe, the coach who would be taking over for Jim Lynam, saw that chemistry was an issue as the ’91-’92 season progressed and Barkley didn’t fit into his plan for the team. He also pointed to Barkley’s declining stat-line, as he had averaged almost 28 points in the ’90-’91 season. The front office agreed and Barkley was shopped extensively throughout the offseason, something he didn’t take kindly to:
That is typical of their insensitive organization. We’re not slaves who go to the highest bidder. Abe Lincoln freed us a long time ago. It was almost like, ‘Here’s some stud. We’ll give him to the highest bidder.’
On June 17, 1992 a trade was finalized with the Phoenix Suns. In exchange for Barkley, the Sixers received Guard Jeff Hornacek, Center Andrew Lang, and Forward, Tim Perry (a Temple product). According to Howard Katz, the Hornacek, Lang, Perry return was “by far the best deal offered.” The Sixers tried to get Kevin Johnson in return for Barkley, but the Suns weren’t willing to part ways with the All-Star guard.
Hornacek, Lang and Perry weren’t marquee names, weren’t nearly as talented or electrifying as Barkley, and weren’t leaders by any stretch of the word, but they also didn’t come with the baggage that Barkley carried. Baggage that included being in a Milwaukee court the day of the trade on assault charges stemming from a post-game fight in a parking lot in which he broke a man’s nose. The Inquirer summed up the trade quite nicely: “The six-time all-star, one of the finest players of his generation, was dealt away in exchange for youth, speed and perhaps a little peace and quiet.”
Screw peace and quiet. Wins are more important and this trade didn’t translate to success. The Sixers won only 35 games in Barkley’s final season with the team, but after the deal, the team’s position in the Atlantic Division plummeted. They won 26 games in ’93, 25 games in ’94 and 24 games in ’95. By then, Hornacek and Lang were no longer on the roster and Perry was playing less than 3 minutes per game. Meanwhile, Barkley went on to 5 more All-Star games, a trip to the NBA Finals and an MVP award during his Hall of Fame Career.
There’s only been 4 players in the history of the NBA who have amassed at least 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists, and we traded one of them for a whole lot of nothing.