The Short-Lived, Cocaine Funded Philadelphia Kings

One website I am really digging these days is called, 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.


Barkley for Who?

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.

Shaq v. Wilt

Now that Shaq has finally retired, there’s going to be thousands of articles, blog posts, and stories memorializing his 19-year career.  And rightfully so.  Shaq was one of the most dominant players in the history of the NBA, period.  But, was he THE most dominating player ever?  PSH doesn’t think so.  With our Philadelphia-centric slant, let’s take a look at how O’Neal’s career numbers stack up against Philly’s own Wilt Chamberlain.

Shaquille O’Neal Wilt Chamberlain
Seasons 19 14
Total Points 28,596 31,419
Total Rebounds 13,099 23,924
Points Per Game 23.7 30.1
Rebounds Per Game 10.9 22.9
Best Statistical Season Los Angeles Lakers ’99-’00: 29.7 ppg/13.7 rpg Philadelphia Warriors ’61-’62: 50.4 ppg/25.7 rpg
MVP Awards 1 4
Championships 4 2
All-Star Selections 15 13
Scoring Titles 2 7 (consecutive)

If that table isn’t enough, here are some other things to think about:

  • Wilt has 4 of the 5 most prolific scoring games in NBA history: 100 on 3/2/62; 78 on 12/8/61; 73 on 1/13/62 and 11/16/62.  Shaq’s highest output was 61 on 3/6/00. That was Shaq’s only 60+ point game; Wilt dropped in more than 60 points 15 times.
  • If you look at the top 7 seasons for total rebounds, you’ll see Wilt’s name next to all of them.  He led the league a total of 11 times.  Shaq did not lead the league once in rebounds. Wilt’s best rebounding game was one in which he amassed 55…and he did it against Bill Russell. In Shaq’s best rebounding single game, he grabbed 28 rebounds against P.J. Brown and Armen Gilliam.
  • In the ’67-’68 season, Wilt led the NBA in assists with 8.6 per game. He is the only center in history to lead the league in assists. Shaq’s highest season APG average is less than 4.
  • Wilt shot 73% from the field in his last season, ’72-’73. Shaq’s best shooting percentage over the course of a season was 61%.
  • Wilt averaged 45.8 minutes per game and he did not foul out once in the course of his career.
  • Wilt scored 30+ points in 65 consecutive games during the ’61-’62 season, including 7 straight 50+ point games.

The NBA didn’t keep statistics on blocks or steals during Chamberlain’s career, but if it had we can all be sure Wilt’s numbers would dwarf Shaq’s. The Big Dipper was a bona fide game-changer: the guy was responsible for more rules changes than anyone else in the history of the game. Like I said, Shaq is one of the most dominant players in NBA history and comparing his numbers to Wilt’s shows just how special a player Chamberlain was.

Shaq apologists always raise the competition each player faced as a reason for Chamberlain’s astronomical numbers. I don’t buy it. Sure, the average size of Chamberlain’s opponents was smaller than those of O’Neals, but Chamberlain dominated because of his own size, speed, skill and strength. And since when does height compare to scoring dominance? (See: Shawn Bradley, Manute Bol, and George Muresan). Chamberlain played against 6’10” Bill Russell 142 times, which is a large enough sample size for his stats to mean something. During those games, Wilt had matching averages of 28.7 ppg and 28.7 rpg while Russell averaged 23.7 ppg and 14.5 rpg.

And don’t assume that in their primes, Shaq was stronger than Wilt.  The 7’1″ 275 lbs. Chamberlain was a track star and devoted gym rat at Kansas.  He even worked out with Arnold Schwarzenegger in California.  He bench pressed 465 lbs. in college while Shaq could put up 450 lbs.  People talked about Wilt’s strength more than anything:

The greatest play I’ve ever seen was one of the last games of the 1966—67 season and we were playing Baltimore. We were going for the best record in NBA history. There was a play earlier in the game where Gus Johnson had dunked one over Wilt. Gus was a very strong player. I weighed 220 pounds, and with one hand Gus could push me out of the lane. The man was a physical specimen 6-foot-6, 230 pounds all muscle. He loved to dunk and was a very colorful player. When he slammed it on Wilt, he really threw it down, and you could tell that Wilt didn’t like it one bit. Later in the game, Gus was out on the fast break, and the only man between him and the basket was Wilt. He was going to dunk on Wilt— again. Gus cupped the ball and took off—he had a perfect angle for a slam. Wilt went up and with one hand he grabbed the ball—cleanly! Then he took the ball and shoved it right back into Gus, drilling Gus into the floor with the basketball. Gus was flattened and they carried him out. It turned out that Gus Johnson was the only player in NBA history to suffer adislocated shoulder from a blocked shot.    — Billy Cunningham

Once Wilt got upset with me and dunked the ball so hard that it went through the rim with such force. that it broke my toe as it hit the floor.  — Johnny Kerr

In my rookie year, Wilt was involved in a pick-and- roll play and suddenly Bill Russell was off Wilt and guarding someone else, and I had Chamberlain. Wilt took me down near the basket and caught a pass. Being the bright kid out of Ohio State I thought I was, a I figured, “No problem. Wilt isn’t a good foul shooter.  I’ll grab him.”  Well, Wilt didn’t like being held. I reached around from behind and held both of his arms. He wasn’t going to let some rookie stop him, So Wilt took the ball—and me—up. He dunked the ball and I hung there on his arms, both of my feet off the ground and hanging on to Wilt’s arms for dear life until he put me down.  — John Havlicek

Shaq’s numbers clearly don’t stand up to Wilt’s.  And those who think Wilt dominated only because his competition was weak are painfully mistaken.  Shaq was great, but Wilt was the best: the most athletic and dominant big man in the history of the NBA.

Anybody Remember This Little Ditty?

“We’re the Philadelphia fans
We’re the best in the land
And we’re hot, hoooooot
To the Spectrum everyone
Cause the Sixers have begun
To get hot, hoooooot
So get on up, come one come all
To the Sixers style of basketball
We’re Philly town, we never quit
We’re gonna take that championship!”

I am almost positive this is the last time in history that a rap song included the phrase, “Come one, come all.”

Fo’, Fi’, Fo’

On today’s date in 1983, the Sixers concluded perhaps the greatest playoff run by any team in Philly history. They knocked off the great LA Lakers in 4 straight games to complete a blitzkrieg through the playoffs in which they went 12-1. The Lakers, the team of the 80s and the team that had knocked off the Sixers in the Finals the year before, never came within 5 points of Philadelphia in the series. Here are the highlights of Game 4, incredibly some of which are set to the music of Flashdance by Irene Cara.

Elimination Day?

Both the Sixers and the Flyers are in action today with their playoff lives on the line.  The Sixers, down 3-0 in the first round, try to avoid being swept by the Heat at home at 1pm.  The Flyers, down 3-2 in the Conference Quarterfinals, are in Buffalo where the puck drops at 3pm.

Having two teams in this precarious position on the same day isn’t common: this is only the second time it’s occurred.  The only other time both the Sixers and Flyers needed wins on the same day to avoid playoff elimination was May 1, 1977.

The 1976-77 Sixers was one of the most talented and deep teams in franchise history.  In addition to reaping the benefits of the ABA-NBA merger by adding Julius Erving, George McGinnis and Caldwell Jones, the 76ers were loaded with Henry Bibby, Steve Mix, Fred Carter, Joe Bryant, World B. Free and Darryl Dawkins.  Oh yeah, there was also that Doug Collins guy.  The Sixers rolled through the Eastern Conference, earning the #1 seed and the first-round playoff bye that came with it.

The Sixers faced the pre-Bird Celtics in the Conference Semifinals.  Each team traded wins, forcing a Game 7 on May 1, 1977 in Philadelphia.  The Sixers took the seventh game 83-77 and went on to the NBA Finals.

In the Finals, the Sixers lost 4 games to 2 to the Bill Walton led Portland Trailblazers.  Game 2 of that series saw the series changing Darryl Dawkins sucker-punch followed by Maurice Lucas sucker-punch followed by Dawkins/Lucas square-up seen below:

On the same day the Sixers beat the Celtics in Game 7, the Flyers were in Boston trying to avoid being swept in the Conference Semifinals.  The 1976-77 Flyers were led by Rick MacLeish, Bobby Clarke and mid-season pickup Bob Dailey.  The Flyers advanced to the semis by defeating the Maple Leafs in six games.  After losing their first two games at home against the Leafs and being down 2-0 in game three, the Flyers turned the series around and reeled off four straight wins.

Reaching the conference semifinals for the fifth straight year, the Flyers repeated their early first series performance by digging an 0-2 hole with home losses.  However, this time there was no turnaround.  When the series shifted to Boston, the Flyers lost Game Three 2-1.  On May 1, 1977, Boston completed the sweep with a 3-0 shutout victory.  After the game, the Bruins’ organist John Kiley poured some salt into the wounds by switching out his normal victory song for “God Bless America.”  Douche.

The last time both teams faced elimination, Philly was treated with a mixed bag of results.  There is no telling what will happen later today, but by the time 6 o’clock rolls around, there’s a chance that the Phillies will be getting our undivided attention.

Philadelphia Warriors Win First Title

1946-47 Philadelphia Warriors starting in the front row: (L-R) Jerry Rullo, Angelo Musi, Peter A. Tyrell, G.M. Peter Rosenberg, Jerry Fleishman, Back Row: Asst. coach Cy Kaselman, George Senesky, Ralph Kaplowitz, Howard Dallmar, Art Hillhouse, Joe Fulks, Matt Guokas, head coach Ed Gottlieb

On this date in 1947, the Philadelphia Warriors defeated the Chicago Stags 83-80 in Game 5 of the best of seven series to win the first championship in NBA history.  Paced by the league’s leading scorer, “Jumpin” Joe Fulks, the Warriors cruised through the series (their only loss coming by one point on the road when Fulks was in foul trouble) against the #1 seed of the Western Division.

The league, then known as the Basketball Association of America, had been founded in the summer of 1946 by the owners of the large sports arenas in the Northeast and Midwest.  The BAA was an 11-team league made up of the Chicago Stags, Cleveland Rebels, Detroit Falcons, Philadelphia Warriors, Pittsburgh Ironmen, Providence Steamrollers, St. Louis Bombers, as well as the Boston Celtics and the New York Knickerbockers (the only two teams to continue in the same city with the same name since the inception of the league).

The Warriors were coached by Eddie Gottlieb, a long-time figurehead in Philadelphia sports.  “The Mogul” played for Southern and won the public league championship in 1914.  Then in 1918, he organized a team that included several of his high school teammates as well as some of his high school opponents.  The SPHAs, sponsored by the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, barnstormed across the country playing in and winning various professional leagues.

The most notable player on the ’46-’47 Warriors was Joe Fulks, a 6’5″ forward who perfected the jump shot.  Fulks won the BAA scoring title that year averaging over 23 points per game…without a shot clock and his margin over the second best scorer in the league was nearly 7 points.  During the series against the Stags, Fulks averaged 26.2 points per game, including outbursts of 37 in Game 1 and 34 in Game 5.  Below is video of Fulk’s performance in Game 1:

Although not as spectacular a performer, center Art Hillhouse deserves mention here.  Hillhouse averaged less than 9 points per game throughout the ’47 playoffs, but did something in the finals that no player has since accomplished.  He fouled out of every single game.

In the team picture at the top, you’ll also see Matt Guokas.  Sadly, after the championship season, Guokas was involved in a car accident that resulted in an amputated right leg and the end of his playing career.  He turned to broadcasting and in 1953 became the public address announcer for the Philadelphia Eagles.  For more than three decades, Guokas was the voice of the Eagles, calling games at Shibe Park, Franklin Field and the Vet.  His son, Matt Guokas, Jr., also played professional basketball in Philadelphia and was on the 1967 NBA Champion 76ers.  The Guokases were the first father-son combination to have won NBA titles as players; they’ve since been joined by the Barrys and Waltons.

The Original Malice in the Palace

Ron Artest was certainly not the first NBA player to get into a scrape with a fan in Detroit. In fact, it happened 21 years ago today with Charles Barkley as the culprit. The NBA didn’t freak out and render an absurd knee-jerk reaction to it then. In fact, they almost certainly went too light on the players involved, doling out mere one game suspensions and $162,000 total in fines. Here’s Jack McCallum in a 1990 article in SI.

Barkley charged at Laimbeer and landed a couple of punches, including one to Laimbeer’s left eye.

Both benches then cleared, and soon players were grabbing one another and falling to the floor.Detroit reserve forward Scott Hastings landed what referee Jake O’Donnell later called a “sucker punch” on Barkley’s back as bodies rolled around the floor. Mahorn, meanwhile, stayed on the fringe of the melee, at one point severely testing the elasticity of James Edwards’s Piston jersey when he pulled Edwards away from the pile. Mahorn and Edwards are close friends—Barkley would say later that “Rick hates everybody on that team except Vinnie [Johnson] and Edwards”—but as Edwards’s scowl indicated, he didn’t appreciate Mahorn’s attention.

After order was restored and the game was finished—the 76ers won 107-97—several players called the fight, which lasted about 10 minutes, the worst they had seen in the NBA, though no one was hurt. Rod Thorn, the league’s vice-president of operations, said after reviewing the videotape last Friday morning that it was one of the worst fights in his four years as the NBA’s chief disciplinarian.

Laimbeer, Hastings and Barkley were ejected. As Barkley was led up the tunnel to the locker room, a fan leaned over and took a swing at him. Barkley retaliated by spitting in his face.

You gotta love Charles’s honesty. After the game, he said, “I don’t care if I get fined. I make $3 million. What’s a couple thousand dollars?”

The game seemed to light a fire under the Pistons. It concluded a 14 game stretch in which they had gone 6-8. After the fight, they would go 17-5, winning the NBA Championship by knocking off the Trail Blazers. The Sixers, meanwhile, fizzled, falling to Jordan and the Bulls in the 2nd round of the playoffs, 4 games to 1.

When Havlicek Stole the Damn Ball

The mid-60s were a brutal time for Philadelphia sports fans. The ’64 Phillies pulled off one of the greatest chokes in sports history, the Eagles were 16-37-1 between 1962 and 1965, and the Sixers were the victim of the most famous radio call in basketball history.

To set the stage, the Sixers were trying to pull off a huge upset in the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals. The Sixers had gone a mere 40-40 that year, while the Celtics had gone 62-20. But that gritty Sixers team, led by Wilt Chamberlain and Hal Greer, had taken the Celtics to a 7th game on April 15th, 1965, and with 5 seconds left were only down one point and were inbounding the ball under their own basket. Greer attempted to make a pass to Chet Walker, hoping that the high scoring forward would attack the basket. He never got the chance. John Havlicek jumped in front of the pass and tipped it to teammate Sam Jones. The Celtics went to the Finals for the 8th straight year, and the Sixers went home. The pain continued the next two years, as the Sixers fell to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals in 5 games both years. Finally, in 1967, the Sixers got past the Celtics and went on to win the NBA title. Here is the NBA Encyclopedia entry about the play.

Allen Iverson Scores 40 in Five Straight

On this date in 1997 Allen Iverson set an NBA rookie record as he scored 40 points in his fifth consecutive game.Who’s record did he break? Wilt Chamberlain’s record, set in the 1959-60 season with the Philadelphia Warriors.

  • April 7th – 44 Points, 8 Assists, 1 Rebound
  • April 9th – 40 Points, 9 Assists, 8 Rebounds
  • April 11th – 44 Points, 9 Assists, 3 Rebounds
  • April 12th – 50 Points, 6 Assists, 5 Rebounds
  • April 14th – 40 Points, 5 Assists, 6 Rebounds

Here is some video of the first four games of Iverson’s record breaking streak.