2347...
NEW TGS HOOPS...REMEMBERING THE '72-73 SIXERS, AND NBA TROUBLE SPOTS
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


Well, it was only a matter of time before somebody would write a book about the unforgettable 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, the “losing-est” NBA team of all-time when they posted a dismal 9-73 record forty-one plus years ago. It could have been us writing the book, as the thought had crossed out minds numerous times over the years when regularly mentioning those long-ago Sixers whenever noteworthy marks of futility were noted in our NBA forecasts.

(Technically, the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats had a worse winning percentage, .106, than ‘72-73 Philly’s .110, but Charlotte’s 7-59 mark was “achieved” over a lockout-shortened 66-game schedule, so at best those Bobcats only get an asterisk in the record book. For the most straight-up losses in a season, however, the ’72-73 Sixers still rule supreme in NBA annals).

Enter Charley Rosen, a basketball lifer who spent the first part of his professional career coaching at various outposts in the CBA, for a time working under Phil Jackson during the Zen Master’s earliest coaching gig with the Albany Patroons. Rosen would then become an author of some repute, publishing sixteen basketball-related books ranging from novels to investigative pieces to more nuts-and-bolts hoops presentations. One of Rosen’s past featured works was entitled Wizard of Odds, a fascinating, in-depth review of Jack Molinas, a one-time star hoopster at Columbia in the early ‘50s who would later be banned from the NBA (where he played for a year with the old Fort Wayne Pistons) due to evidence of betting on games while in college. Molinas would later be at the center of a point-shaving scandal in the early ‘60s that would ensnare Connie Hawkins and Roger Brown and force both to endure bans, before their careers were revived by the ABA in the late ‘60s. You might have also noted some of Rosen’s other work as an NBA analyst for FoxSports.com and hoopshype.com.

Those woeful 1972-73 Sixers, however, presented a great opportunity for Rosen’s latest bit of work entitled Perfectly Awful: The Philadelphia 76ers’ Horrendous and Hilarious 1972-73 season. As could be imagined, there are no shortage of humorous anecdotes and other laughable passages about a team whose reputation has grown over the decades...simply because it was so awful!

Of course, the ‘72-73 Sixers existed in a sports media world that was far different than the one that includes wall-to-wall coverage today. Forty-two years ago, there was still no ESPN, and certainly no NBA Network, and the Internet was but a figment of the imagination for a creative few (which may or may not have included Al Gore). The NBA’s national TV presence was limited to Sunday afternoon games on ABC that would not commence until the conclusion of the NFL regular season.

Pro hoops was mostly consumed on a regional basis in those days by whatever local means were available to a specific team. Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News (which at that time still devoted more than half of its publication to baseball, even in the offseason) would occasionally run NBA-themed features. The rival ABA was still in operation and had its own limited national TV deal that season with CBS. But for most hoops fans of the era, the Sixers of ‘72-73 existed only in box scores and the NBA standings that would appear in the sports pages of local newspapers. Had an ESPN-like entity been present in 1972-73, the Sixers would certainly have not existed in the vacuum they occupied 42 years ago.

Rosen, however, is able to fill most of the gaps in entertaining fashion while also providing a narrative on a long-ago era in which the NBA hardly occupied the exalted status it maintains today. The early ‘70s were also not far removed from the late ‘60s flashpoints of the civil rights movement, and the NBA’s proliferation of African-American athletes, which had accelerated in the previous decade, presented another social dynamic that many modern-day hoops fans could probably not comprehend.

The book begins with Sixers training camp and new HC Roy Rubin (left), hired straight from the college ranks at Long Island. Regarded as a defensive mastermind and innovator while coaching the Blackbirds, Rubin believed he could make the direct jump from the college ranks to the NBA as had Dick Motta, who moved straight from Weber State into a successful run with the Chicago Bulls.

But Rubin was already swimming upstream during training camp at Ursinus College. After laying down his ground rules for the team, including a strict dress code for road trips, and no beer or smoking in the locker rooms, Rosen noted how guard Fred “Mad Dog” Carter had a request for Rubin.

“Coach, I’ve been smoking in the locker room ever since I’ve been in the league,” said Mad Dog. “That’s the only way I can calm down and get ready to play.”

Rubin didn’t hesitate. “Okay,” he said to Carter. “You can smoke, Freddie, but you’re the only one.” So much for taskmaster Rubin.

The seeds of the Sixers’ 72-73 demise had actually been planted when they were a contender, and title winner, in the ‘60s. After the old Philadelphia Warriors moved to San Francisco in 1962, Philly businessman Irv Kosloff and a handful of investors would immediately buy the troubled Syracuse Nationals and move them to the City of Brotherly Love, re-christening the team as the 76ers. Kosloff’s right-hand man with the Sixers was Ike Richman, a well-respected local attorney who served as general counsel for the Warriors from 1948-62. It was Richman’s savvy in the business of the NBA that quickly helped to elevate the Sixers, who would bring Wilt Chamberlain back to town from the Warriors during the course of the 1964-65 campaign. Richman’s passing in the mid ’60s, however, left the decision-making for the franchise to Kosloff.

Subsequently, Kosloff would name first Alex Hannum, then Jack Ramsay, as both head coaches and general managers. Hannum would lead a Wilt-featured team to the NBA title with a then-record 68 regular-season wins in 1966-67, but following the next season would leave for the ABA’s Oakland Oaks. After toying with the idea of naming Chamberlain as player-coach, Kosloff would instead hire Ramsay, who would serve as both HC and GM, while trading Wilt to the Lakers in the summer of ’68, which immediately signaled a downturn for the franchise. At the end of the ‘71-72 season, Ramsay would leave for the Buffalo Braves. Kosloff would then hire Don DeJardin from the ABA’s Carolina Cougars as the Sixers’ full-time GM.

As Rosen notes, DeJardin (shown at left with Rubin), more of a bean-counter in previous pro basketball administrative stints, was hardly qualified to run an NBA operation. In a four-month span at the outset of the ‘72-73 season, DeJardin would wheel-and-deal and make an astounding eight trades, almost all of those to the Sixers’ detriment. In all, a staggering 19 players would rotate through the roster during the course of the season! So the groundwork was set for a season of futility...and humor.

In a recent interview with sports talk host Bill Littlefield on WBUR radio in Boston, Rosen recounted some of the more hilarious tales of woe with those Sixers...and many lowlights for Rubin. When asked by Littlefield about a particular Rubin episode with intimidating F John Q. Trapp, Rosen elaborated.

“Well John Q. was a strange character,” said Rosen. “He was a scary guy. One of the writers said he had won a bronze medal in Vietnam, and he was more afraid of Trapp than he was when he was in Vietnam.

“So Trapp is from Detroit, and they’re playing in Detroit, and all his boys are there sitting behind the bench. During a timeout Rubin says, “OK, have a seat. Dave Sorenson, you go in for Trapp.” And Trapp says, “No.” And Rubin says, “No? What do you mean?” So Trapp turns around, looks behind him, one of his guys stands up, opens up his coat, and shows a gun. And Rubin says, ‘Oh, OK. Stay in the game.’”


One of the “highlights” of the Rosen book is Chapter 7, appropriately entitled How Low Can You Go? In that chapter, Rosen (who would review every game of the memorable season) recounts several of the Sixers’ results, often with more-humorous undertones that could even bring a smile to Bob Knight after failing to crack 100 at one of his preferred golf retreats.

Rosen would provide the following recap of a December 2 loss at Boston by a 131-120 count. Hal Greer (right), a once-great Sixers guard in the contending years reduced to a bit player at the end of his career, was one of the subjects of this game review.

The Celtics pounded the boards for a 60-37 rebounding advantage. The game was not nearly as close as the final score indicated. After not having played in the last three games, (Hal) Greer admitted to being stunned when Rubin called his number. Here’s what Greer said about his relationship with his coach: “We speak but we don’t talk, if you know what I mean. He has a lot of problems and I don’t want to add to them.”

Traded earlier in the season by the Sixers, Dave Wohl was cut by the 6-18 Portland Trail Blazers. Coach Jack McCloskey said that Wohl was “turnover prone and a casual ballhandler.” Wohl blamed his poor performances on his not being allowed to play more than two minutes at a time. “I don’t think DeJardin would be too excited about having me back in Philly,” said Wohl. “But they do have a roster spot open, and at least I have to be one of the few players who want to play in Philly. This has to be a first.”


Rosen would also provide retrospective on a 117-102 loss on December 7 vs. the Suns, a game played in Pittsburgh, and further underlining the Roy Rubin dilemma.

A “starter” who insisted on anonymity revived the players’ complaints about Rubin’s substitutions and late-game strategies: “(John) Block and (Dale) Schlueter were playing well and making our offense flow, but he yanked them and put in (John Q.) Trapp and (LeRoy) Ellis, who were both shooting blanks. Then he tells us to go to (Manny) Leaks every chance we got. This kind of stuff has happened several times. If I thought it would do any good, I’d let you quote me by name.”

According to Rubin, the reasons for their latest loss had nothing to do with him: “It was all over when we missed a few critical shots and Charlie Scott got hot for them.”


The following night, December 8, the Sixers would host the rough-and-tumble Bulls, who would roll, 118-102. Odds were high that some sort of extracurricular activity would occur on the court, which Rosen recounted thusly.

The six-foot-ten (Sixer) John Block took out his many frustrations when he elbowed six-foot-one Norm Van Lier, opening up a bloody gash on his forehead, while the Bulls’ guard was jumping and waving his arms, trying to distract Block’s inbounds pass. This occurred with four minutes left and the Bulls up by 20. Turned out that Van Lier was ejected after he had retaliated by throwing a flurry of wild air punches that managed to hit only referee Jake O’Donnell (who claimed that no contact had been made). “It was an accident,” Block grinned.

Another such recollection was a December 20 game against the Pistons (which happened to be the aforementioned contest involving John Q. Trapp and his “associates”), one the Sixers would lose 141-113. According to Rosen:

Rubin’s players derided his pregame scouting reports. After having detailed the specifics of (Piston star G) Dave Bing’s baseline drive, Rubin said nothing about how this move should be defended. (Mad Dog) Carter also describes Rubin’s pep talks as “weak.” Rubin’s mantra of “Move the ball and hustle” did nothing to inspire his players.

The Sixers suffered their first loss in pregame warm-ups when Block misjudged the trajectory of a hard pass thrown to him and the ball smacked against his right wrist—the same wrist he had fractured five years prior. X-rays were negative, and the injury was diagnosed as a severely sprained ligament. Rubin said, “Who knows what a difference it would have made if Block had played?”

Actually, not much, unless he could have scored 28 points.


Another Rosen game recap involved a loss two nights later, just before Christmas, by a 116-103 count to the Rockets in Houston. After the game, Rubin would lament the absence of frontliner, former Southern Cal star and NBA journeyman John Block. Said Rosen:

Block warmed up but was unable to play. “Let’s face it,” Rubin said. “Without Block we aren’t the same.” He also contradicted himself by adding, “It’s the same old story.”

Jack Marin had been traded to Houston in the off-season, and he asked his new GM, Ray Patterson, to make a deal for (Kevin) Loughery so his ex-Baltimore teammate could join him for a beer after games. Marin complained that his current roommate, Mike Newlin, spent his after-game times reading the Bible. DeJardin did make two offers to Patterson—Loughery and Carter for Cliff Meely and Newlin and Boyd and Loughery for Calvin Murphy—but was rebuffed
.

Rosen also recalled the final game of calendar 1972, a December 30 game played at Providence against the Celtics, who would finish the season a glittering 68-14 but would not be able to shake the Sixers until the final minutes in this particular game. According to Rosen:

Same old, same old. The Sixers trailed by a single point with four minutes left, only to collapse in the endgame.

(Boston coach) Tommy Heinsohn remembers his players suffering another spell of complacency: “It was hard for us to get up to play the Sixers.” However, he has nothing but praise for the peace and harmony among the Sixers: “Better that way than to go crazy. I think they got along so well because they were laughing so much at Rubin.”

Only Poor R.R. had nothing to laugh about. Oh well. At least it was good riddance to a bad year
.

Good riddance to ‘72, indeed, as the Sixers had lost their first 15 games after the season commenced in early October, and stood at 3-35 after their 117-107 loss to the Celtics just before New Year’s. Following a rare early-January win at Seattle, the Sixers would lose another nine in a row before Rubin would be fired on the same day (January 22) that former President Lyndon Johnson passed away and George Foreman knocked out Joe Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica. The dismissal, at the outset of the All-Star break, prompted the “promotion” of guard Kevin Loughery to player-coach for the remainder of the season. Loughery immediately vowed to right the ship and quickly got rid of the menacing John Q. Trapp, a move that was met with a sigh of relief in the clubhouse.

Still, the losing streak, at nine when the coaching change was made, would grow to an almost incomprehensible 20 in a row by Valentine’s Day, when the 76ers stood at 4-58 (.065 winning percentage!) which was on course for an unimaginable 5-77 record. Suddenly, however, the Sixers caught an updraft, stunning the mighty Milwaukee Bucks by a 106-104 count at The Spectrum, with journeyman C LeRoy Ellis outscoring the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 36-28, while Oregon State rookie G Freddie Boyd added 26 points, in the shock result of the season! Full of confidence, Philly would record its first win streak of the campaign in its next game, whipping the visiting Pistons, 119-106, surviving a 42-point onslaught by Bing thanks to a multi-pronged attack featuring three Sixers scoring 22 or more (Mad Dog Carter 27 points, well-traveled Tom Van Arsdale 24 points, and ex-Drake star Jeff Halliburton with 22).

Philly would then win three more times in its next five games, beating the eventual champion Knicks, 114-98, with Van Arsdale (29 points), Ellis (24), and Carter (23) outgunning Red Holzman’s powerhouse in front of 10,052 thrilled but disbelieving supporters at The Spectrum. After a loss to the Rockets in Hershey, almost 11 years to the day after Wilt’s 100-point game vs. the Knicks at the same Hershey Arena, the Sixers (who would split ten “home” games between Hershey and Pittsburgh that season) would beat Sidney Wicks and the Portland Trail Blazers, 115-111, at the original Igloo, the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, before returning to The Spectrum and beating the playoff-bound Baltimore Bullets, featuring Phil Chenier and Wes Unseld, 102-96. Carter led the way for Philly by scoring 24 against his old Bullets team, while hard-edged former ABA journeyman Manny Leaks scored 20 for Philly.

After sitting at 4-58 just two weeks earlier, the Loughery Sixers had more than doubled their season win total, improving to 9-60! Moreover, a powerhouse trio of teams (Bucks, Knicks, and Bullets) had been victimized, suggesting there was more talent on the Philly roster than the record indicated. But the magic of those two weeks at the end of February would disappear as quickly as they appeared, as the Sixers would not win the rest of the season, losing their last 13 to limp home at an all-time NBA worst 9-73.

As for Loughery, his stint would finish 5-26 before he would move the next term to the ABA and the New York Nets, where he would coach Julius Erving to a pair of league titles in three seasons before the ABA-NBA merger in 1976. Loughery would continue as a head coach into the 1994-95 season, shepherding not only the Nets, but Hawks, Bulls, Bullets, and Heat.

And what of Roy Rubin? He would never coach again, instead teaching high school in Florida, where no one ever asked him about his 4-47 record as an NBA coach. Rubin would pass away on August 5 of 2013 at the age of 87, generating footnotes in almost all sports pages across the country. Although we wonder if Rubin would have been acknowledged nationwide at all if he were not involved with the ‘72-73 Sixers.

Just ask Mad Dog Carter about the lifelong benefit of being associated with such a feeble team, or many surviving members of the 40-120 New York Mets during their expansion year of 1962. When the Nets were mounting a “challenge” to the 9-73 Sixer mark a few years, Mad Dog, who scored a team-best 20 ppg that season, was not exactly rooting for them to break the Philly futility mark from 1972-73. The label of “The best player on the worst team” was not something he wanted to lose.

“If it weren’t for that record, people wouldn’t know that I exist,” Carter said in an interview with the Bergen County Record in 2010. “I’m like the tree that fell in the forest.

“It gives you immortality in that at least I was here. I played. I existed. There are so many guys who played in the NBA that people don’t remember everybody who played in the NBA.”


So, if you’re ever looking for someone to provide a silver lining on a cloudy day, just look up Mad Dog Carter.

Charley Rosen’s book is a must-read for any NBA fan with sense of history...or a sense of humor. Perfectly Awful: The Philadelphia 76ers’ Horrendous and Hilarious 1972-73 Season can be purchased via Amazon.com and various online book vendors, and is available at select Barnes & Noble and other book stores. We highly recommend it!

**********


While on the subject of the 1972-73 Sixers, a quick look at the current worst of the NBA is in order. Straight-up and spread records thru December 30 are included.

Philadelphia 76ers (SUR 4-26, PSR 14-16)...Losers of their first 17 games (and the subject of an extensive editorial on these pages in mid-November), the Sixers have somewhat stabilized and posted four wins in thirteen games entering New Year’s, giving hope that they can at least eclipse the 9-win mark of the 1972-73 predecessor. But HC Brett Brown is working on short rations, with second-year ex-Syracuse G Michael Carter-Williams and perhaps ex-Washington Huskies SG Tony Wroten the only players who would likely break into the rotations elsewhere in the league. Brown, a former Gregg Popovich aide in San Antonio, has squeezed some competitive efforts from his team that recently posted a 10-5 spread mark over a 15-game stretch. But with the league’s lowest-scoring offense (barely 90 ppg), Philly has little room for error to merely stay competitive. There appears to be no way the Sixers can come close to the 19-63 effort last season, and the future of GM Sam Hinkie (destined for the worst 2-year GM record in NBA history) will be an interesting storyline into 2015.

New York Knicks (SUR 5-28, PSR 12-20-1)...The Knicks have actually posted more losses than the Sixers so far and are not far ahead of Philly in win percentage, either. And while barely missing the league’s worst SU record thru December, the Knicks win in a gallop as the most disappointing team in the league. A succession of nagging injuries have at one time or another removed key cogs Carmelo Anthony, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Andrea Bargnani, and Amar’e Stoudemire from the lineup, but the fact is that the experiment with rookie HC Derek Fisher and the triangle offense imported by team prexy Phil Jackson has been nothing short of a disaster. The Knicks’ most effective plays remains clear-outs for Carmelo...when he is in the lineup, that is. New York, which has lost eight straight and 18 of 19 thru December 30, has surrendered 114 points per game over its last four prior to facing the Clippers on Wednesday, and ranks last in defending the triple, allowing opponents to shoot 39.5% beyond the arc. The Knicks let the Trail Blazers shoot 16 for 36 (44.4) from tripleville in last Sunday’s lopsided 101-79 loss in Portland, merely the latest embarrassment in what has been a humiliation of a season to date. The rest of the league is going to have no sympathy, as many teams are relishing the chance to get in another kick at Jackson, even though he is only in the front office these days.

Minnesota Timberwolves (SUR 5-25, PSR 11-18-1)...The T-wolves have the ignominy of being the Sixers’ first victim this season and hit January with clearly the worst record in the West, and just a game better than Philadelphia. In Minnesota’s case, however, much of the collapse can be blamed on injuries, as an encouraging break from the gate turned into a nightmare within two weeks when PG Ricky Rubio went down with an ankle injury in early November, with rugged C Nikola Pekovic and G Kevin Martin both suffering serious wrist injuries by mid-November. With so much firepower on the injured list, the team adapting to the aftermath of the forced trade of PF Kevin Love in the summer, and star rookie Andrew Wiggins still in adjustment phase to the NBA, HC Flip Saunders’ second stint in the Twin Cities has gotten off to something less than an auspicious start. Rubio, Pekovic, and Martin all should return well before the All-Star break, at which point the T-wolves could prove a spoiler for the several playoff contenders in the West. But that’s the other problem for Minny, as it plays in a much-tougher conference than the Sixers or Knicks. Even if the Wolves get all of their components back on the court, their win ceiling is probably only in the teens. The chance will exist, however, for Minnesota to get the first pick in the draft (Duke’s Jahlil Okafor?), and an opportunity to have an unprecedented three straight top picks (Wiggins and Anthony Bennett the others) on next year’s roster. The T-wolves still have a protected (top 12) first-round pick after a three-way trade involving Robin Lopez and others in 2012 with Phoenix (which gets the pick if it miraculously lands beyond the top 12) and Charlotte.

Detroit Pistons (SUR 8-23, PSR 11-21)...We’re about ready to move the Pistons off this list, because a recent surge suggests that new HC Stan Van Gundy might finally have Detroit on course. As of the close of December, the Pistons have three double-digit wins in a row (one of those a 103-80 thumper over the Cavs), not coincidentally after the release of F Josh Smith, who was underachieving and not adapting to the more-structured Van Gundy offense. With a clear message that more moves could be on the way, the Pistons have finally started to play, and, after underachieving for the first two months of the season, could start to make some noise. The offense has had more bounce since SG Jodie Meeks (who scored 34 in Wednesday’s romp at Orlando) resumed active duty in mid-December, though PG Brandon Jennings remains maddeningly inconsistent, shooting below 38% for the season. Almost everyone on the roster, save C Andre Drummond, could be in the window leading up to the trade deadline; the biggest fish is unrestricted FA-to-be PF Greg Monroe, though finding a proper fit and trade partner for his expiring contract (which is only $5.5 million) might not be easy. Still, there is a lot more upside with the current Detroit roster than the other teams previously mentioned.


Return To Home Page