Gave hope for an entire generation of Sixers fans
The Sixers lost last night to Boston 100-86 to end their home winning streak at eight while Boston ran their winning streak to nine. The crowd was the loudest it’s been since Iverson was the cat running track on any opposing team trying to get a win here. One thing I can say about the current 76′er fans is they have been very supportive of this current bunch. This team scraps, scrapes, hustles with muscle and competes with youthful enthusiasm structured around the steady play of one of the top point guards in the league in Andre Miller.
Regardless of the outcome, this was a special night for Philly. The players know who their rival is and the NBA owes a lot to Boston. The Celtics front office put such a spectacular team together and the result has alerted capable and inspired franchises to finally step up and hold their entire organizations accountable. Sitting at 30-34, the Sixers are almost back and Ed Stefanski and Co. have breathed new life into a team I myself judged earlier this season as straight up abysmal.
These nights are special for an enthusiastic sports writer. I love my job. I love walking through locker rooms and speaking with the athletes fans dream of meeting and interacting with. I also have to say everything is not what it seems. My time now gives me a chance to get a small idea of what their personal and team personalities are really like; who is professional, who is a clown, who runs the team on and off the floor, who is the most vocal, who is messing up, which teams are the tightest, what bench player is happy with his role, who is discouraged and wants out, who has hatred for the cynics and who is cool with the media positive. It gives me an opportunity to meet writers who’ve inspired me (Donald Hunt, Phil Jasner, David Aldridge) and also to chill with some of the TSF fam (Ron Glover and Anthony Gilbert).
I challenge myself from here on in to aspire to become the best. I have obviously a long way to go, but you can damn sure bet I will give my all without selling what so many in this business have done so often–their collective soul.
My sister, Gina Muscarella, stays on me by making sure I operate with focused humility but sometimes it’s not enough.
I was talking to former TSF writer D.K. Wilson of SOMM just yesterday about a lack of passion I had lately for sports writing. I had a similar conversation with Jemele Hill in Vegas during the NABJ Conference in July. Today the cynic wins. Editors are stuck on this idea you only win by heaping demographic assuaging criticism on the true reason why you have a damn job in the first place–the athlete. It gets old, because in some cases you have to crawl and scratch even though in the end there really isn’t any money to one hand catch.
It can be very frustrating, but I can only explain like this: I’m tired of the lack of understanding fans, writers, players and editors have. Do you truly love what happens on the field? Where is this all going? Do you care if a child’s dream and vision of athletics lives or dies? Do you want to know why people aren’t reading your papers or listening to you callous and harshly critical opinions or watching you on the field?
Look in the mirror. It’s as simple as that. I have to do it every day, so should you.
I do this for my children and the future children of their peers because history will not fly away from my pen. It will remain as true as the objectivity of my personal dreams and conscious understanding by somehow persuading those greedy and disillusioned that there is another way to do this.
One demography is stroked because of money and that has to change now. The news paper business is dying. There’s someone getting fired right now.
Trust me, it ain’t gonna be me.
I enjoy giving you the reader an inside look into the inner workings of professional sports and entertainment through TSF, SLAM and other outlets. You’ve helped to make this happen with your encouragement, appreciation as well as support.
I guess what I want to say in all this is thanks my people. Thanks to you as well Fyza.
After last night I realize all of the above needed to be said, but now back to one of the main sources of energy I was able to interact with and electrify my waning passion–former 76′er GM Pat Williams. I was happy to meet Mr. Williams…I was able to see my past present and future one night encapsulated.
These are moments I dreamed about so often as a child when I rounded the bases after another blast…summoning my Buck O’Neil inspired soul cast…America please we can no longer mask our collective past.
If it ain’t good for all of us, it’s no good for none of us.
These are also the moments I challenge myself to make athletes look me in the eye and the recorders of my peers move closer.
Hopefully they will see more than a story. These moments matter because they shape history because of their magnitude. Of course the game was larger for Philly than Boston, but you should understand where I’m going.
Coming out of the press room, I spotted the former Sixer GM. who honestly looked about the same as he did 25 years ago. Growing up a Sixers fan, he was that front office hero personally simply because he pulled the trigger on the deal that would win us a championship in 1983. The deal for Moses Malone ended years of on the brink frustration and finally gave Julius Erving a smile’s smile.
It’s been 25 years…wow. The Sixers have been honoring the 1983 team all season and Pat seemed like a proud father addressing the crowd at halftime. He definitely seized the moment, but before he did so he graciously gave me some time.
Michael Tillery: Pat you were that guy for me growing up because you helped bring a championship to Philadelphia, what was the feeling around here?
Pat Williams: It was definitely a sense of relief. We’d gotten to the Finals three times prior to that in ’77, ’80, ’82 and came so close. Then the relief came after climbing the mountain so hard every year…battling so hard. Playoff disappointment after playoff disappointment. When it finally happened it was an enormous lifting of a burden.
MT: Were you happy for Doc because he was brought in to do what you finally did in ’83 a lot 5 years earlier?
PW: I think so. That season was a tribute to Doc. Everybody felt good for him like everybody wanted Ernie Banks to win one in Chicago. It’s hard to do. Many, many great players never won one. There was a sense that doc earned it and deserved it. Our greatest joy was for the long suffering Philly fans. They’d been through so much. Looking back after 25 years, that was the greatest sense of achievement. I spoke at a convention earlier today in Tampa and there were two guys there from Philly who wanted to talk about that team. You hear stuff like, “I was ten years old when that team won. I remember…”. I hear stuff like that so often.
MT: What made you pull the trigger? Was Moses the difference?
Swept the Lakers
PW: Oh yeah.
MT: How did the deal come about?
PW: That was the summer of ’82. We’d sold Darryl Dawkins to New Jersey and suddenly we were nervous and uncomfortable about where we were. Moses was a free agent. Harold Katz, the owner, was the driving force. I mean, he just had an absolute vision–almost a conniption to get him. We set up the meeting. I think we all were kind of really shocked that he was interested. It took 13 million dollars to get him to sign. In 1982 that was just unprecedented and staggering. It wasn’t true free agency so there was compensation. We had to make a deal with Houston that involved Caldwell Jones–a key part of this team–and a future first. That was painful. I remember we just had a terrible time relinquishing that package, but that’s what it took. Without question, from the first day of training camp, there was a sense that this was it. It was gonna happen. There was much focus and then when people saw Moses and the way he approached the game, everyone else knew it as well. The only question was if Doc and Moses were going to collide. Moses cleared the air at the first press conference, by saying this was Doc’s team and he was here to help Doc. That proved to be true.
MT: How do you see this present edition of the Philadelphia 76′ers especially the position of general manager held by Ed Stefanski? Does it give you a sense of pride knowing they are an up and coming franchise in this league once again–especially with Boston being in town?
PW: Well, let me say this: As the years go on, that ’83 club becomes bigger in magnitude. You know Mike, it was the last one in this city of any sport so that automatically makes it more significant. You could argue that for one year was that the greatest team of all time. (65-17 and 12-1 in playoffs. One lost to Milwaukee who shot the lights out that night. I was hot.) If not, it was certainly one of the five best teams of all time. We all thought it would go on, but it didn’t. This is a good basketball town. You know they obviously care about their sports deeply. A strong Philadelphia franchise is important to the NBA. It’s nice to see them reviving so quickly under Maurice Cheeks. He was the quarterback of that team (’83). Moses is still around. I think there’s a really good feeling around here that they are getting back. To spark up the Philly/Boston rivalry would be better than anything. I argue it was the best rivalry in sports, while others would argue this, that and the other. It’s been dormant for too long. Who would have guessed that one year ago this time, the Celtics were at rock bottom and Philly not far below rock bottom. Here we are 12 months later and asking ourselves could they play each other in the playoffs?
Could we have a revival of springtimes past?
Wilt and Russell?
Bird and Erving?
The Boston Strangler and Dennis Johnson?
It would be wonderful.
MT: You look good Pat. What’s going on with you professionally and personally?
PW: I work out. I stay in good shape. I travel a great deal. I’ve been with the Magic for 22 years. I left the Sixers in the summer of ’86 to go to Orlando and build an expansion franchise.
We got Florida eyes now. They call it sand in your shoes Mike. It would be very tough to leave Florida.
MT: Thanks Pat. Nice to see you. Good luck this year, but not too much.
PW: (Pat laughs) Good luck to you as well.
I also spoke with Earl Cureton and asked him similar questions. Earl was drafted in the 3rd round out of Detroit in the 1979 draft. Earl “The Twirl”, as he was known, was the energy guy who came in and did some physical damage. He also had a sweet hook. He’s now a studio analyst for FSN Detroit for the Pistons and contributes to the Piston’s post game show, Pistons Live.
He also coached the Long Beach Jam to the 2004 ABA Championship.
MT: After coming so close and losing big series to Boston in the Eastern Conference and L.A. in the NBA Finals numerous times, what was the feeling like to finally win the NBA championship?
Earl Cureton: It was great. It was like nothing else. You can appreciate it all when you are down 3-1 to Boston and all the hard times we went through trying to get that ring. I wear my ring all the time. I won two of them. I was fortunate to win again with Houston, but I cherish the one in Philadelphia. That was the greatest team I played with my whole life of basketball.
Philly sports writing legend Donald Hunt asked Earl what was the difference between the teams before 83 that came so close and Earl looks around almost reminiscing and says slowly: “Moses Malone.”
“I remember calling Andrew (Toney) after we signed him and said Andrew we are gonna win it this year. I knew right away. That guy there worked extremely hard. He was one of the most talented centers to play this game.