ProHoopsHistory HOF: Maurice Cheeks

Maurice Cheeks
Maurice Cheeks

Maurice Cheeks in so many ways was the 1980s version of Slater Martin.

Martin was the venerable point guard for the Minneapolis Lakers and St. Louis Hawks.Through his stellar defense and command of the offense, he helped lead his teams to five NBA titles. However, Martin was not a great scorer. He just seemed to do everything else magnificent, though. But since he didn’t score a lot, he often went unappreciated.

The same is true of Maurice Cheeks, who was more refined offensively than Martin, but still didn’t garner much limelight. Mo didn’t take many shots but the ones he did take were likely to go in. For his career, Cheeks shot a remarkable 52.3% from the field as a point guard. But his greatest contribution was in defending opposing guards and in orchestrating an offense filled with bigger stars.

A lesser point guard may have been overwhelmed by trying to satisfy the offensive needs of players like Moses Malone, Andrew Toney, Charles Barkley, and Julius Erving, but Maurice was always in command and helped keep the Philadelphia 76ers in offensive equilibrium. During his career with Philly, he averaged 7.3 assists in his quest to feed all these hungry mouths. Those dimes came in yeoman-like fashion from Cheeks, but was often finished in dazzling fashion by Malone, Erving, Darryl Dawkins, and Bobby Jones.

Despite a gentlemanly and equitable offensive disposition, Cheeks was nasty on defense. He hounded, harassed, and harangued his opponents. When he retired in 1993, no player in NBA history had grabbed more steals than Maurice’s 2310. His steals total is now 5th all-time and his average of 2.1 steals per game still remains in the all-time top 10. From 1983 to 1986, Cheeks was selected to the All-Defensive 1st Team each and every season.

But since he had such a quiet demeanor and played alongside such personalities as Dr. J, the Round Mound of Rebound, and Chocolate Thunder, Cheeks never quite garnered the attention deserved of such a great point guard. It’s no coincidence that during his 13 years playing starters minutes, Cheeks missed the postseason just once.

He played point guard flawlessly. When called on he could knock down a jumper. When needed he could rise up for a dunk of his own. When necessary he’d jump a passing lane and stop an opposing fast break in its tracks. Just watching Mo Cheeks play the game is a pleasure of simple greatness.

Seasons Played: 1978 – 1993

Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia 76ers

Accolades

NBA -
Champion (1983)
4x All-Defensive 1st Team (1983-’86)
All-Defensive 2nd Team (1987)
4x All-Star (1983, 1986-’88)

Statistics

NBA - 1101 Games
11.1 PPG, 6.7 APG, 2.8 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 52.3% FG, 79.3% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1978-79 through 1992-93 season)
4th Assists, 8th APG
1st Steals, 5th SPG
26th FG%
3rd Games Played, 4th Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain

The individual success of Wilt Chamberlain is undeniable and legendary. The first man to average over 30 and 40 and 50 points per game. The first to shoot over 50% and 60% and 70% from the field for a season. The first to score 30,000 points. The only man to average over 48 minutes per game for a season, even though there’s only 48 minutes in a regulation game.

What’s less known, or acknowledged, is Wilt’s team success. The Big Dipper’s teams had a long stream of close calls in dethroning the Boston Celtics with losses in Game 7 to Boston in 1962, 1965, 1968 and 1969 all by a combined 9 points.

When his teams did win the championship they did so in typical Wiltonian fashion, which means they did it in record-breaking ease. The 1967 Philadelphia 76ers won a record 68 games en route to demolishing the NBA. In 1972 the Los Angeles Lakers set a new record with 69 wins and strung together 33 straight victories in the process.

Of course, such success was expected of Chamberlain. He was after all listed at 7’1″ but closer to 7’3″ and by the end of his career was pushing 300 pounds. His dominance is mistakenly chalked up to the competition which was stiff, short, and white… the last of those unfortunately used as a pejorative on the basketball court.

The Big Dipper

Yeah, Wilt was bigger than everyone else, but not everyone was a Liliputian. He went up against Bill Russell, Wayne Embry, Clyde Lovellette, Johnny Kerr, Willis Reed, Walt Bellamy, Zelmo Beaty, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Nate Thurmond. These guys were strong and athletic, but weren’t capable of going one-on-one with Wilt Chamberlain in his heyday. The refs, feeling sorry for the opposition, allowed egregious beatings of Chamberlain to take place down low to even out the score.

But Wilt wasn’t just bigger. He was stronger, he was faster, and he was more agile. These are things God gives but that man refines. Wilt trained to improve all of those attributes and more. He was a skilled passer, in his younger days had exquisite footwork, could nail a fall away jumper flawlessly, was a defensive terror blocking shots that were 12-feet above the floor, and as you can see above could rise up high and throw down heinous dunks.

But for all of that, Wilt’s greatest basketball flaw was that he didn’t believe basketball was the end-all, be-all of life. He trained religiously (albeit on his terms), wanted to win, would feel bad after losses, but didn’t feel as though winning a game excused or absolved everything, or that losing meant all of your effort was for naught.

And his career, despite all of the  winning, still doesn’t get lovingly absolved of its failures. His play was so impressive that it seemed to flow naturally and therefore deserved no human praise. In the end, Wilt Chamberlain is a fascinating, often perplexing man, and an always-mesmerizing basketball player. In ways only he could, the Big Dipper has always forced us to examine, and re-examine, what we think we know about the game of basketball.

Years Played: 1958 – 1973

Accolades

NBA -
2x Champion (1967, 1972)
Finals MVP (1972)
4x MVP (1960, 1966-’68)
Rookie of the Year (1960)
7x All-NBA 1st Team (1960-’62, 1964, 1966-’68)
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1963, 1965, 1972)
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1972-’73)
13x All-Star (1960-’69, 1971-’73)
All-Star Game MVP (1960)

Statistics

NBA - 1045 Games
30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, 4.4 APG, 54.0% FG, 51.1% FT
7x PPG Leader (1960-’66), 9x FG% Leader (1961, 1963, 1965-’69, 1972-’73)
11x RPG Leader (1960-’63, 1966-’69, 1971-’73)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1959-60 through 1972-73 Season)
1st Points, 2nd PPG
1st FGs Made, 2nd FG%
3rd FTs Made
1st Rebounds, 1st RPG
5th Assists, 16th APG
3rd Games Played, 1st Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Julius Erving

Julius ErvingFabled and legendary for his dunks, Doctor J was deserving of all the mythical praise. Sure other players before him had dunked with power (Wilt Chamberlain), dunked with boom shakalaka oomph (Gus Johnson), and dunked with splendid grace (Connie Hawkins), but Dr. J combined all of these traits. Furthermore he injected it all with a measure of artistry never quite seen.

He’d fly to the basket with his afro blowing in the wind. The red, white, and blue ABA ball would fetch your wandering eye. His stylistic finishes would ensnare your wondering mind. And if the Doctor found himself in a predicament where dunks wouldn’t be possible, he conveniently doubled as one of the game’s best layup artists. Like Hawkins, he had gargantuan hands that allowed him to swing the ball however he pleased to create an angle for scoring. Famously, those angles sometimes included going behind the backboard and emerging on the other side.

All of this is just a part of the story, though. Dr. J was more than a dunker. Julius Erving was an all-around great basketball player.

As a rookie with the ABA’s Virginia Squires, Erving grabbed a ridiculous 17 rebounds per game thanks to his off the chart athleticism. In that 1972 postseason, Erving averaged 33 points, 20 rebounds, and 6.5 assists in 11 games. After being traded to the New York Nets, Erving continued his all-encompassing assault on ABA opponents.

In 1974, 1975, and 1976, Erving was named the ABA’s MVP. He led the Nets to the title twice in this period, and was named Playoff MVP both times. He led the league in scoring three times. He was good for two blocks and 2.5 steals every night. He found teammates for assists six times nightly.

The man was everywhere and the standard bearer for the ABA. But as that league finally succumbed to the NBA, Erving would be sold by the Nets, who were in dire financial straits, to the 76ers in the summer of 1976.

Philly Dr

Over the next seven seasons, Erving would lead Philadelphia to four NBA Finals appearances and with the supreme aid of Moses Malone, Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney, and Maurice Cheeks, captured the 1983 title. Erving was still a marvel through these years. He continued to make the All-Star Game annually, was the NBA’s MVP in 1981, and his suave, cool demeanor off the court was a needed dose of positivity for an NBA struggling with an image of being overrun with drugs and pouting millionaires.

As Erving took his farewell tour in the 1986-87 season, he was feted across the league with celebrations.

Fans gushed over the mark he had left on professional basketball: scoring over 30,000 points, grabbing over 10,000 rebounds, dishing out over 5000 assists, capturing over 2000 steals, and blocking almost 2000 shots. In every year of his career he was a member of the All-Star team, whether NBA or ABA. The sheer weight of Julius Erving’s numbers demonstrate just how impressive a player he was.

Most important of all, though, is that as Dr. J he inspired the imaginations of millions to push the boundaries of what basketball could be.

Seasons Played: 1971 – 1987

Accolades

ABA -
2x Champion (1974, 1976)
3x MVP (1974-’76)
2x Playoff MVP (1974, 1976)
4x All-ABA 1st Team (1973-’76)
All-ABA 2nd Team (1972)
5x All-Star (1972-’76)
All-Rookie Team (1972)

NBA -

Champion (1983)
MVP (1981)
5x All-NBA 1st Team (1978, 1980-’83)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1977, 1984)
11x All-Star (1977-’87)
2x All-Star Game MVP (1977, 1983)

Statistics

ABA - 407 Games
28.7 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 4.8 APG, 2.4 SPG, 2.0 BPG, 50.4% FG, 77.8% FT
3x PPG Leader (1973-’74, 1976)
NBA -
 836 Games
22.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 50.7% FG, 77.7% FT

Contemporary NBA/ABA Ranks (1971-72 season through 1986-87 season)
2nd Points, 6th PPG
2nd FGs Made, 29th FG%
2nd FTs Made
5th Rebounds, 28th RPG
5th Assists, 25th APG
1st Steals, 8th SPG
5th Blocks, 9th BPG
2nd Games Played, 3rd Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Dikembe Mutombo

Dikembe Mutombo (itzyourzradio.com)
Dikembe Mutombo (itzyourzradio.com)

A usually gregarious and affable man, Dikembe Mutombo was as rude a host imaginable in the NBA. He was thoroughly unwelcoming to anyone who would attempt to come into his house. Penetrating guards, sky-walking forwards, and hulking centers were equally dismissed from his abode with disdain. After rejecting these unwelcomed overtures, Mutombo would surely wave a stern finger to make sure such foolishness wasn’t tried again.

Opponents never quite got the message though.

3,289 times Mutombo would officially reject wayward shots that dared enter his domain. Thousands more he intimidated. Four times he’d be recognized as the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year for his stingy block parties. An irascible few succeeded in storming Dikembe’s paint and, as they claimed, climbed Mount Mutombo. These successful few led the brash many to failure.

Mutombo left this trail of devastation across a path that went from Denver to Atlanta to Philly. From New Jersey to New York to Houston. It spanned 18 years and 1196 games.

The most endearing moment in Mutombo’s career came early on, though. It was during his third season, the 1993-94 season in Denver. His 8th-seed Nuggets upended the Seattle SuperSonics in a first-round upset. Mutombo averaged a gaudy 12.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 6.2 blocks a game. As the Nuggets toppled Seattle, Mount Mutombo crumbled to the floor in ecstasy. 

He’d later help Atlanta to become a perennial playoff team. He pushed the Sixers into the realm of title contenders in 2001. He proved a surprisingly effective stopgap for the Rockets late in his career when starter Yao Ming went down to injury. Sadly, Mutombo’s own career ended due to an in-game injury in the 2009 playoffs.

The moment was hard to watch because a man of such intense dignity and impassioned skill was hobbled by a bad knee he could no longer control. Still, no one moment, whether ecstasy in victory or agony of injury, can encapsulate and define a person. It’s the sheer body of work, the routine, that defines a person. Mutombo’s body of work, the routine, proved that his being was pure hall of famer.

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUyqp3kSYIs]

Seasons Played: 1992 – 2009

Accolades

NBA -
4x Defensive Player of the Year (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001)
3x All-Defensive 1st Team (1997-’98, 2001)
3x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1995, 1999, 2002)
All-NBA 2nd Team (2001), 2x All-NBA 3rd Team (1998, 2002)
8x All-Star (1992, 1995-’98, 2000-’02)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1992)

Statistics

NBA - 1196 Games
9.8 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 2.8 BPG, 51.8% FG, 68.4% FT
3x BPG Leader (1994-’96), 2x RPG Leader (2000-’01)
2nd All-Time in Blocks, 7th All-Time in BPG
19th All-Time in Rebounds

Pro Hoops History HOF: Bobby Jones

(remembertheaba.com)
(remembertheaba.com)

Few defenders have ever come as tough and agile as Bobby Jones. He played a physical, cerebral defensive style predicated on fundamentals and not grabbing, clutching, or cheap-shotting opponents. His results would be nasty for opponents, but at least they had the honor of being shut down by a gentleman like Bobby Jones.

Jones’ regal defense began in the ABA, a league more known for its offensive fireworks than defensive showstoppers. As a member of the Denver Nuggets, Jones was instantly named a member of the All-Defensive 1st Team in his rookie season. In his second season he repeated that accomplishment and with Dan Issel and David Thompson propelled the Nuggets to the ABA’s best record. They also got a Finals showdown with the New York Nets and Julius Erving.

Dr. J was the ABA’s premier player and even the best defenders sometimes become helpless. Erving lit up Jones for the series averaging 37.7 points and the Nets won the title. As fate would have it, the two small forwards would soon team up and form the nucleus of an NBA titan.

With the ABA folding after the 1976 season, Jones tranferred to the NBA with the Nuggets, but was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1978. The Sixers had already pilfered Erving from the Nets and thus made the fateful decision to make Jones their sixth man backing up the Doctor.

With no complaints, Jones packed in all of his defensive (and offensive) punch into the truncated time and proved the difference maker numerous times for the Sixers. For you see, just because Jones didn’t start the game didn’t mean he wasn’t on the court in crunch time. Over and over again he’d deliver timely blocks, steals, rebounds, and hustle plays to thwart opponents and save the Sixers.

The NBA recognized Jones for the amazing defender he was with eight straight All-Defensive 1st Team appearances, bringing his career total to 10. All the while his offense was an understated asset. He was never prone to racking up huge scoring games, but what shots he did take he hit. (He also had some hops and could throw down unexpected jams). Three times he led the NBA  and ABA in FG% and never shot less than 52% for a season. When it comes to forwards all-time (with a minimum 200 games), Jones is 6th in FG%. And the five guys ahead of him combined have scored just 790 more points than Jones did.

A savvy offensive player. A 10x All-Defensive 1st Team member. The first ever Sixth Man of the Year back in 1983. An NBA champion that same year. Bobby Jones has a lot going for himself and proved that hustle isn’t a substitute for talent, it is indeed a talent all unto itself.

Seasons Played: 1975 – 1986

Accolades

ABA -
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1975-’76)
All-ABA 2nd Team (1976)
All-Star (1976)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1975)
NBA -
Champion (1983)
Sixth Man of the Year (1983)
8x All-Defensive 1st Team (1977-’84)
All-Defensive 2nd Team (1985)
4x All-Star (1977-’78, 1981-’82)

Statistics

ABA - 167 Games
14.9 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 3.8 APG, 2.0 SPG, 2.0 BPG, 59.2% FG, 69.7% FT
2x FG% Leader (1975-’76)
1st All-Time FG%, 11th All-Time Blocks, 16th All-Time Steals

NBA - 654 Games
11.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 55.0% FG, 78.0% FT
FG% Leader (1978)
14th All-Time FG%

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Moses Malone

Moses Malone (Sports Illustrated)
Moses Malone (Sports Illustrated)

As the 1980s dawned in the NBA, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are credited with revitalizing the league. This assertion, while surely true in many regards, obscures who the most dominant player in the NBA was when those two rookies debuted.

Moses Malone was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 1979, 1982, and 1983. He led the 40-42 Houston Rockets (a roster with many fine players but no all-stars besides Malone) all the way to the NBA Finals in 1981. He nearly made good on his Fo-Fo-Fo promise in 1983 to sweep the postseason as the Sixers lost just one game en route to the title.

During this five year stretch (1979-’83), Malone led the league in win shares, minutes played and total rebounds grabbed. With defensive rebounds, Jack Sikma edged Malone by 60 rebounds for the period. With offensive rebounds, Malone nearly doubled up second-place Dan Roundfield for the lead with 2637 offensive boards to 1336. Only George Gervin scored more points than Moses.

Those last two facets, prodigious offensive rebounding and torrential scoring, went hand-in-hand. Malone is legendary for his ability to work the angles and predict the trajectory of missed shots. He’d sneak in from out of bounds to snare the put-back opportunities. His strength easily moved opponents from prime real estate in the paint. His physicality was immense as it seemed the more you bumped him the stronger he became.

Malone also had some of the most dexterous hands a center has ever possessed. When he got his hands on the ball, it was in his hands to stay until he decided to release it. On top of all this Malone could also knock down the face-up jumper from 15-feet out and could nail short turnarounds with ease.

1979 to 1983 was the Age of Moses, but Malone, along with Robert Parish, played the longest career in pro basketball history. His rookie season was in 1974-75 with the ABA’s Utah Stars where he was immediately an all-star and a raw bona fide talent. He proceeded to bounce around as teams struggled to truly comprehend his biblical abilities. The Stars disbanded, the Spirits of St. Louis folded with the ABA, the Portland Trail Blazers had a glut of big men, the Buffalo Braves were just plain incompetent. Finally the Rockets gave Moses a durable home where he came to dominate the NBA.

He maintained that domination, or something close to it, through 1989. Moses had signed with the 76ers prior to the 1982-83 season and delivered them their long-awaited title that year. Philadelphia, though, fell victim to the trap Moses’ earlier stops had. They gave up too soon on the MVP center at age 30 in 1986 and traded him to the Washington Bullets. He wound up being an all-star through the end of the decade with the Bullets and Atlanta Hawks.

When he finally retired in 1995, Moses had played for 9 different franchises. He was the last player from the ABA to hang up his sneakers. Above all else, he was a basketball survivor no matter how often he was unceremoniously put out into the hardwood Sinai.

Seasons Played: 1975 – 1995

Accolades

ABA -
All-Star (1975)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1975)

NBA -
Champion (1983)
Final MVP (1983)
3x MVP (1979, 1982-’83)
4x All-NBA 1st Team (1979, 1982-’83, 1985)
4x All-NBA 2nd Team (1980-’81, 1984, 1987)
All-Defensive 1st Team (1983)
All-Defensive 2nd Team (1979)
12x All-Star (1978-’89)

Statistics

ABA - 126 Games
17.2 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.1 APG, 0.9 SPG, 55.2% FG, 62.9% FT

NBA - 1329 Games
20.6 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 1.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 49.1% FG, 76.9% FT
6x RPG Leader (1979, 1981-’85)
1st All-Time Offensive Rebounds, 6th All-Time Defensive Rebounds, 5th All-Time Total Rebounds
7th All-Time Points, 2nd All-Time FTs Made, 16th All-Time FGs Made
10th All-Time Games Played, 13th All-Time Minutes Played
23rd All-Time Blocks
15th All-Time RPG

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Chet Walker

Chet Walker (Getty Images)
Chet Walker (Getty Images)

Chet Walker is one of the finest, most durable, and long-lasting small forwards in NBA history. Walker made his first All-Star game in 1964 and his final in 1974. He played a key role on the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers who stormed the NBA for a then-record 68 wins. If Bob Love was scoring option 1A for the Chicago Bulls of the early 1970s, then Chet was 1B.

The hot-scoring forward entered the NBA in the 1962-63 season with the Syracuse Nationals. The Nats were on a down-slide with their 1950s core aging. Chet along with Hal Greer would be two of the principal characters to resurrect the franchise after it moved to Philadelphia for the 1963-64 season. The three other principals would be Billy Cunningham (drafted in 1965), Wilt Chamberlain (acquired via trade in 1965) and Luke Jackson (drafted in 1964).

This core group had more than enough scoring to go around and Walker was a devastating piece of the puzzle. However, he was a piece of puzzle. He wasn’t the complete portrait. No one man on this team ever enjoyed prolonged periods of scoring deluges.

More than any of these other players, though, Chet was able to wind his way into the lane when the game got critical, when time was running low. He would attack off the dribble and drift across the lane for serpentine shots that very few players could replicate. When the game was on the line, you gave the ball to Chet and got the hell out of the way.

These Sixers appeared in the Eastern Division Finals in 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1968. They captured the 1967 title and likely would have secured a second title in 1968 if Billy Cunningham had not been injured in the postseason. However, in 1969 Walker was traded to the Chicago Bulls. Chet’s  new home wound up having defense in spades between Norm Van Lier and Jerry Sloan. What they needed was more offensive touch and Walker was the man to give it to them.

The splits don’t lie:

Walker’s per game numbers with Nats/76ers: 13 FGAs, 45.7% FG, 5.8 FTAs, 73.9% FT, 16.2 PPG
Walker’s per game numbers with Bulls: 15.6 FGAs, 48.3% FG, 6.6 FTAs, 85.4%, 20.1 PPG

He didn’t just assume a bigger burden, he was dramatically more efficient in that assumption. The Bulls benefited mightily from Chet the Jet’s offensive take off. They made the playoffs every season and had several classic series that almost got them to the NBA Finals: the 1971 Western Conference semis that went 7-games against the Lakers, the 1973 Western semis with the same result to the same opponent, the 1975 Western Finals where Chicago squandered a 3-2 series lead against the Warriors.

Walker’s Bulls may have never reached the Finals but his presence lifted them to those trio of heartbreaking cusps. What’s more remarkable is that he was having the best years of his career at the end of his career. A salary dispute with the Bulls is what ended Walker’s career, not any reduction in production. In fact his 19.2 PPG is the 5th-highest ever for a retiring player in their final season.

It seemed the only way to truly stop Chet the Jet was to challenge his personhood and dignity. Nothing on the court ever seemed to work to thwart those devastating lean-in jumpers of his.

For more on Chet’s amazing career, check out this guest post for Ball Don’t Lie.

Seasons Played: 1963 – 1975

Accolades

NBA -
Champion (1967)
7x All-Star (1964, 1966-’67, 1970-’71, 1973-’74)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1963)

Statistics

NBA - 1032 Games
18.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 47.0% FG, 79.6% FT
FT% Leader (1971)