The 1982 – 1983 Philadelphia 76ers
The epic clashes between the Cavaliers and Warriors over the last few years has spawned some incredible moments that will forever be remembered in the minds of basketball fans worldwide, like how the older generations glorify the Lakers/Celtics rivalry of the 80s or the Bulls’ absolute dominance of the 90s. We have seen some incredible records we once thought unbreakable be cast to the wayside by two teams in constant pursuit of championships and basketball immortality. The question of the greatest teams of all time has been on everyone’s mind lately following the historic run the Warriors have been on the last three years.
In this five part series, I want to examine what I believe are the best teams assembled since 1980, the year I believe that the modern NBA formed. First up is the best squad from one of the most storied franchises in basketball, featuring two players who helped revolutionize the game and usher in a new wave of popularity for the league, the 1982 – 1983 Philadelphia 76ers.
The early 80s 76ers are one of the great forgotten teams, mostly because the Celtics/Lakers rivalry a few years later would overshadow every other team in the 80s. the Sixers of the late 70s and early 80s were perhaps best known as a team that could never get over the hump; they made the finals 3 times between 1976 and 1982, losing each time. Led by Julius Erving, the 76ers were consistent contenders in a tumultuous time in the NBA. The straw that broke the camel’s back for Philadelphia was 1982, when the 76ers won 58 games and beat Larry Bird and the Celtics in the Playoffs but lost to Magic and the Lakers in the Finals for the second time in 3 years.
The ‘82 Sixers featured Darryl Dawkins manning the middle, but he was consistently exposed when matched up against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Philly knew they needed someone who could go toe-to-toe with Kareem down low, and didn’t want to waste the final years of Dr. J’s prime without giving him a chance to truly contend. When Moses Malone suddenly become available in the 1982 off-season the Sixers knew that he would be the difference maker for them. Moses Malone was desperate to escape Houston after a few unsuccessful playoff runs out west. In one of the most famous trades in NBA history, the Sixers managed to convince the Rockets to sign-and-trade Moses Malone to them for Caldwell Jones and a first-round pick.
Moses was just 27, arguably the best center in the league, and averaged 31 and 15 the previous year for Houston. Malone was a transcendent player, one of the all-time great centers, who had led the Rockets to the Finals in 1981 despite that team finishing below .500. a voracious rebounder and post scorer, Malone proved to be the missing link. With the duo of Dr. J and Moses Malone, the 76ers in 1983 steamrolled the league, crushing everyone in their path on the way to the playoffs, ending the year with a sterling 65-17 record and a 7.7 points per game differential. Moses lead the way, averaging a sublime 25 and 15 while Dr. J chipped in 21 and 7 at 32 years old.
Of course, the stars can only do so much, and the Sixers still had the core of the previous year’s team to rely on. Starting point guard Maurice Cheeks and shooting guard Andrew “The Boston Strangler” Toney made up one of the best back-court combos in the league, with Toney widely considered one of the greatest and most underappreciated scorers of his era.
The acquisition of Moses Malone immediately raised expectations for the Sixers, and anything other than a return to the Finals would be a disappointment. Malone, in one of the most famous declarations in sports history, boasted the sixers would go “Fo’, Fo’, Fo’,” predicting his team would sweep the playoffs on their way to the championship. Their first playoff opponent that year would be the New York Knicks, and Moses’s prediction would hold true in this round as the Sixers beat the Knicks in four straight to advance to the East Finals. The Milwaukee Bucks were the next victims standing in the Sixers’ way, and they would go down 3-0 before finally ruining Moses’s prediction by staving off elimination in game 4. The Sixers would finish off the Bucks in game five.
The Finals would prove to be a rematch, one the Sixers had been waiting all year for. The Lakers had returned to the Finals to defend their crown, but Philadelphia had too much talent and motivation for the Lakers to overcome this time. The Sixers would sweep the Lakers, and Moses Malone would walk away with his first and only NBA championship. For his efforts, Malone was named Finals MVP while averaging 26 points and 18 rebounds a game. While his bold prediction of “Fo’, Fo’, Fo’” wouldn’t come true, they still put up one of the best playoff records (12-1) in history. The 82-83 Philadelphia 76ers go down as my #5 team since 1980.