Philadelphia isn’t the biggest or most glamorous sports market in the country, but it’s certainly not the easiest to play in. The difficulty comes from the notoriously boisterous Philly fans: As a pro athlete performing in The City of Brotherly Love, your follies will be met with uproar and your triumphs will be met with riotous cheering. It’s an environment for athletes of emotional extremes. Some ballers are flustered by the roars, while others are catalyzed by the smoldering energy of Philly sports crowds.
Their fabled fan base aside, the Philadelphia 76ers own a rich history; a history that’s overshadowed by the triumphant legacies of teams like the Lakers and Celtics. Founded in 1946 as the Syracuse Nationals before relocating to Philadelphia in 1963, the 76ers are one of the oldest teams in the league. The franchise has courted some of the biggest stars in NBA history; guys like Wilt Chamberlain, Charles Barkley, and Allen Iverson.
Despite the legion of basketball legends that have lent their talents to the 76ers, the team has won just three NBA championships. It’s easy to be happy when you’re showering in champaign and clutching gold, it’s much harder when you’re coming in second. Or third. Or, as is the 76er way nowadays, dead last. Being on a Philadelphia sports team, especially the 76ers, tends to bring the truth out of athletes.
So considering Philly’s zealous fans and the team’s inconsistency, not every 76er has been gratified by their Sixer experience. Conversely, some guys have proudly donned the 76ers jersey for many years. This list will explore the proudest and the most begrudging Sixers of all time:
15 Loved It: Michael Carter-Williams
It felt inevitable: Michael Carter-Williams was going to become an established commodity with the 76ers. After all, MCW performed dandily as the full-time starting point guard for the club in his 2013-2014 rookie season; averaging nearly 17 points and 6.0 assists per game. He wasn’t a perfect decision maker yet, but he won the Rookie of the Year award while instilling hope in the Philly faithful. I guess Sam Hinkie and co. had kookier plans than to keep a good thing in MCW.
Carter-Williams seized an opportunity that few rookies get — to be the primary ball handler for their team. Of course the rookie was giddy at the chance to play full-time. Of course he was stoked to control the ball so much. MCW relished the experience and the faith that the organization had seemingly invested in him.
Lo and behold, Carter-Williams gets ousted in 2015 in the middle of his sophomore season for a future first-round pick. Now Sergio Rodriguez is Philly’s starting point guard. Hmm.
As you can tell from his Twitter reaction, Carter-Williams was just as shocked by his departure as many fans were:
I can't lie I'm shocked. I love this city thank you for everything. I can honestly say I gave it my all. I wish Philly nothing but the best— Michael Carter-Willi (@MCW1) February 19, 2015
14 Hated It: John Lucas II
John Lucas II never laced up for the 76ers during his playing career. Instead, the former drug-addled point guard was hired in a dual capacity as head coach and general manager for the team in 1994. Lucas had shown promise as a coach in San Antonio, but it was certainly a faithful leap to put the reigns in his hands.
The hiring of Lucas landed smack in the middle of what Sixer fans now refer to as “the dark ages,” which was a stretch of time from 1992 to 1996 before which Charles Barkley was on the team and after which Allen Iverson was drafted.
In Lucas’ two seasons as head honcho, the team went 42–122. Scott Williams and Charles Shackleford were among the fruitless signings made by Lucas. It was a dismal period the Sixers; perhaps worse than now. Relative to the dark ages, the current roster is oozing with promising young talent.
It’s unfair to pin the blame on Lucas entirely — there were elements out of his control that led to the brief decay of the franchise. There’s no doubt, though, that both the Sixers and Lucas would erase those years from their respective histories.
13 Loved It: Doug Collins
Doug Collins (Pictured Right) is well-known among NBA heads for his coaching pedigree and broadcasting career. It’s a shame that he’s not more recognized for his professional ball-playing; Collins had a very good career that could have been remarkable if not for injuries.
Collins, in fact, was the first-overall pick by Philadelphia in 1973. He served his entire eight-season career with the Sixers from 1973-1981, so he gets points for sustained loyalty.
Wielder of a pinpoint jumper, Collins quietly racked up three All-Star appearances while playing Robin to Julius Erving’s Batman. Both men were peaceful and relatively reserved. They jived well, though Collins’s career was halted from knee damage in 1981 before Erving led the team to a title in 1983.
Decades later, Collins re-united with the 76ers and became the head coach in 2010. He marshaled his players admirably, but he never vaulted the team over the hump of mediocrity. Collins resigned on good terms in 2013.
12 Hated It: Jahlil Okafor
Amid several reports in 2015 that Jahlil Okafor’s agents asked the 76ers to not pick their client in the upcoming draft, the team conducted business as usual and selected Okafor with the third overall pick.
Stats-wise, he’s done pretty well with the 76ers for someone who wanted nothing to do with the team — Okafor averaged 17.5 points per game his rookie season. That is, when he wasn’t brawling with drunks on the streets of Boston and whatnot.
The Sixers, in the throes of rapid growing pains, have floundered on the court since adding Okafor. Losing does not sit well with Okafor. He made that clear to the Philly media upon being drafted: "I have always hated losing. I am a sore loser. I do not take losing well. I have always been about winning because I have been winning my entire life.”
Either Okafor has learned to accept losing or he’s in perpetual agony, because the team hasn’t stopped losing. Furthermore, with Joel Embiid’s meteoric emergence, Okafor isn’t getting as much playing time as he did his rookie year. As of January 5th, Okafor has started 14 of the Sixers’ 28 games and is averaging eight less minutes per game than last season. Surely he would be jollier in a more secure, winning environment.
11 Loved It: Julius Erving
Not only was “Dr. J” an inventive basketball genius, but he was a hip and happy customer off the court.
Julius Erving stayed loyal to the 76ers throughout his entire NBA career; spanning 1976-1987. Unlike many other NBA stars, Erving didn’t rile up much fuss. He didn’t openly sling mud on his teammates or coaches even when they weren’t on — or even near — his level. The good doctor’s patience payed off, as he eventually led the Sixers to a championship in 1983.
Reaped from his captivating play and courteous behavior, Erving became the first basketball star to have a slew of products endorsed under his name; most notably the Converse “Dr. J’s.”
His Christian modesty aside, Erving emblazed himself upon basketball lore with swagger and style — his signature “rock the baby” and “The Baseline Move” will forever live in basketball mythos.
10 Hated It: Evan Turner
By the time Evan Turner became a full-time starter for the 76ers in 2012, the team had entered perma-tank hell. The front office was dismantling the team, looking to rebuild through the draft. An era of flux was about to start (and it hasn’t stopped).
Turner, the second-overall pick in 2010, knew by 2013 that his team was imploding. Therefore he played with his own interests in mind; seeking to elevate his market value and hoping to land on a quality team. For Turner, playing basketball (a team game) with obvious self-interest wasn’t hard, and it still isn’t.
Indiana traded for Turner in February 2014 amid his best season to date, wherein he averaged nearly 18 points per game. The former college sensation has faded hard since the trade and hasn’t been close to reaching the potential everyone saw in him.
On a brighter note, Turner is always good for hilariously pompous, self-serving quotes; candor is a virtue. Here’s a Turner gem via Dime Magazine:
“Before the game I signed like 100,000 autographs, I’m kissing babies and what not and all that stuff. I’m getting my hand kissed by people; I got little girls come up to me, fainting. Once the game started, it was like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ I was like, ‘This is weird. Did they take all the good people out? I don’t worry about it anymore. I don’t want to sound super weird, but Jesus was hated, too.”
9 Loved It: Hal Greer
Harold Everett Greer’s legacy pales to the sparkle that some of his contemporaries left behind. He deserves a lot more recognition, so let’s use this opportunity to illuminate the feats of Hal Greer.
Folk-NBA history remembers Wilt Chamberlain as the main force behind the Sixers’ 1967 championship upset over the reigning Celtics. Wilt was great that year, but Greer, a 6‘2 guard from West Virginia, provided most of the offensive firepower for that team — Greer averaged 27.7 points per game during the 76ers playoff run in 1967.
While Chamberlain snarled and boasted at every chance in Philly, Greer was more genteel and laid-back. Greer played ten seasons (1963-1973) with the Sixers and in that relatively short span, he managed to congeal himself as the franchise’s all-time leader in points and minutes played. He’s second in assists only to Mo Cheeks.
It sucks for Greer that Jerry West and Oscar Robertson played during his era; if they didn’t then ol’ Hal might be regarded as the best guard of the sixties. No matter — Greer’s skill, durability, and heart are all reflected in his franchise-leading stats and his enshrinement at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
8 Hated It: Matt Barnes
A tenacious defender and competitor, Matt Barnes has always been outspoken. Pugnacious, even. His intensity has proven to be an asset when wielded correctly — the small forward has been a serviceable offensive wingman and key defender for several successful teams. Barnes’ fiery attitude, however, didn’t mesh well with coach Mo Cheeks’s style during Barnes’s stint with the 76ers from 2005-2006.
Barnes teed off on Cheeks in an interview with Vice Sports in 2014; wherein he referred to his former coach with disdain:
“I had Mo Cheeks was the coach at the time and he was just a dick. You know, I would stay after and work on my shot, and he would tell me ‘why you working on your shot for, you’re not gonna use it here.’ So me and him almost got into it.”
Due to their combative relationship, Barnes didn’t see much playing time during his stay with the 76ers: Barnes averaged only 10.8 minutes per game and 3.0 points per game with Philly. Once Barnes vamoosed to Golden State in late 2006, he began to flourish.
7 Loved It: Maurice Cheeks
The 76ers of the early 1980s needed an unselfish playmaker with court vision and great passing ability. They also needed a hawkish perimeter defender. Thankfully, they had Mo Cheeks (Pictured Right), and he filled those roles with glee.
Throughout his Sixer career, Cheeks was surrounded by a stable of stars, including Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Charles Barkley and Andrew Toney. The cagey point guard managed the Sixers’ star-powered offense with tact and pride. Cheeks was the “glue” guy that enabled the team to reach the finals in 1980 and 1982; and helped Philly win the championship in 1983.
Cheeks gets points for his extended tenure with the team — 11 seasons as a player — and capacity to play wickedly hard. Only a tough, proud Sixer could have reveled in the trench work that Cheeks did. The Chicago native was rewarded for his defensive prowess with four NBA All-Defensive squad nods.
Though he wasn’t a submissive player by any metric, Cheeks kept his ego under control. Cheeks is fifth all-time in steals in the NBA and 12th in assists — a testament to his hardiness, skill, and team-oriented attitude.
6 Hated It: Nerlens Noel
Though the roughly-stitched patchwork of a team with a purported master plan called “the 2017 76ers” is fun to keep up with as a fan, it’s been a tumultuous several years for the young players involved. Frequent job turnover and positional logjams have dismayed players. Nerlens Noel has been especially vocal about his grievances.
Despite being hampered by injuries, Noel has posted decent numbers since being debuting in 2014; though perhaps he hasn’t developed as quickly as the 76ers would have liked. The 22-year-old expected to be a featured player on a team desperate for a star, but instead the Sixers tanked in order to acquire a surplus of fresh, valuable talent. Now their front-court is rife with dazzling prospects like Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric. Noel is therefore getting much less playing time and he’s been strident about it.
Noel told Philadelphia Magazine in December that he’s in disbelief about playing only eight minutes per game: “I think I’m too good to be playing eight minutes. That’s crazy. That’s crazy.”
In fairness, the Kentucky product addresses his love for his teammates and the city of Philadelphia at press obligations, but he doesn’t shy away from his qualms. At Sixers’ media day last October, he poked at the “silliness” in the team’s acquisition of redundant centers.
There’s plenty of time left for Noel to etch out an illustrious NBA career — he’s only 22. I reckon his shot at glory won’t come with the Sixers, though.
5 Loved It: Andre Iguodala
Andre Iguodala is a thoroughly classy dude. As such, he gracefully embraced the platform of being an NBA star during his eight-year stretch with the 76ers. He seemed happy with the team even when they weren’t performing well; and even when Iguodala’s name was popping up in trade rumors. He played hard for the team that drafted him until he was traded to the Nuggets in 2012.
Besides the requisite behaviors for being a classy player — sustained loyalty, humbleness, etc. — Iguodala was a menace on both ends of the court for Philadelphia. He had a bit of everything: Iggy could take defenders off the dribble, post dudes up, pull up from short-to-mid range, and play ballistic defense to boot.
While with Philly, Iggy started a relief fund for tornado victims in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. He also started a youth foundation that aims to keep high-risk kids off the streets through organized sports. These are the actions of someone with broad perspective; someone’s who’s more than content with their lot in life.
4 Hated It: Charles Barkley
Modern NBA fans are familiar with Sir Charles’s unreserved attitude thanks to his long-time pundit role on Inside the NBA. Many of us adore his cheeky sneering and forthright nature. It’s surefire entertainment when Charles Barkely is speaking his mind on camera. Naturally, Barkely’s titanic character made him a difficult teammate at times; and in turn Barkley didn’t have the smoothest NBA ride despite his statistical greatness.
Though Barkely was groomed by the Sixers and spent half of his career with Philadelphia, his relationship with the club was tenuous. Barkley was not a diligent practicer (seems like a Sixer trend) and had frequent disputes with teammates after he became the face of the franchise in 1985. The team, with Barkley leading the charge, didn’t make it out of the second round after Julius Erving left in 1986. Losing year after year only made Barkley less happy and less inspired. By 1992, Barkley had had enough and wanted to vacate Philly. He demonstrated his dissatisfaction with slothfulness and unruliness.
In an interview with USA Today, then-GM Pat Williams said: "Charles decided he wasn't going to be a good teammate in Philly anymore. He didn't think the team would win, was discouraged, thought his whole career was going to be winless and just forced his way out of town, which stars can do."
3 Loved It: Allen Iverson
Sure, it wasn’t all dandelions and rainbows with A.I., but he relished being a 76er. He kindled Philadelphia sports fans and the sports world in general like few athletes have.
I’ll spare you the numbers and the official accolades. You should already know that Iverson, standing at a wee six feet, became iconic for his beguiling handles, creative scoring, and infectious swagger.
Single-handedly, Iverson almost ushered in a championship for the team in 2001 with his absurd play-making ability and grit. They were out-muscled by the prime-Shaq fueled Lakers in five games, but with a more capable surrounding cast, greater things could have happened for A.I.
There were mishaps during his 76er tenure — being occasionally late to practice, as I’m sure you know, was one of them. For the most part, though, A.I. gelled with his teammates and was amicable with his coaches. He even labeled Larry Brown as “surely the best basketball coach in the world” after Brown’s departure from Philly in 2003.
Mired in what had become a losing culture in Philadelphia, Iverson was traded to the Nuggets in 2006. Iverson, a self-proclaimed proud Sixer, has never admitted to asking for a trade that year. Upon his retirement in 2013, Iverson’s #3 was retired by the 76ers. During his enshrinement ceremony, “The Answer” stated: “I’ll be a Sixer til I die.”
2 Hated It: Wilt Chamberlain
Before the mythical Wilt Chamberlain made roost with the Lakers, he spent three eventful years with the 76ers from 1965–1968. The storied center rallied the Sixers to a title in 1967; averaging ridiculous numbers that season to the tune of 24.1 points per game, 24.2 rebounds per game, and 7.8 assists per game. With Wilt, though, there was always drama even when things should have been alright.
Chamberlain wasn’t modest about his godlike skills. His braggadocio and hubris made him a difficult cat to get along with, by many accounts. What isolated Wilt the most was his infamous 1965 Sports Illustrated interview titled “My Life in a Bush League," in which he smeared fellow players, coaches, and NBA officials.
Disputes and tussles were common fare for Chamberlain. In 1967, Wilt threatened to leave Philly if sole-surviving team owner Irv Kosloff didn’t give Chamberlain a 25% ownership stake of the team upon Wilt’s retirement. Their relationship was soured by Wilt’s demand, but they agreed on a one-year contract in '67 that appeased Chamberlain.
Wilt and Alex Hannum, who coached the Sixers in the mid-60‘s, clashed often and would routinely fall just short of trading blows, according to multiple teammates. That’s not the mark of a healthful, happy relationship, but the two earned each other’s respect through hardened resolve.
All told, it wasn’t a peachy stint with the 76ers for Chamberlain. Many theories have been spouted about Wilt’s exit from Philadelphia, but it’s probable that Wilt forced the trade himself; eyeing Los Angeles as a liberal, tinsel-furbished playground that appealed to his party-loving proclivities.
1 Loved It: Thaddeus Young
Thaddeus Young didn’t become a consistent, All-Star caliber player during his 2007-2014 run with the Sixers. Despite not quite getting there, Young’s tenure in Philly was fun and dignified.
Young was selected with the 12th overall pick by the 76ers in 2007. While not adept defensively at the time, the Louisiana native proved himself a dynamic slasher and scorer for the squad when he was given increased playing time in 2008. Over the years, Young became an integral part of the Sixers’ offense. His crescendo peaked in 2014, a year in which he averaged 17.9 points per game.
With consummate professionalism, Young did a well-rounded job with the Sixers and continues to do well in the league.
The 76ers thought Young’s value was maxed out in 2014. Upon being dealt to Minnesota after seven years in Philly, Young was sentimental in an interview with Philly.com: "I still hold Philadelphia close to my heart. Those fans have been close to me ever since Day 1, they were the ones that actually picked my first jersey number in the NBA."