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An Excerpt From 'Perfectly Awful'

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This excerpt appears in "Perfectly Awful: The Philadelphia 76ers’ Horrendous and Hilarious 1972-1973 Season" by Charley Rosen. The author also joined Bill Littlefield on Only A Game. See our interview and book review.

Excerpted from Perfectly Awful: The Philadelphia 76ers’ Horrendous and Hilarious 1972-1973 Season by Charley Rosen by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. © 2014 by Charley Rosen. Available wherever books are sold or from the Univ. of Nebraska Press 800.848.6224 and at nebraskapress.unl.edu


[7] How Low Can You Go?

How would the Sixers react to their worst game of the season? Give up and just go through the motions?
Or would they respond to their next challenge—the mighty Boston Celtics—with courage? With pride?

Friday, December 1, 1972
Where: Home
Score: Celtics 105, Sixers 99
Philadelphia’s record: 2-23
Numbers: Carter (29 on 13-26 shooting), Ellis (26), Block (12), Loughery (11).

Fred Carter made only 1 of 10 shots in the first half, and Rubin’s halftime advice was “to keep shooting.” After the intermission Carter was 12-16 and single-handedly kept the 76ers in the game.

The turnaround play transpired late in the game with the visitors ahead 101–99. Rubin had sketched a play during the lead-up time-out that called for Boyd to inbound the ball to Loughery, who would then pass to Carter com- ing off a weak-side pick. But Satch Sanders played deny defense that made Loughery unavailable. With no safety-valve option, Boyd held on to the ball and was whistled for a five-second infraction. Dave Cowens then went over Leaks for an easy score, and the Sixers suffered perhaps their most painful loss of the season.

“I had done my homework,” says Tom Heinsohn, the Celtics’ coach, “and I didn’t stint on our game preparation. My biggest job was to keep my guys from getting too complacent. I mean, the Sixers were the type of team that engenders that kind of reaction. I warned them, I tried to stoke them, but my attempts were futile. We were lucky to win the damn game.”

Saturday, December 2, 1972
Where: Boston
Score: Celtics 131, Sixers 120
Philadelphia’s record: 2-24
Numbers: Ellis (27), Trapp and Block (20), Loughery and Carter (13). Greer shot 1-3 with 3 assists in 12 minutes.

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, 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.” Wohl would eventually be signed by Buffalo and play in the NBA for another five seasons.

Wednesday, December 6, 1972
a Win!
Where: Kansas City-Omaha
Score: Sixers 101, Kings 94
Philadelphia’s record: 3-24
Numbers: Trapp (35), Cater (28), Loughery (25), Ellis (15
and 20 rebounds).

There was no celebratory party this time. “A quiet victory,” said Rubin. “But I’ll enjoy looking at the standings in the newspapers tomorrow. That ‘3’ will look enormous. A giant ‘3.’” He also said that the negativity in the local press didn’t bother him. “In fact, I rather like it.”

Say what?

Years later the eighty-four-year-old Bob Cousy says that he has erased that particular game from his memory. Even though Cousy coached the Kings to a 36-46 record that year, he had little respect for his ball club. “Except for Tiny Archibald,” he says, “we had nothing. For example, our center, Sam Lacey, was afraid of French poodles, the dark, and water. I’m still surprised that we weren’t the team that won only nine games that season.”
At the time Tom Van Arsdale was the Kings starting small forward, and he seconded Cousy’s opinion of Lacey’s habitual nervousness: “Sam was a mess whenever we flew. His whole body was shaking from the minute we took off to the minute we landed. He also had the cold sweats so bad that his clothing was soaked.”

Thursday, December 7, 1972
Where: Pittsburgh
Score: Suns 117, Sixers 102
Philadelphia’s record: 3-25
Numbers: Loughery (25 and 9 assists), Block (22 and 12 rebounds), Carter (19), Schlueter (10), Trapp (3-12 for 7 points in 23 minutes), Ellis (4-12 for 8 points in 36 minutes), Leaks (3-7 for 8 points in 29 minutes)

A “starter” who insisted on anonymity revived the players’ complaints about Rubin’s substitutions and late-game strategies: “Block and Schlueter were playing well and making our offense flow, but he yanked them and put in Trapp and Ellis, who were both shooting blanks. Then he tells us to go to 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.”

Friday, December 8, 1972
Where: Home
Score: Bulls 118, Sixers 102
Philadelphia’s record: 3-26
Numbers: Carter (31), Block (19), Ellis (14), Loughery (10), Trapp (2-6 for 5 points)

The six-foot-ten 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, but players on both teams thought he was guilty of a cowardly, cheap shot.

Saturday, December 9, 1972
Where: New York
Score: Knicks 120, Sixers 109
Philadelphia’s record: 3-27
Numbers: Trapp and Block (21), Carter and Loughery (17).

When Fred Carter was with Baltimore, he and Earl Monroe guarded one another during intra-squad scrimmages. The same matchup was in force for this game. “I went up for a jumper,” says Carter, “and before I released the ball, Earl says to me, ‘You know better, Doggie,’ and he blocked the shot.”

Early in the fourth quarter, Leaks hit Willis Reed with what Manny called “a normal elbow.” Willis responded with an abnormal elbow (that missed), and Leaks came back with an air punch. Leaks claimed that he wasn’t intimidated by the Knicks’ captain. “I can protect myself,” he said. “I’m not afraid of him.”

However, the physical belligerency in the last two games was a warning sign that the Sixers were losing their composure. It was only a matter of time (and more losses) before they exploded. Nevertheless, Rubin admired the feistiness of his players, especially since this was their fourth game in four days. “The score isn’t an indication of how close the game was,” he said.

Tuesday, December 12, 1972
Where: Baltimore
Score: Bullets 123, Sixers 102
Philadelphia’s record: 3-28
Numbers: Carter (21), Loughery (19), Block (18), Trapp (13).

Archie Clark, who had been traded to Baltimore for Carter and Loughery, was still a holdout. Mike Riordan (who scored a career-high 31) said that the Sixers played like they were strangers. Dave Sorenson made his Sixers debut: in seven minutes of garbage time, he scored 2 points.

Wednesday, December 13, 1972
Where: Home
Score: Lakers 128, Sixers 90
Philadelphia’s record: 3-29
Numbers: Carter and Trapp (16), Leaks (15), Loughery (13), Block (12).

Because of mechanical troubles, the Lakers’ TWA flight to Philadelphia had been delayed for three hours in Chicago. While passing through the security checkpoint, Wilt Chamberlain expressed his annoyance by saying, “The way I feel right now if I had a gun in my bag I might shoot somebody.” Unfortunately, this led to his being taken off the plane and accused of being a hijacker; his bag was searched.

Chamberlain believed he had been harassed. “If Bob Hope said what I said everybody would have laughed.” But being “seven feet tall and black” made Wilt a suspicious character. Once he had been cleared, Chamberlain was so angry that he refused to reboard the plane and flew to Philly on a different airline. Although he scored only 14 points, Chamberlain nabbed 15 rebounds and blocked 15 shots (a strictly unofficial stat at the time).

“The Lakers had Wilt, West, Goodrich, Jim McMillan, and Happy Hairston,” says Carter, “and Bill Sharman was the coach, so they loved to run and they were fast-breaking us to death. At one point Kevin and I were backpedaling on defense, and he said to me, ‘Doggie! Here they come again!’”

After he had inspected the stat sheet, Wilt voiced his disapproval of the official totals, claiming that Harvey “Super Stat” Pollack had Chamberlain with “only 15 rebounds” when he should have been credited with 19. In addition, Pollack had recorded 17 rebounds for Schlueter, which, according to Wilt, was 5 more than the hometown player actually had. The Dipper then said that he was planning to lodge his complaints with the NBA office. This wasn’t the first time that Chamberlain had questioned Pollack’s arithmetic.

Pollack had been Philadelphia’s statistician ever since the Warriors had become one of the charter members of the Basketball Association of America (which soon became the NBA) back in 1946. “Back when Wilt played here,” Pollack says, “he was always bellyaching about his rebound totals. For one home game, Wilt had a buddy keep track of his rebounds thinking that I would shortchange him. After the game I asked Wilt which total he wanted me to enter into the official league stats, mine or his friend’s. He chose his friend’s, which happened to be about seven rebounds less than what I had tracked. You’d think he would have learned his lesson after that.”

Saturday, December 16, 1972
Where: Home
Score: Braves 126, Sixers 103
Philadelphia’s record: 3-30
Numbers: Ellis (23), Loughery (18), Carter (15), Leaks (14), Block (13).

Dave Wohl got a measure of revenge when he started at the point for the Braves and dished out 5 assists in twenty-eight minutes.
It was somehow fitting that the promo ad for this game in the Inquirer (which promised free souvenir basketballs for the kiddies) was placed directly below an advertisement for the dog show.

Wednesday, December 20, 1972
Where: Detroit
Score: Pistons 141, Sixers 113
Philadelphia’s record: 3-31
Numbers: Loughery (27), Leaks (26), Trapp (19), Carter
(15), Ellis (12).

Rubin’s players derided his pregame scouting reports. After having detailed the specifics of Dave Bing’s baseline drive, Rubin said nothing about how this move should be defended. 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.
Rubin also blamed the lopsided result on the many turnovers created by the Sixers’ “running too much.” Carter scoffs at the notion: “Running was the only possible way we could have competed. But Rubin wanted us to take the air out of the ball to try and keep the score down so he’d look like a great defensive coach. Anyway, from game one to game eighty-two, we were the worst defensive team in the league.”

The runaway game, however, did yield one unusual situation. Since Detroit was John Q.’s hometown, he treated several of his buddies to seats right behind the Sixers’ bench. During one time-out Rubin told Trapp that Sorenson was replacing him. Trapp shook his head and turned to look at his crew, who had easily overheard Rubin’s order. And when Rubin looked up to see what Trapp was staring at, he saw a big black man stand up and open his coat to reveal a shoulder holster and a gun. Rubin was quick to rescind the substitution.

When DeJardin was seen scouting players at a college tournament in Michigan, he said this about Rubin’s security: “His job is as safe as any coach’s job.”

Unknown to either Rubin or DeJardin, the players met secretly in the hotel before the game. It was decided that Rubin would be the coach in name only and that they would follow Loughery’s instructions. “Kevin knows the pro game,” one unnamed player told Jack Kiser, “and he knows how to talk to us. I know that some people might think of this as some kind of a mutiny, but the same thing happened in Houston when everybody started to ignore Tex Winter and began listening to Johnny Egan. The Rockets improved a hundred percent after that.”

The players were ready to implement their takeover, but another unnamed player had an alternative plan: Pete Carry, a highly respected writer for Sports Illustrated, was traveling with the team, gathering material for a feature story. If the players told Carry how incompetent Rubin was, Kosloff would have to fire him when the story was printed. “We gave Carry enough ammunition to sink a battleship,” one player said.

However, Carry’s editors were afraid that Rubin would sue the magazine if the anonymous players’ charges were made public. The resulting story was called “The Spirit of the 76ers Is Willing” and was a total whitewash. That was the end of the putative palace rebellion.
When the team arrived in Houston, two vans were waiting to drive them to the Hotel Sonesta. All the players, and their luggage, squeezed into one van; Rubin was the only passenger in the other van.

Friday, December 22, 1972
Where: Houston
Score: Rockets 116, Sixers 103
Philadelphia’s record: 3-32
Numbers: Trapp (17), Ellis (16), Leaks (14), Loughery
(12), Boyd (11), Carter (10). Nobody could recall offhand when Greer last played.

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 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.

Saturday, December 23, 1972
Where: Atlanta
Score: Hawks 124, Sixers 112
Philadelphia’s record: 3-33
Numbers: Loughery (27), Carter and Price (18), Ellis (12 and 16 rebounds), Leaks (10).

Mainly because the Hawks had two players down with injuries or personal emergencies—Walt Bellamy and George Trapp (Q’s “good” brother)—the Sixers were competitive for forty-three minutes. But then Pete Maravich—who was playing on a sore knee—simply took over, and the game was lost.

For sure, Pistol Pete was a scoring machine, yet his game was disrespected by most of the NBA's black players. For example, Wali Jones, who was thriving with the Milwaukee Bucks after having been exiled from Philadelphia, had this to say about Maravich: “He has made a career of copying what black players have always been doing. But he’s white and it’s a white media and that’s where the ink is and where the bread is. The cat’s a good ballplayer, but he’s too studied. He still can’t make those unknown moves that a guy like Earl Monroe can. Underneath the mechanics, Maravich is still straight up-and-down."

Indeed, NBA players had a strong racial awareness. Virtually every in-game fight pitted whites against blacks or whites against whites. It was extremely rare (and frowned upon) for black players to indulge in extracurricular mayhem.

Alan Richman devoted his column in the Evening Bulletin to lambasting Rubin on several fronts: For spending entire time-outs arguing with referees. For never offering solutions to immediate on-court problems. For backstabbing his players. And for being a con man. Richman also called Rubin’s firing “inevitable.” Later, Richman would not apologize for his “mean” analysis. Instead, he described his coverage of the Sixers as “cold, unsympathetic and archly amused.”

Meanwhile, and despite his previous denial, Rubin confessed to Lizzo that the vitriol of the Philadelphia scribes brought him to tears in the privacy of his apartment.

Wednesday, December 27, 1972
Where: Pittsburgh
Score: Hawks 121, Sixers 120
Philadelphia’s record: 3-34
Numbers: Carter and Ellis (26), Loughery (21 and 13 as- sists in 48 minutes), Block (21).

The Sixers were leading 120–119 with eleven seconds on the game clock. Maravich then missed a long jumper, but the rebound bounced straight into Don May’s hands—and May’s quick ten-foot jumper just before the final buzzer turned a sure win into an especially heartbreaking loss.

Afterward, Rubin refused to accept any blame: “The Hawks called a time out with four seconds left and I told my players to make sure to block out their man when a shot goes up. I stressed this. Block out your man. But my instructions were forgotten and May wasn’t blocked out.”

Saturday, December 30, 1972
Where: Providence
Score: Celtics 117, Sixers 107
Philadelphia’s record: 3-35
Numbers: Carter (26), Loughery (22 and 10 rebounds),
Ellis (15), Trapp (12), Boyd (10).

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

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.

Excerpted from Perfectly Awful: The Philadelphia 76ers’ Horrendous and Hilarious 1972-1973 Season by Charley Rosen by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. © 2014 by Charley Rosen. Available wherever books are sold or from the Univ. of Nebraska Press 800.848.6224 and at nebraskapress.unl.edu

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