25 Years Since the Last Philly Pro Sports Crown

Today marks 25 years since the last championship for a Philadelphia pro team in a major sport (baseball, football, basketball, ice hockey).

On May 31, 1983, it was the basketball team, the 76ers, that turned the trick. That night the Sixers beat the host Los Angeles Lakers, 115–108, to complete a four-game sweep of the final round of the NBA playoffs. I was a big Sixers fan and it had been 16 years since their previous championship, so the night is a real pleasant memory. In fact, I saw the first two games of the series live in the Spectrum.

This ten-minute YouTube video features the last two and a half minutes of the game, which corresponds exactly, I believe, with the portion of the game I have on a VHS tape somewhere.

If you don’t have the time or interest to watch more, start at 8:50 — when there were 19 seconds remaining on the game clock — to see what for me were the most euphoric moments as I watched on a big screen TV in a sports bar with my friend R. and mugs of Genny Cream Ale. The next basket you’ll see, by Moses Malone (#2), is the clincher. At that point, I leapt to my feet and jumped and yelled like crazy as the remaining seconds ticked off.

During the final few seconds (9:13 on the video), as Maurice Cheeks (#10) jauntily dribbled nearly the length of the court on his way to a game-ending dunk, I felt like I was jumping in perfect synchronization with Cheeks’ bouncing of the ball. Even now, watching that sequence, when Cheeks jams the ball through the hoop, I can’t help but punctuate the moment by pumping my fist in the air and whispering “yesss”.

View that sequence a second time and watch Julius “Dr. J” Erving (#6), one of the team’s stars, beckon in vain for Cheeks to pass him the ball. In an article marking the 25th anniversary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, Cheeks, the team’s current coach, contends he was overcome by “the thrill of the moment” and therefore did not notice Erving gesturing just a few feet away. The fact that Cheeks dunked supports his contention; he almost never dunked.

Going back to the sports bar, as I jumped while watching the closing seconds, I recall putting my arm around R’s shoulders in a gesture of male bonding and extreme happiness. I don’t think R. liked that. Oh well.

The night was marred only by the theft of my 76ers painter’s cap right off my head by a couple of disappointed Lakers fans soon after the game ended. I chased them into the parking lot, but I wasn’t able to recover the cap.

Two days later I went to the parade in Philly celebrating the championship. I lived in Newark, Delaware at the time. I don’t remember much about that day — mainly sitting in Veterans (baseball) Stadium listening to Sixers coach Billy Cunningham speak to the crowd.

I’m still a Philadelphia sports fan, though not nearly as fervent as I used to be. Family and politics now consume some of the attention I used to devote to sports. So the 25-year drought doesn’t bother me much as it otherwise might. The drought just seems so Philly.

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