Saturday, April 26, 2008

Mo', Mo', Mo'

When I was a kid and I actually followed the Philadelphia 76ers, Mo Cheeks was my favorite player. Sure, Dr. J had the incredible moves (and hair), Darryl Dawkins brought the Chocolate Thunder, and 6'9" pasty beanpole Bobby Jones attempted to wrest the nickname "Secretary of Defense" unsuccessfully away from Garry Maddox. (The sneaker place I used to go to had a poster of Jones, in a suit, posed sitting on a desk in what was supposed to be a government office and holding a basketball like it was about to explode. The caption was "Secretary of Defense", which tells you everything you need to know about Jones' offensive game.) He was a pass-first point guard who had a great moustache and loved chocolate chip cookies. He was a fourth-round pick on a team loaded with stars, a little guy (relatively speaking) in a forest of redwoods around Moses Malone.
I lost interest in the NBA a few years after Mo retired. The Sixers made the disastrous Roy Hinson trade and lost about 90% of my fandom; the endless circus around "will they trade Allen Iverson?" took the rest. Meanwhile, Mr. Cheeks eventually surfaced as the coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, a talented bunch of knuckleheads who seemed completely opposite Cheeks' own playing style. He didn't do particularly well coaching them, not that they seemed terribly coachable, and so when he was hired to coach the Sixers in the dying spasms of the Billy King era, my only thought was "Oh, no." Mo didn't look like a terribly good coach at that point, and I was loath to see another one of my childhood favorites (see Bowa, Larry) impale himself on a poorly managed franchise and impossible fan expectations. After all, Julius Erving wasn't coming through that door. Lionel Hollins wasn't coming through that door. Even Caldwell Jones wasn't coming through that door, just Andre Iguodala and a bunch of "almosts", guys like Kyle "Not the New Bobby Jones" Korver and Sam "The Haitian Sensation" Dalembert who were just good enough to show flashes, and not good enough to do anything consistently.

So I thought Cheeks was doomed, though I didn't pay much attention. I figured the roster of tweener talents and Billy King's oddball GMing style would deliver a fatal blow. The occasional SportsCenter highlights I saw were generally slanted toward whoever the Sixers were playing; there was a lot of posterization in those.

And all of a sudden, they're up 2-1 on the Pistons in the playoffs. The franchise that was hopeless, under a coach beloved in the city but best known for helping a scared little girl sing the national anthem, was in the playoffs. Was taking it to the favored Pistons. Was winning.

It is highly likely that the Sixers lose the next three in a row. Highly likely their season ends there, that tonight's win was their high water mark. It doesn't matter. Thank you, Mo Cheeks, for proving me wrong.
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