Remembering the 76ers and Dr. J owing us one
“We Owe You One!”
If you were a Sixers’ fan in the late 1970s, you remember Julius Erving looking into the camera and uttering that slogan with his index finger raised in a commercial to promote the team’s 1977-78 season.
The advertising campaign came in response to the Sixers taking their fan base to the brink of an NBA championship the prior season only to fall short.
That 1976-77 squad posted a 50-32 record during the regular season and beat both Houston and Boston in six games to advance to the championship series against the Bill Walton-Maurice Lucas-Jack Ramsey-led Portland Trail Blazers, In the finals, the Sixers blew a 2-0 series lead and lost the next four games.
The roster was one of the deepest and most high-profile ones in their history, and there were plenty of anecdotes among them.
This latest installment of my look back at YESTERDAY - a trip back in time to the late 1960s and the 1970s - is a recollection of the fabled Sixer squad of the 1976-77, season as well other notable events and pop culture items from those two years, and what it meant to us who were preteens and teens during the time.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a column about the hapless 1972-73 Sixers, who held the record for futility with a 9-73 mark until the Charlotte Bobcats’ 7-59 slate in 2012.
The 1976-77 Sixers were just the opposite. Led by Erving and George McGinnis, this band of Sixers was a group of flagrant personalities and various talents.
Third-year guard Doug Collins was a rising star on a guard-heavy team that featured Freddie Carter, who was in the twilight of his career, fellow veteran Jim Barnett, rookie Mike Dunleavy, and reliable ex-Knick Henry Bibby.
Ex-Pistons castoff Steve Mix found a home and became a fan favorite with his “Mixville” time on the court. Top draft pick Terry Furlow saw some time. Former ABA star Caldwell Jones developed into a consistent force in the middle along with Harvey Catchings.
Lloyd (World) B. Free and Joe “Jellybean” Bryant emerged as cult figures for their flamboyance on and off the court. Local LaSalle star Bryant gained a reputation as one of the league’s top dunkers in his limited time off the bench. Free was recognized for his long-range three-pointers and unique shooting style.
Darryl Dawkins was in his second year out of high school and gained the reputation of an enforcer with his broken backboards, and his fight in Game 2 with Lucas at the Spectrum - a brawl that was given credit for sparking a young Blazers team to its series comeback.
The Spectrum loomed larger on the CBS broadcasts than Portland’s Memorial Coliseum, where the camera angles made it appear to be a tight, small court. Besides Walton and Lucas, Bobby Gross, Lionel Hollins, Dave Twardzik, and Larry Steele became household basketball names, and players one would mimic on the court.
And how many of you remember the Sixers’ anthem of “Here Comes the Sixers” that featured the catchy refrain - “10,9,8. 76ers. 1,2, 3, 4.5. Sixers.
It all was part of a phenomena that captured the city behind GM Pat Williams and head coach Gene Shue.
Unfortunately, their promotional campaign for the 1977-78 season didn’t work as the Sixers were knocked out of the playoffs by the eventual champion Washington Bullets, leading McGinnis to be traded to Denver for Bobby Jones. That was the start of a restructuring of the team that would eventually win the 1980 championship.
But like the 72-73 squad, this Sixer unit will go down as a memorable group in Philadelphia sports lore.
Courting of Joe Pa by the Green and White ... In January of 1976, the Eagles fired head coach Mike McCormick and made an offer in the range of $1.2 to $1.6 million to Penn State head coach Joe Paterno. Paterno, who was made a similar offer by New England in 1973, decided to stay at Happy Valley. The Eagles were also after Frank Kush of Arizona State - a hot commodity at the time - but that deal also fell through.
A month later, owner Leonard Tose and general manager Jim Murray hired a rather low-profile college coach from UCLA named Dick Vermeil, and the acclaimed workaholic transformed the franchise.
The A-Team ... On April 1, 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak launched Apple, and the company made a slow entreatment on the landscape of the time. Atari’s Pong came out in arcades earlier, and the console version surfaced in 1975. The cost of the first Apple computer was $1,298, which was basically unaffordable to most families.
Under the Tree ... Some of the hottest Christmas items in 1976 were Odyssey 300, Atari Pong Doubles, Atari Super Pong, Coleco’s Telstar, Wonder Wizard Game Console, Stretch Armstrong, Raw Power (bicycle sound effect).
Film Flurry ... “Rocky” captured the hearts of America in 1976 and it was one of several hit films throughout the year that also included “All the President’s Men,” “Marathon Man” “The Omen,” “Taxi Driver,” and “The Outlaw Josie Wales.”
In 1977, “Star Wars” and “Saturday Night Fever” topped the charts among another gush of films. It was a time when going to the movies was your prime Saturday night with or without a date.
The Album Everybody Had ... In 1976, “Frampton Comes Alive” was one of the top-selling albums, and still remains one of the top-selling live albums of all time. To this day, the mystique around the album is that it remains one everyone claims to have in their vinyl set, or had at one time before they lost it or gave it away.
Sweet Tooth ... In 1976, Starburst was finally introduced in America after it had been in Europe since the 1960s. Skittles also made a successful debut. For some reason, Mars stopped making red M&Ms from 1976 to 1987.
In 1977, Reese’s Pieces hit the stores along with Dots. Finally, do you remember Razzles - the round pieces of candy that transformed to gum when you chewed them? They also debuted that year.
Final Thought ... From the Sixers to sweets, it was an interesting two years. It also was a time when leisure suits and men wearing shoes with heels were a sign of the times.