At last… We have arrived…
But first, let’s take a moment to remember how we got here…
The 1999/2000 Sixers collected 49 wins, behind the alchemical gelling of Larry Brown’s #4 ranked defense, and a profligate 1,986 points (in 70 games) from offensive engine and reigning scoring champ, Allen Iverson.
But the outcome was the same as the year before; a second round, 6 game defeat at the hands of a nasty, balanced, and deep Pacers squad. Led by nettlesome Hall of Famer, Reggie Miller, “Dunking Dutchmen” Rik Smits, and a cosmic multitude of Mark Jackson point guard post-ups.
These teams did not like each other.
And, as a tightly contested Game 6 sprawled into a Pacers rout behind a barrage of Reggie Miller and Sam Perkins 3’s, a curiously overlooked moment in the great annals “Philadelphia Sports Fan Hooliganism” occurred…
Play was stopped with 2:36 remaining as beer and debris rained down on the court from the aggrieved rafters, and calm was only restored as a heart-heavy Larry Brown commandeered the PA to admonished his home crowd.
But from these weird (and fittingly Philadelphian) ashes one of the most visceral season’s in 76ers history would be born. A Basketball Odyssey that fully captured the proud tragedy of the Iverson/Brown Sixers, and affixed them to the franchise firmament.
A TORRID START
After 2 years of playoff births, the Sixers had established themselves within the fringes of contention. But had this team hit it’s ceiling? Could they be anything more?
Those questions were answered with a scorching start to the season, as the Sixers demolished their opponents en route to 10 straight wins and and average margin of victory of over 11 points.
Sure, Iverson led the way, but a lockdown defense was the signature of this 10 game run, anchored by an insane 38 blocked shots by the emergent Theo Ratliff (who would block shot his way to the lone All-Star appearance of his career…)
The Oddysey had begun…
Lost in the fiery commencement of this season was the fact that AI actually didn’t have a particularly great start to this season. He cracked the 30 pointt threshold only 3 times in the first 23 games. As the New Year approached Iverson found his rythem..
Here is his insane 46pt/9reb/9ast performance against the Showtime Sacramento Kings.
6 days later, 41 points against Gary Payton and Sonics
The next night, an arena record 54 against the Cleveland Cavs.
The Sixers were on thier way to a 30 and 9 record, and Allen Iverson was simply ON FIRE.
TO CLIMB MOUNT MOTUMBO
Iverson was electric,the chemistry was extroadinary, everything seemed possible.
But a stress fracture in the wrist of Theo Ratliff (who had amassed a league leading 187 blocks by the first days of February) Threatened to derail the Sixers and expose their threadbare depth at the Center position.
The Sixers had a tough choice to make, roll the dice with 2 months (and maybe more) of this guy…
(quick aside, what’s Todd McCollough doing now?)
(Pinball, guys… He’s playing pinball…)
Back to the Sixers…
Or make a bold play, throw caution to the wind and break your core in a play for Congolese, shot-blocking, man-mountain, Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo
Yes, he was rumored to be nearly 40 years old (though he played 8 more NBA seasons) yes he hands of granite, yes he had feet of granite.
But here is a reminder the impact of an All-Time great rim defender like Mutombo could have on the court. An insane 31 blocked shots in a 5 game upset series against the #1 seed Seattle Supersonics.
So much had happened, but so much was still to come…
Look for Part 2 on Friday…