The Sixers, Then and Now

The 76ers have pretty much established themselves as the worst team in the NBA, even though they don’t have the worst record, at least not yet. But calling the Sixers the worst team in the NBA is really underselling this group – this might be the worst team in the history of the league.

The standard for futility in the NBA, as most basketball fans know, is the 1972-73 Sixers team that finished 9-73 — still the worst record in NBA history for an 82-game season — and finished a hard-to-believe 59 games behind first-place Boston. And the 2013-14 Sixers team has already surpassed that dubious record as they’ve won 15 games so far.

But forget about records – this Sixers team is not only worse than that Sixers team, it’s much worse.

The main reason for that is the dilution of talent in the NBA in the 21st century. Back in 1972-73, there were only 17 teams in the NBA and many of them had multiple Hall-of-Famers on their rosters. Now there are 30 teams, almost twice as many. Teams that didn’t exist back then (not counting Washington and Sacramento, which were in the league, but in different cities) are Toronto, Brooklyn, Miami, Charlotte, Orlando, Indiana, San Antonio, Dallas, Memphis, New Orleans, Minnesota, Denver, Utah and the L.A. Clippers.

Imagine that today’s NBA had just 17 teams and players from those not-in-existence franchises were spread around to other teams. You’re talking about players like Kevin Love and Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan and Chris Bosh and Tony Parker and Chris Paul and Dwayne Wade and Paul George and Blake Griffin and Deron Williams and Manu Ginobili and last, but certainly not least, LeBron James.

Another reason that Sixers team is better than this Sixers team is that the 1972-73 version was loaded with veterans, albeit mediocre to poor ones, and the 2013-14 team is the youngest in the league. And, generally speaking, bad players with lots of experience will beat bad players with little experience.

By the way, in case you’ve forgotten some of those forgettable names from yesteryear, that 1972-73 team was coached by Roy Rubin (who was fired after a 4-47 start and replaced by Kevin Loughery) and led by Fred Carter, Leroy Ellis, Manny Leaks, Freddie Boyd, John Block and the  immortal Mel Counts. Sadly, that was also the final season for aging Hal Greer, one of the Sixers’ all-time greats who played in just 38 games as he closed out his Hall-of-Fame career.

That team eventually turned it around and just five years later made it to the NBA Finals, where they lost to Portland in six games. Of course, by that time just about all of the 1972-73 team was long gone – only one player remained, forward Steve Mix. The Sixers began their road back the year after 9-73, when they selected Illinois State guard Doug Collins with the first overall pick in the draft, in the pre-lottery days when the team with the worst record automatically got the first pick. But the real key to the Sixers’ turnaround was the eventual merger of the NBA and ABA, which allowed them to acquire star players like George McGinnis, Caldwell Jones and Julius Erving.

This Sixers team is trying to turn around its fortunes in a different way – with young draft picks. They already have a couple in place with point guard Michael Carter-Williams and center Nerlens Noel and they should get a couple more in this year’s draft, especially if they continue to freefall and end up with the worst record in the league.

So, at least the 76ers have a plan. They have the youngest team in the league – their current roster has five rookies and four players in their second seasons – and they’ll get even younger after the 2014 draft.

But even if they get younger next year, they won’t be as bad as they are this year – so bad that they’re worse than the worst there has ever been.

Contact Kevin Noonan at

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1 Comment

  • So why don’t they have two divisions of 15 teams each, a 1st division and a 2nd division. All Sports are diluted, when you have Columbus and Nashville in the NHL things are out of hand.