The Sixers (sort of) got around to honoring the 1983 NBA championship team last night, as the 25th anniversary of Fo', Fo', Fo' approaches, and it was instructive to see Julius Erving - by that year of 1983, an aging superstar instead of The Doctor - talking about how he roots for this team and this city to win another title.
That he didn't give the speech in, say, Los Angeles, speaks to how those Sixers didn't throw up their hands and throw in the towel when they failed, year after year, to win the title so many around here thought was due. They didn't trade Erving for spare parts or decry the weaknesses that were, by that year, evident in his game. They just brought in better players to surround him, including Mr. Fo' Cubed, Moses Malone, and the result was that last, great parade.
The Lakers had a similar decision to make this summer with Kobe Bryant, who spent most of the off-season giving interviews to various ESPN personalities demanding to be traded, when he wasn't seen dissing his young center, Andrew Bynum, in some amateur video some yahoo wanted to peddle. But being a yahoo doesn't mean the guy misquoted Bryant, who couldn't wait another second for Bynum and the other kinder to get where he was, competing for championships.
No part-timer at Trader Joe's had a bigger cleanup than Phil Jackson on the first day of training camp.
But three months later, Bynum came into the Wachovia Center and dropped a sublime, career-high 24 points, hitting 10 of 11 shots from the floor, on the Sixers, who play like shampoo instructions against most of the league's betters.
Compete hard. Come close. Lose. Repeat.
At 20, Bynum has the look of a young franchise center, in a league where there are precious few centers of any quality.
Now, it's just December - the same month that, a year ago, saw the Sixers get rid of their superstar, at his request and their insistence, instead of doing the harder work of finding better players that meshed with his unique skills. But that is the last war, and these Sixers are playing as hard as they can, so there will be no more rehashing that argument.
Except for this.
Whether it's Bryant, or Brett Favre, or Manny Ramirez, there are teams that seem to get rebuilding around the aging star right. (OK, Bryant is just 29, but this is his 12th NBA season.)
Instead of moving Bryant to Chicago for the guts of a team that is currently 9-15 and lost by 25 to the Celtics last night, the Lakers' general manager, Mitch Kupchak, stuck to his guns when it was unpopular. He did the phone work necessary to placate his star, and his star's agent - and then, realizing that there's no package that's worth what Bryant brings both to the court and the team's bottom line, quietly ended the trade talk.
The Lakers brought Derek Fisher back to solidify the point. Jackson has eased up on forcing the triangle offense down his players' throats. And Bynum continued his work with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who's been mentoring him the last two years.
For his part, Bryant, who was just 6 of 20 playing with a pulled groin, wasn't exactly apologizing for his off-season digs at Bynum.
"I seem to have lit a fire under [him]," Bryant said afterward. "Awesome."
Bryant says he has explained, not apologized for, what he meant, and his teammates understood. Bynum says everything has been fine with Bryant since the first day of training camp. And the Lakers look like a different team, much more balanced - and that much more dangerous.
"The thing for him is just to continue to work," Bryant said. "It's that simple. I mean, I was in that situation when I was his age, with Diesel [Shaquille O'Neal]. He wasn't going to wait for me to develop. You had to step up and become a championship guard at the age of 20, 21. [Bynum] has to do the same thing."
Both Bryant and Jackson, with 12 rings between them, know that the hard lifting is done in the playoffs, and these Lakers have yet to show they're ready to handle the big boys in the Western Conference. They've gone down two straight years to the Suns, and they haven't reached the second round in a while. Bynum's big tests are ahead of him.
But Kupchak already has passed his, staring down an angry superstar and showing him that Bynum was worth the trouble.
For the new man on the job in Philadelphia, Ed Stefanski, it's something to put in the memory bank. Assuming the Sixers ever, again, have a player that's worth all the trouble.