Cheeks added final twist to 76ers' 1983 title
Third of three parts celebrating today's 25th anniversary of the 76ers' winning the 1983 NBA championship. It was the final punctuation to a dream season and, as it turned out, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a group that finally met the high expectations of winning that final game.
Third of three parts celebrating today's 25th anniversary of the 76ers' winning the 1983 NBA championship.
It was the final punctuation to a dream season and, as it turned out, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a group that finally met the high expectations of winning that final game.
On May 31, 1983, the 76ers completed a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers with a 115-108 win at the Los Angeles Forum.
The final points were scored in the same stunning way that the 76ers obliterated their competition.
Maurice Cheeks, the quiet point guard known for delivering the ball to his teammates, decided this final time to keep it for himself.
With the Sixers leading by 113-108 with seconds left, Cheeks put the finishing touch on the team's first championship since 1967 by scoring on a breakaway dunk.
The fact that the Sixers, who had won 65 games in the regular season, emerged as NBA champions was not a surprise.
But Cheeks dunking at the end? Now
was a stunner.
A quarter of a century later, Cheeks hears about that dunk more than any other play. And this comes from a player who averaged 16.3 points and 7.0 assists in the playoffs that season as the Sixers went 12-1.
"I have talked about that dunk I don't know how many times," the Sixers coach said. "That dunk and the national anthem are the two things I talk about the most."
Cheeks was referring to the time when, as coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, he helped 13-year-old Natalie Gilbert sing the national anthem after she forgot the words.
And like that incident, Cheeks has received some good-natured ribbing for the dunk. That's because Julius Erving was trailing the play and was expecting the feed.
"He should have passed it to me," Erving said in mock anger. "He's the point guard and I'm the dunker, and if he did pass it, we wouldn't be talking about it now."
Not getting the pass was shocking enough, but seeing the 6-foot-1 Cheeks dunk?
"I was absolutely surprised," Erving said. "I don't think I ever saw him dunk but maybe once."
Cheeks had a simple explanation for not making the pass.
"I didn't see him," he said.
Erving wasn't so sure and even mentioned it to his teammate.
"The ironic part of that is that Doc asked me on the bus coming back why I didn't pass him the ball," Cheeks said. "I just thought it was so funny that we actually won a championship and he remembered that part of the game."
To this day, Cheeks has to convince the doubters.
"I swear I didn't see Doc," said Cheeks, who after looking at replays wondered himself how he could have missed spotting Erving. "Once I watched the highlights, he was right there asking for the ball, and I don't know why I didn't see him."
Maybe it was that so much was going through Cheeks' mind. That dunk allowed him to let out some frustration after being part of Sixers teams in 1980 and 1982 that lost to the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
Imagine how frustrated Erving had been.
Besides playing on the 1980 and '82 teams, he was part of a Sixers team that lost to Portland in the 1977 NBA Finals.
"Of course, it was the thrill of the moment that made me dunk it," Cheeks said. "I knew the game was over."
He didn't intend to dunk when he grabbed the rebound of Magic Johnson's missed three-point attempt.
"I rebounded the ball, knew the game was over, and didn't think of passing the ball," Cheeks said. "It was only my fifth year in the league, and I had been taught when the game is over, don't shoot the ball."
So much for lessons learned in the NBA.
"I didn't have any intention of shooting or dunking, and I got to the rim and dunked the ball. I had no idea what I was doing," Cheeks said. "When I look back and look at it, I see Doc on the side, and he was clapping."
Cheeks also saw years of disappointment end with one final unexpected slam from the least likely of candidates.