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Bracketology: The Best Players in Philadelphia 76ers History

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Come March Madness, everybody wants in on the craziness and excitement. Picking a winner in a bracket gets people involved in debate and can be a lot of fun.

These days you see brackets that try and determine the best band, the best condiment and all the brackets Grantland.com churns out on a routine basis.

This bracket will stay in the basketball family and will work to determine the best player to ever play for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Historically, the franchise has not been as successful as say the Los Angeles Lakers or the Boston Celtics, but many great players have been a part of the organization. The team has featured a good amount of Hall of Famers, All-Stars and guys who earned the right to have their number retired.

Who is the best of the best though?

Wilt Chamberlain (1) vs. Bobby Jones (8)

Chamberlain gets the No. 1 seed based on the fact that he just absolutely dominated the NBA when he played. For his career he averaged 30.1 points per game (second in NBA history) and 22.9 rebounds per game (first in history). The biggest shame is that the block didn't become an official NBA statistic until the 1973-74 season, the year after Chamberlain retired. Just imagine how many blocks per game he would've averaged.

Jones' stats weren't as impressive. He averaged 11.5 points per game in his NBA career and 5.5 rebounds per game. But what makes March Madness exciting is the underdog, the Cinderella story. Jones received several accolades despite seemingly averages statistics.

Jones transitioned from a starter in the ABA to a sixth man in the NBA and he did it so well he won the 1983 Sixth Man of the Year award. He also was an eight-time NBA All-Defensive First Team player and a four time NBA All-Star. He also won the NBA championship with the Sixers in 1983. He was very popular with the fans and his teammates. He made a large impact in the league without being a starter which is not a common happening.

Jones had a very respectful career and his workmanlike and team-first attitude endears him to many. But Chamberlain went toe-to-toe with Bill Russell. His flat out dominance in the league leads to a win in this matchup.

Julius Erving (2) vs. Billy Cunningham (7)

Cunningham was nicknamed "Kangaroo Kid" because he had an incredible leaping ability. He used that ability to average 20.8 points per game in the NBA and 10.1 rebounds per game in the NBA. He also averaged 4.0 assists per game.

He was a four-time NBA All-Star and was a three-time All-NBA First-Team player. He would help the team win the 1967 NBA championship and was a member of the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.

Erving was "Dr. J". In the NBA he averaged 22.0 points per game, 6.7 rebounds per game and 3.9 assists per game. He too was an NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team selection and he too won an NBA championship.

Erving, however, was also on the NBA's 35th Anniversary team, and he won an MVP award, meaning he was the best in the league.

This would be an exciting matchup with two very athletic players, but something interesting to look at is their field goal percentages. Erving played five more seasons than Cunningham (retiring at 36 as opposed to Cunningham's 32) and took 9,783 more shots. Yet despite that fact, Erving shot 50.6 percent from the field compared to Cunningham's 45.2 shooting percentage. Erving was special and he flat out just made more shots, almost as many as Cunningham took. Erving advances.

Allen Iverson (3) vs. Hal Greer (6)

This is probably the most intriguing first-round matchup. These players were at two opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of how they went about their business but both created a strong following from the Philly fans.

Iverson gets the No. 3 seed because the franchise considers him one of the best in its history, evidenced by being one of the three "50 Seasons" bobbleheads. He's believed to be one of the quickest players in NBA history. His individual accomplishments are impressive: he's a four-time NBA scoring champion and a three-time NBA steals leader. He's also got an NBA MVP award.

Greer was selected to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team and was a 10-time All-Star. He was a 20,000 point scorer. He was also Mr. Dependable. On his bio on NBA.com, Dolph Schayes is quoted as saying, "He came to practice the same way, to every team function the same way. Every bus and plane and train, he was on time. Hal Greer punched the clock. Hal Greer brought the lunch pail."

That's totally opposite from Iverson's "Practice" rant to the media.

Iverson played only 82 games twice in his career, but he's fourth all-time in minutes played per game (41.1). Greer also only played 82 games twice, but he played in at least 80 games in nine of his 15 seasons (compared to Iverson's three).

Greer shot 45.2 percent from the field and 80.1 percent from the free-throw line despite shooting a jump shot for his free throws. Iverson is sixth in NBA history in points per game but shot 42.5 percent from the field and often had games mocked because of his subpar shooting percentages.

Something worth noting, however, was that Iverson was, for the first 10 years of his career, the best player on his team. He was the guy that the team leaned on to win games, the guy opposing defenses planned for and the guy that took every big shot when the team needed it.

Greer was one of the best couple of guards in the league, for sure. His team, however, was also loaded. He played alongside Chamberlain, Cunningham, and All-Stars Chet Walker, Luscious Jackson and Wali Jones.

Iverson's fight, determination, and ability to take over a game by himself gives him the slight edge in this surprisingly close matchup.

Moses Malone (4) vs. Charles Barkley (5)

In what was an extremely thoroughly researched book, "The Book of Basketball," Bill Simmons ranks Malone ahead of Barkley in his top 96 NBA players portion of the book. Simmons's words aren't the end of the discussion -ultimately there's opinion in the decision - but it's what the seeds are based on for this matchup of two colossal figures.

Both were rebounding machines. Malone averaged 12.3 rebounds per game throughout his career, 12.2 per game in the NBA. Barkley averaged 11.7 rebounds per game. Close, but only Malone was an NBA rebounding champion, leading the league on six different occasions. He also holds the all-time records for most offensive rebounds in a career in both the NBA and the NBA and ABA combined.

Barkley's rebounding success was pretty surprising however, as he was really only six-feet-four-inches tall, routinely going up against players much taller than him.

Malone averaged 20.3 points per game throughout his entire career and was a three-time NBA MVP (only one with Philadelphia). Barkley averaged 22.1 points per game and was a much feared finisher on the fast break. He also was the 1993 NBA MVP, although it wasn't won with the 76ers.

Barkley had more All-NBA First-Team selections than Malone (five to four).

Malone is an insanely good rebounder and if he isn't the best rebounder in league history, he's right on par with Chamberlain and Bill Russell. Despite that one skill though, Malone wasn't as talented in other aspects of the game. He scored 20 points per game, but he didn't have much of a post game or a passing game.

Barkley may have been more of a loose cannon, but he really exploded on offense. Barkley moved up and down the court better than Malone did. With the 76ers, Barkley was one of the most feared players in transition.

He was also one of the top four players on the 1992 Dream Team (with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird - who he really outplayed due to Bird's back injury) the best team ever assembled.

Barkley wins this matchup.

Chamberlain vs. Barkley

Barkley was of course a fierce and emotional competitor. He was well-known for playing against players much taller than him. Yet he was also notorious for playing sub-par defense (and that's being kind). It wasn't as much a skill-deficiency as much as his will.

Jack Ramsey was an NBA head coach during a period of Barkley's career and later was a television commentator for the Philadelphia 76ers. In his book, "Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned from a Lifetime in Basketball", he wrote, "Charles didn't see the importance of defense unless it was required at the very end of a game."

He also noted that Barkley once told him, "I can't play defense and score and rebound too."

Barkley would have his hands full scoring against Wilt, who was an incredible shot blocker before blocks were even a stat. But would Barkley have the defensive guile to cover a player who dwarfed him and is second all-time in NBA/ABA points per game?

Chamberlain wins.

Erving vs. Iverson

Erving brought a championship to Philadelphia (with the help of Malone and Barkley). Iverson reached the Finals, but couldn't close the deal.

Erving wasn't noted for his defensive play, but he was decent on defense. It's not the NBA, but Erving did earn ABA All-Defensive First-Team honors. Iverson led the league in steals three times but never earned any kind of defensive accolades.

Iverson wouldn't be afraid of going up against Erving, on either offense or defense, but he would still have difficulty getting around the long arms of Dr. J.

What made Erving special was his ability to create something out of nothing, evidenced by his famous baseline scoop against the Lakers or his one-on-five fast break dunk over the monstrous Bill Walton.

Erving was special and he would just come at Iverson from too many different angles.

Chamberlain vs. Erving

It comes down to No. 1 vs. No. 2.

One has to wonder if Chamberlain ever got the respect he deserved for his play. The common discredit to Chamberlain is that his incredible statistics, including his 100-point game, came against players that were neither talented enough nor tall enough to hang with him, like it says in this CBSSports.com Eye on Basketball blog.

Chamberlain gets labeled as a failure by some because despite being so dominant he "only" won two NBA championships.

But in addition to Chamberlain's scoring and rebounding, he also led the league in assists one season.

While Erving was a phenomenal talent and a must-see player for all of his highlights, his impact on the court wasn't as strong in the NBA as it was in the ABA. His lowest scoring average in the ABA was 27.3 points per game, which he did in his first season. His highest total in the NBA? 26.9 points per game.

Erving is more well-known as a Sixer as it was the only team he played for while in the NBA. But Chamberlain had such a huge impact not only on the Sixers (winning a championship with them), but on the game as a whole.

Chamberlain influenced several rule changes. On his NBA.com Encyclopedia page, it says that the league changed the width of the of the lane (which would keep Chamberlain further away from the basket), instituted offensive goaltending (because he would tip in shots already on the way down) and revised the rules for shooting a free throw (he would leap from behind the charity stripe and drop the ball in before landing on the ground).

In this instance, Chamberlain's numbers, accomplishments and overall impact on the league as we know it today push him past Erving.

Phil Shore lives in New Jersey and is the creator and editor of Shore Thing Sports blog. He's been published in The Boston Globe, Philly.com, FoxSoccer.com, LaxMagazine.com and New England Lacrosse Journal.

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