COMMENTARY | The Philadelphia 76ers have had several great guards during the franchise's 50-year history.
Ask anyone over the age of 50 and names like Hal Greer, Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, Larry Costello and Doug Collins, among others, immediately surface. The younger generation of fans have suffered through much less success in the second half of the franchise's existence, and therefore have a much shorter list to choose from. Shorter, as in one name - Allen Iverson.
As great as it was watching Toney strangle the Celtics, Collins hustle perhaps harder than anyone in the game while he played, and Costello engineer arguably the greatest team in NBA history to a title in 1966-67, the question of who is the greatest guard - shooting or point - in team history comes down to Greer, Cheeks and Iverson. (My rule to be considered is that the player must have played the majority of his career as a Sixer and been with the team during his prime.)
Perhaps Cheeks' most memorable moment as a Sixer was in 1983. He was dribbling down the court as time expired and the NBA championship was well in hand. He could have passed the ball to the franchise's most popular player in history, Julius Erving, who undoubtedly would have put his own final touch on his only NBA title with a Dr. J.-esque slam. Instead, the 6-foot-1 Cheeks chose to drive down the center of the lane himself and dunk. It was the only selfish play of his career.
Cheeks wasn't flashy on offense - not even that dunk was impressive - and his career stats are average at best (11.1 points per game, 6.7 assists and 2.1 steals). But he got the job done, especially in the playoffs when his numbers in all three statistical categories were higher than his career averages. He was one of the league's premiere defenders while leading the Sixers to three NBA Finals during his 11-year career in Philadelphia. He was a hard-working, unselfish player in a city that to this day applauds those attributes as much as any gaudy statistic.
He is the team's all-time leader in assists and steals, was a four-time All-Star, and was selected to the NBA's All-Defensive team four times.
Greer was a great long-range shooter before the skill became popular. And although many credit his success from the outside being a direct result of Wilt Chamberlain's presence on the inside, the 7-foot-1 center didn't drain a single one of Greer's jumpers that helped lead the Sixers to the 1966-67 NBA title.
Greer averaged 22.1 points per game that season and finished his career with a franchise-leading 21,586 points. He also amassed 5,665 rebounds and 4,540 assists. He played in 10 All-Star Games and was a seven-time All-NBA selection. He is enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and his retired jersey hangs in the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center.
Iverson is without a doubt the most controversial player on and off the court of the three, and if effort in practice was calculated into this argument he wouldn't have even made the Top 10. But it wasn't, and so the franchise's second-leading scorer (19,931) has to be considered in this discussion.
Iverson is most likely the best "short player" ever to play in the NBA and also one of the best to never win an NBA title. He was a big-time scorer who took enough shots for the entire team, averaging 27.6 points per game during his 12 years as a Sixer. He led the NBA in scoring four times.
"The Answer" was electrifying and fearless on the court. He perfected the crossover dribble and often left the quickest of defenders stumbling on his way to kissing the ball off the glass as men a foot taller swung and missed at his shot. He left everything on the court every single night.
One could make an argument for any of the three being the greatest guard in Philadelphia 76ers history. Each played in a different era and brought different skills to the court. Cheeks was a gifted passer and defender, Greer a potent jump-shooter, and Iverson one of the best slice-and-drive-and-finish players the league has ever seen.
Cheeks may never make it to the Hall of Fame, but has a championship ring. Iverson most likely will get the call to the Hall, but will be enshrined having never won a title. Greer, on the other hand, has a ring and a permanent place in Springfield. Only one of them is an NBA Legend.
Hal Greer is the greatest 76ers guard ever.
Jon Buzby is an award-winning sportswriter from Delaware and has followed the Sixers since 1976. He contributes regularly to multiple newspapers, magazines and websites. Follow him @JonBuzby on Twitter.
- Sports & Recreation
- Maurice Cheeks
- Hal Greer