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Curry Kirkpatrick
March 21, 1977
With all its high-priced talent, Philadelphia was supposed to be awesome. Instead, it is an enigma—and sometimes awful
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March 21, 1977

Good, But Why Not The Best?

With all its high-priced talent, Philadelphia was supposed to be awesome. Instead, it is an enigma—and sometimes awful

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Erving and McGinnis went together like cream cheese and scrapple; they could not get along, much less play alongside each other. Neither man could coexist with Free, who monopolized the ball and was known to start shooting before the concluding notes of the national anthem. Third Forward Steve Mix was stabbing Shue in the back over playing time, while Dawkins, the infant bull moose (6'11", 251 pounds), who may be the strongest 20-year-old since Vasily Alexeyev, was interested not in stabbing the coach's back, just breaking it.

In all fairness to Shue, his team is not the most coachable unit on earth. If Collins isn't upset because Mix temporarily replaced him as the team's technical foul shooter, Free is mad because Collins has taken his starting job. If Caldwell Jones isn't disturbed that Erving and McGinnis get all the shots on the front line, McGinnis is pouting when Mix starts the second half of a TV game.

Guard Henry Bibby is confused because he is asked to fill more roles than Elliot Richardson. Reserve Joe (Jelly Bean) Bryant, a major league free-lancer, thinks he could be a star somewhere else—and maybe he could.

To consolidate this multitude of egos, Shue has seen fit to insert his own into the fray. A proud, haughty man who stays aloof from his players, Shue says, "I've never had a job where my team stayed mediocre. They get good. Players being unhappy doesn't make me unhappy. A player can say what he wants. I don't give a damn."

In the locker room Shue keeps telling his team, "You don't want to be coached. You just don't want that." Last week he added, "Why don't you utilize my talents so together we can utilize yours?"

The 76er talents include an ability to run off great raging streaks of points with a helter-skelter fast break generally ending in a dunk. But the team constantly seems to get off slow and falls far behind before catching up, or else jumps out to huge leads and then falls into catastrophic declines.

In their quintessential comeback against Cleveland a month ago, the 76ers made up 24 points in the fourth quarter to win. On their West Coast tour, they made up deficits of 11 at Los Angeles, 18 at Portland and 11 at Golden State before losing each game at the buzzer. Last Friday the 76ers led Seattle by 25 and then proceeded to give a clinic on how to look foolish on the defensive board as the Sonics scrambled to within four points at the end.

Asked to recall the last time the 76ers played a whole game, McGinnis grinned. "The All-Star Game," he said.

Concentration is a major Sixer weakness, but the team also has some technical limitations that its "money" players may not be able to overcome by playoff time.

Erving, McGinnis and Free all are improvisers who want to make their own plays. Only Collins moves well without the ball so that when teams zone—hush this up, now—and trap Dr. J and Big George, the team's leading scorers, in the corners, the Philadelphia offense comes to a standstill. As one observer caustically puts it: "The team looks like a Rodin museum."

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