This year’s basketball Hall of Fame class is considered to be one of the best ever.
You’ve got two-time MVP and eight-time All Star Steve Nash. You’ve got a former champ and ten-time All Star in Jason Kidd. You’ve got Ray Allen and Grant Hill alongside Tina Thompson and Lefty Driesell.
And that’s not even half of the group.
Maybe overshadowed a bit by that overwhelming star power is the induction of former Sixer Maurice Cheeks, who played 11 years in Philadelphia, won a title with the 1983 squad, and earned four All-Star nods to go along with four Defensive First Team selections. His #10 jersey is retired and hanging in the rafters at the Sixers training facility and the Wells Fargo Center.
Cheeks spent more than a decade with the club after retiring, serving as an assistant coach from 1994 to 2001 and the team’s head coach from 2005 to 2008. He also helmed the Blazers and Pistons and now serves as an assistant to Billy Donovan in Oklahoma City.
Mo Cheeks was not a flamboyant character. He was quiet and unassuming, and he did his talking on the court. He didn’t post double-doubles and highlight reel slam dunks, but he was a pass-first point guard who found his teammates for open looks, knocked down mid-range jumpers, and showed ferocious defense night-in and night-out.
He played 79 games on the Sixers’ title-winning 1982-83 squad, averaging 31 minutes a night, 12.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 6.9 assists, and more than two steals per contest. That carried into the playoffs, where he improved those numbers to 16, 3, and 7 as your team, your town, your 76ers went on win 12 of 13 games and sweep the Lakers off the map.
Maybe the most impressive thing about Cheeks’ career was that he was steady for so many years. Only once in those 11 Sixers seasons did he play fewer than 70 games. And only twice, in his first and third years, did he fail to average double digit points in a season while wearing a 76ers jersey.
The playoff performances were always impressive. His scoring increased from the regular season into the postseason every single year of his Sixers career, which proved that you could rely on him to put up points when needed. He just didn’t always have to do that in the regular season because he could dish the ball off to Andrew Toney, Julius Erving, and Moses Malone. If you’re old enough to remember that team or watched highlights of how they played, it was a thing of beauty to see Mo Cheeks running the floor with Dr. J to his right:
Statistically, Cheeks put up more significant numbers than I think most people realize.
He’s 5th all time with 2,310 steals, trailing only Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Michael Jordan, and John Stockton. He’s 13th in assists with 7,392. And he rarely turned the ball over, finishing with a career 3.17 assist to turnover ratio.
But I think my favorite Mo Cheeks memory has nothing to do with basketball, and instead was this display of humanity dating back to 2003 when he helped a young singer get through the national anthem after she forgot the words:
NBA Champion, All-Star, coach, and Hall of Famer.
Not a bad career.