Sports dynasties that weren’t actually dynasties

Let’s stay in Philly for another team that was loaded during the 1970s and 1980s but only cashed in on one title. The 76ers were really bad in the early ’70s, including a 9-73 mark in 1973. During this time, the Sixers would acquire good pieces (Doug Collins, Darryl Dawkins, George McGinnis, Caldwell Jones, Lloyd “World B” Free and Joe Bryant … aka Kobe’s dad) that would help built a solid foundation.

The great fortune came in 1976 when the Sixers acquired Julius Erving from the Nets for cash. The team clicked and would beat the defending champion Celtics in the playoffs. Philadelphia would win the first two games of the NBA Finals against the Trail Blazers before losing the next four and the series.

Still, the team wasn’t going away. The Sixers would win 55 games in 1977-1978 before being upset by the Washington Bullets in the Eastern Conference Finals. Along the way, the Sixers would add point guard Maurice Cheeks and forward Bobby Jones to replace McGinnis, Free and Bryant) and make a return to the Finals in 1980. There the Sixers would face a rebuilt Lakers team with MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and rookie Magic Johnson in one of the most memorable Finals in history. Despite Dr. J’s heroics (and that legendary baseline move), the Sixers lost in six games.

The Sixers essentially became the third wheel to the re-surging Lakers-Celtics rivalry. From 1980 to 1985, the Sixers faced the Celtics four times and the Lakers three times in the playoffs. In 1981, Philly had a 3-1 lead on Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals before losing the final three games by a combined five points. That was one of the most disappointing losses in franchise history, as the 40-42 Houston Rockets were the NBA Finals opponent which likely would’ve given the Sixers their much craved title.

The 1982 season looked very similar. After battling the Celtics during the season in the Atlantic Division race, the two met again in the Eastern Conference Finals and again the Sixers would hold a 3-1 lead before losing Games 5 and 6. Instead of history repeating itself, Philly went into Boston Garden and handled the Celtics for a berth in the 1982 Finals. Waiting for them was Kareem and Magic’s Lakers, who won the series in six games again.

The 1982-1983 season was where everything hit. The Sixers acquired reigning MVP Moses Malone from the Rockets and Philly went on a tear, winning 65 games and putting the Celtics in the rear view mirror. Malone would repeat as the league’s MVP, Jones won Sixth Man of the Year, and Erving joined Malone on the First Team All-NBA squad. Malone would promise that the Sixers would go “fo’, fo’, fo'” during the playoffs by sweeping the Knicks, beating the Bucks in five and rolling the hated Lakers in a sweep (he was just one game off). The Sixers won their first championship since Wilt Chamberlain did it in 1967.

The 1983-1984 Sixers roared to a 21-5 start up would struggle the rest of the season and lose to the Nets in the first round of the playoffs. After drafting forward Charles Barkley in the offseason, Philly went 58-24 but the aging team would lose to the Celtics in the conference finals. After losing to the Bucks in the 1986 playoffs, the team began to dismantle to build around Barkley. Jones retired, Malone was traded away and the next season was a season-long retirement party for Erving. The team also made bad trades that hamstrung the franchise for the next few years.

When people talk about the great NBA teams of the 1980s, they bring up the Lakers, Celtics and Pistons … but they tend to forget to the 76ers who had the star power, Hall of Famers and swagger of all of those teams. A potential dynasty that just didn’t happen because they ran into ones that did. Looking back, that Sixers run came so close to being on that level.

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