BackSportsPage is on a mission to rank every team’s eight best players in history. The esteemed Bill Ingram kicked it off with the Houston Rockets, and now it’s time for the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers are one of the oldest and most storied franchises in the league, so this was a tough call ranking just eight, and ranking them in order. Personally, I valued longevity to the team, as well as success. Even if a guy was one of the best players of all time, if he didn’t do it mostly with the Sixers that brings him down in the rankings. The two most important ranking criteria for me? Did they lead the team to a championship, and did they win an MVP. With that said, let’s get it started.
1. Julius Erving
Andrew D. Bernstein
Dr. J is one of the most famous players of all time for good reason. Undoubtedly one of the best and most acrobatic dunkers in NBA history, his high-flying antics were unforgettable. Who can forget Erving rocking the baby to sleep? For all of his incredible, unforgettable moments that make someone a true GOAT, it can sometimes be forgotten just how good Erving was at the pure game of basketball.
Erving played his whole NBA career with the 76ers after coming over from the ABA. With the Sixers, Erving averaged 22 points per game on 50.7% shooting, making him one of the most prolific scorers of his time. Not only could he fill it up, he was also a dynamo defensively, and is the 76ers all-time leader in blocked shots. In general, Dr. J was an all-around force, one of the first players that really stuffed the stat sheet in totality.
Erving was named an All-Star every single year he played, and was the MVP of the All-Star game twice. Adding to that were his five All-NBA first team and two All-NBA second teams, as well as the overall MVP in 1981. Erving certainly didn’t lack individual accolades, and he was one of the most decorated ballers of the late 70’s and 80’s.
Basketball isn’t an individual sport though, and Erving is no slouch in the team department either. He was one of the two members that led the 76ers to the latest of their three franchise championships in 1983, after a 16 year gap since the last one. There was nothing Dr. J couldn’t do on the court, no award or accomplishment left unachieved. Add to that he only played for the 76ers in his NBA career, and his legendary status beyond the numbers, and Dr. J is a worthy pick for best ever player of the Philadelphia 76ers.
2. Allen Iverson
Perhaps a controversial pick, as there are undoubtedly two or three better overall players that played for the 76ers that will come later on this list. What moves Iverson to two for me is the fact that his Hall of Fame career was basically built off his time in Philly alone. Charles Barkley, Moses Malone, and Wilt Chamberlain are better overall players, but are they better overall Sixers? I don’t think so.
The Answer was the first overall pick of the 1996 draft and helped lead the 76ers back to glory following Charles Barkley’s departure in 1992. After four years of bottom feeding, Allen Iverson was the rejuvenating wind in the sails. More than what he did for the 76ers though, Iverson was an NBA icon. He made the NBA cool. The dreads, the baggy shorts, the shooting sleeve, the headband, all of it changed the fashion game in the NBA. His playstyle was electric as well. He was fast, shifty, with an incredible handle and a wide package of dribble moves that dazzled fans everywhere. Seeinga smaller guy (Iverson was just six feet tall, and even that measurement might be generous) dominate a sport meant for the tall captured the hearts and minds of the American people.
Of course, all the flash in the world doesn’t mean much if you aren’t producing, and boy did Iverson produce. Iverson wasn’t just one of the best scorers of his generation, he’s one of the best all time. He led the league in scoring four times, and averaged over 30 points on four separate occasions. Was he the most efficient? No, but let’s not forget that the defense in his era was one of the stingiest in NBA history. Not only that, but the pace of play was one of the slowest of all time. Iverson was putting up 30 points a game when teams were routinely winning games with 90 points. He was also often the only viable offensive option the Sixers had, who chose to stack defenders around him and let Iverson carry the offensive load essentially solo.
Was that a great plan? Maybe, maybe not, but it led to one of the most legendary playoff runs in NBA history, as Iverson took the 76ers to the Finals in 2001, picking up the NBA MVP on the way. Iverson averaged 31.1 points that year. The next highest scorer was Theo Ratliff with 12.4, and Ratliff didn’t even play in the playoffs due to injury! Iverson averaged over 30 points in every series, and his 76ers were the only one to take a game from the eventual Champion Los Angeles Lakers. He also took with him one of the most memorable moments of all time, stepping over Tyronn Lue after a sweet step-back jumper.
Unfortunately, Iverson never managed to take the 76ers to the promised land again and spent the twilight of his career with the Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons. None of the time he spent there compared to his time with the Sixers though. Iverson was an 11 time All-Star, and made the All-NBA first and second team three times each. Along with those scoring titles, Iverson also led the league in steals three times, showing he was not useless on the defensive end.
Iverson was one of the greatest to lace em up, and he was an overall NBA icon. A worthy player to take the second spot on the greatest Sixers of all time.
3. Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt the Stilt is an almost mythical figure in the world of basketball. The tales of his feats on and off the court (if you don’t know, ask an adult) almost defy logic. In the NBA record book, many of the awards either belong to him, or are mentioned with the caveat, “except for Wilt”. From averaging 50 points per game in 1961, averaging 22.9 rebounds for his entire career, to playing 48.5 minutes per game (an NBA game is 48 minutes), Wilt’s career is filled with ridiculous and mind-blowing numbers. If there’s a guy that the phrase “you can’t even do that in a video game” ever applied to, it’s Wilt.
Wilt only spent four years with the 76ers, but they were incredible seasons. While they weren’t necessarily his most productive (he “only” averaged 29 points and 23.9 rebounds) that’s still ridiculous numbers. He also led the league in assists in 1968, proving he really could do it all. Wilt also got most of his hardware with the 76ers, winning the MVP three times in a row from 67-69, and made the All-Star team four times and the All-NBA first team three times in that span.
Not to be outdone by his personal achievements, Wilt brought Philadelphia their second title in 1967, and their first as the 76ers, as the first title was won while they were still the Syracuse Nationals. Wilt wasn’t a 76er for a long time, but it was undoubtedly a good time.
4. Moses Malone
The other half of the deadly duo that led the 76ers to glory in 1983, Malone was probably the more important of the two at the time. Considering the other one was Dr. J, Malone must have been truly special, and he absolutely was. Just like Wilt, Malone was only with the 76ers for four years (not including 1993 when Malone was 38) of a long and storied career. He averaged 23.9 points and 13.4 rebounds, including a bonkers five offensive boards per game. Malone won one of his three MVPs with the Sixers as well, and made the All-Star game and one of the All-NBA teams every year he was in Philly.
The most important thing Malone did though was bring the city a championship. In 1982, Erving and the Sixers were soundly beaten by the Los Angeles Lakers. Not taking it lying down, the 76ers brought in Moses Malone and it paid off as they easily swept the Lakers the next year. Malone averaged a ridiculous 25.8 points and 18 rebounds in that series, and dominated the Lakers legendary big Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The Chairman of the Boards may have only been with the 76ers for four years in his prime, but what fantastic years they were. For him, and the team. What more can you ask for than an MVP trophy and a championship ring?
5. Ben Simmons
5. Charles Barkley
The first name in the back half of the list, Sir Charles was a Sixer for eight years, or the same amount of time as Wilt and Malone combined. The only reason he falls below those two is because they hit peaks (MVP and championship) that Barkley didn’t in his time in Philadelphia. That’s not to belittle the incredible career he had though. Barkley averaged 23.3 points and 11.6 rebounds (4.4 offensive) near identical numbers to the great Moses Malone. In fact, considering his sky high field goal percentage of 57.6%, they were better. Add to that six All-Star appearances and four All-NBA first team selections and that is one amazing run.
The only thing holding the Round Mound of Rebound back from being higher on the list is the relative lack of playoff success. They made the playoffs all but two years with Barkley, but never made it to the finals, much less win one like three of the guys above.
All that said, Barkley is an institution in the NBA, one of the most dominant big men in history despite being just 6’5. His enduring presence, outspoken and hilarious nature as well as his appearances on TNT’s halftime show have made Barkley famous beyond his career as well, and he’ll be remembered fondly in the annals of NBA history.
6. Hal Greer
The next two guys on the list could probably be higher, but due to playing for the 76ers predecessor Syracuse Nationals (at least partially) instead of the actual Sixers I’ve placed them a little lower. While it’s a technicality, it helps me order the list. Greer is pretty much unmatched in terms of a Philly basketball player. From NBA.com itself, Greer “currently ranks as the 76ers all-time leader in points scored, minutes played, field goals made, field goals attempted, games played and personal fouls.” If that doesn’t make you one of the best members of the franchise, what could?
Greer spent his whole 15 year career with the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers. He made the All-Star game 10 times, and was a crucial part of the 1967 championship. He also made seven All-NBA second teams. Never making the All-NBA first team and his five years as a National drops him a bit lower on the list, but there’s no doubt Greer deserves his place on the 76er Mount Rushmore.
7. Dolph Schayes
If one were to count Schayes’ time with the Nationals equally with time with 76ers, Schayes would rocket up the list. He played all 16 years of his Hall of Fame career with the Nationals/76ers, but only one of those was technically as a Sixer. He was a 12 time All-Star, and a six time member of the All-NBA First Team. He averaged a double-double (18.5 points and 12.1 rebounds) for his career, and was the original Sixer star. They made the playoffs 15 of the 16 years Schayes was a player, and he even coached the team for three years and made the playoffs every year then too.
Most importantly, Schayes brought the 76ers franchise it’s first title in 1955. It would take over a decade before the next one. Schayes left an indelible mark on this franchise, and was there at the beginning. The precursor to the 76ers long list of dominant bigs, Schayes is a crucial part of the 76ers’ Hall of Fame.
8. Billy Cunningham
Schayes wasn’t the only player and coach in team history, with Billy Cunningham following in his footsteps soon after. Cunningham was an elite player, and one of the most successful coaches in 76ers’ history. As a player, he was a four time All-Star and an All-NBA First Teamer three times in his nine year NBA career, all of which were spent with the 76ers. Cunningham was also an integral part of the 1967 championship squad, scoring 18.5 points per game that season.
Cunningham then retired as a player before becoming the head coach three years later. Once taking over, Cunningham would go on to become the winningest head coach in 76er history with an overall record of 454-196, for a 69.85% winning percentage. That included making the playoffs all eight years he coached. Not only that, but Cunningham was also the head coach of the 76ers for the 1983 Championship, making him the only person to win two rings as a 76er.
Cunningham wasn’t the best player for the 76ers, but combined with his coaching tenure makes him pretty much the most successful 76er of all time.
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