1982-83 NBA Season
They had waited a long time for it, but when their moment finally arrived, the Philadelphia 76ers seized it.
Sixers fans had expected a title since the arrival of Julius Erving prior to the 1976-77 season. Erving had won two ABA championships with the New York Nets in 1974 and 1976. His transition from one league to the other was marked by leading Philly to the 1977 Finals, although they lost in six games to Portland. In all, the 76ers made three trips to the NBA Finals in Dr. J’s first six years with the team, but the big prize continued to elude them. Then Moses Malone, a rebounding machine as well as a potent scorer who was the league’s MVP, played out his option in Houston and became available as a free agent. The Sixers swooped in and signed him, gladly giving up Caldwell Jones and a first-round draft pick to the Rockets as compensation. The acquisition solidified the 76ers up front and sent the entire city surging on a rush of anticipation.
“Everybody had a sense that this was our opportunity,” recalled forward Bobby Jones, who won the league’s first Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1983. “The motivation was there, and we were healthy, too. We got off to a good start, got some confidence and didn't get cocky but kept that good work ethic. I think Moses really established a lot of that. Julius had always had it. But then a big guy comes in and does that, and it helps.”
The measure of that help was 65 victories and the Atlantic Division title, capped with the three greatest words in the history of trash talk.
When asked how Philadelphia would perform in the playoffs, Malone issued what would become a famous prediction: “Fo’, Fo’, Fo’,” meaning that the 76ers would win each round in a four-game sweep on their way to the championship.
It was just the kind of talk to get the Lakers cooked up. Bolstered by the addition of smooth forward James Worthy, the top pick in the 1982 NBA Draft, L.A. won 58 games and another Pacific Division title, its third in four years. But in the last week of the season, Worthy fractured his leg coming down from a tip-in. Just as his ability to finish in the open court and to score in the post had opened the Lakers’ attack, his absence would now limit it.
Still, they easily moved past Portland and San Antonio in the playoffs to advance to the Finals, as did the Sixers. Philadelphia swept the Knicks, but a single loss against Milwaukee blemished Malone’s brash prediction. The Lakers, already without Worthy, also lost Norm Nixon and Bob McAdoo for much of the Finals, opening the door for Philadelphia to sweep to its first title since the days of Wilt Chamberlain.
The 76ers had gone 12-1 in the playoffs, leaving the usually taciturn Malone with a smile that would last a long time.
“Let’s not make believe,” said 76ers Coach Billy Cunningham, a member of the 76ers’ last title team in 1967. “The difference from last year was Moses. He gave us the consistency inside that the Lakers had always gotten from Abdul-Jabbar. We got that and more from Moses.”
For Erving, the victory erased years of disappointment. “I’ve always tried to tell myself that the work itself is the thing, that win, lose, or draw, the work is really what counts,” he said. “As hard as it was to make myself believe that sometimes, it was the only thing I had to cling to each year, that every game, every night, I did the best I could.”