RJP: Philadelphia 76ers

Remember the Nats!

Curtis M. Harris

The Retired Jersey Project keeps on rolling! (Read this if you need to catch up on the rules.)

Today we’re focusing on the City of Brotherly Love! The 76ers have done a pretty good job in retiring numbers.

  • #2 Moses Malone

  • #3 Allen Iverson

  • #4 Dolph Schayes

  • #6 Julius Erving

  • #10 Maurice Cheeks

  • #13 Wilt Chamberlain

  • #15 Hal Greer

  • #24 Bobby Jones

  • #32 Billy Cunningham

  • #34 Charles Barkley

However, the franchise is over 70 years old and a few players have invariably slipped through the cracks. Now given their origins in Syracuse as the Nationals, the Sixers also need to have a swanky banner honoring their origins and all the great players there. As is the case when franchises have a “split” history, there are some players from the Syracuse era who would have their number retired if the franchise was still in Upstate New York. But once you move, that ups the ante to get your number hauled up in the new digs.

This is the main reason why two players—Paul Seymour and Al Cervi—from the Syracuse days don’t ultimately fit the threshold for jersey retirement. Hard as it hurts me to say. They’ll get some of that banner love, though.

Anyhoo, here are five candidates for jersey retirement in Philadelphia!

DISCLAIMER: I do work for the 76ers as a historical consultant—follow @sixershistory on twitter and instagram!—but these are merely my opinions.

As usual all stats and honors mentioned pertain to the players’ time with the franchise in question, the 76ers/Nationals.


#10 Johnny “Red” Kerr (1954-1965)

3x All-Star—NBA Champion

Look man, this dude never missed a game in 11 seasons with the franchise, whether in Syracuse or Philly. His addition as a rookie in the 1954-55 season gave the Nationals the final nudge they needed to win the NBA title. He routinely got assists doing no-look between-the-legs bounce passes.

And he’s the funniest motherfucker in franchise history.

He was their first excellent center to be followed by the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, and Joel Embiid. He’s not on their level of talent, but he is above other standouts like Caldwell Jones and Theo Ratliff in terms of talent/production plus longevity with the club.

He should be in the Hall of Fame, too, given his breadth of work in basketball as a player, coach, and broadcaster. However, Kerr’s contributions to the Nats and Sixers should get his number retired.

#11 Earl Lloyd (1952-1958)

Hall of Fame—NBA Champion

Earl Lloyd was the first African American to play in an NBA game, albeit with the Washington Capitols, not the Syracuse Nationals. Nonetheless, he was the first black player in franchise history when he arrived in the 1952-53 season. Besides the Caps are defunct and Lloyd also spent the vast majority of his career with Syracuse.

He was a great defensive player and good rebounder. Too bad they didn’t All-Defensive Teams back then to beef up his accolades. Lining up opposite Dolph Schayes, Earl’s defensive ability allowed him to cover the other team’s best offensive forward so that the *ahem* defensively-challenged Schayes could save some energy for offense.

A part of the Nats team that won the 1955 NBA title, Syracuse would likely have another title from 1954, if Lloyd and a slew of other players weren’t hobbled by injuries in that series. Still they took the Minneapolis Lakers to seven games in no small part thanks to Lloyd lumbering through injury and guarding the hell out of George Mikan and Vern Mikkelsen.

#21 Larry Costello (1957-1968)

All-NBA 2nd Team—6x All-Star—NBA Champion

Larry Costello was a pugnacious defender, mercury-quick, and the Nationals got him on the cheap. The Warriors sold him to Syracuse for a bag of potato chips and he goes on to six All-Star Games. He briefly retired for the 1965-66 season only to have Philadelphia coach Alex Hannum beg him to come back at age 35.

His All-Star days were over at that point, but Costello busted his ass in practice so hard that all the other players couldn’t defensibly slack off. Costello suffered the ravages of age that 1966-67 season as he suffered an Achilles injury midway during the regular season. He returned for the playoffs only to then suffer a knee injury. He got a championship ring, though as the 76ers finally broke through Boston in the East and bested San Francisco in the Finals.

It was deserved for the guard who spent a decade with the franchise anchoring its backcourt. He’d be a shoe-in for this honor if the club was still in Syracuse, somehow, since Costello grew up in Minoa, which is in the same county. Alas, when a team moves the memory linkage is hard to keep up.

I still think he deserves the retired jersey love.

Show Some Brotherly Love and Subscirbe!

#22 Andrew Toney (1980-1988)

2x All-Star—NBA Champion

The only key figure from the 1983 title team not in the Hall of Fame or with his number retired, Andrew Toney was a beast.

Most famous for being the Boston Strangler, he was one of the best scorers in the early-and-mid-1980s NBA. Unfortunately, foot injuries sapped his career of longevity, but his instrumental role in getting the Sixers to the 1982 Finals and winning it all in ‘83 can’t be ignored.

Well, I guess it can be ignored. But it shouldn’t be.

Also, he was an underrated passer. Playing alongside Maurice Cheeks negated the need for Toney to do all the time, but in the moments where Mo hit the bench, Toney could substitute quite well in that role. Indeed, during his final two NBA seasons, playing about 20 minutes per game, Toney still averaged 3.7 APG. If not for his injuries—and a slew of other self-inflicted mistakes—the 76ers would have remained top contenders throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s.

But that’s what could have been. What was with Andrew Toney still merits jersey retirement.

#25 Chet Walker (1962-1969)

Hall of Fame—3x All-Star—NBA Champion

Chet Walker is the first player to appear in this project twice! The Chicago Bulls oughta retire his number too.

Like his longtime teammate Larry Costello, Walker was a bulldog defender. And he was a ferocious one-on-one scorer. His nickname “Chet the Jet,” was a rhyming misnomer. He wasn’t that fast, but he had good pace of movement and subtle fakes to fool defenders and get to the spot he wanted to launch a jumper or penetrate to the basket.

However, playing with Costello, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Luke Jackson, and Wilt Chamberlain meant that Chet didn’t always need to shine offensively. He’d get that green light in Chicago. Even if he didn’t shine all the time didn’t mean he didn’t shine often. In the 1967 Finals, he was the club’s most effective scorer when you consider points (23) produced per game along with the FG%, FT%, and minutes played to produce it.

Wilt shot higher FG%, but was dreadful from the line. Greer scored more points, but was worse from the field and needed many more minutes. Cunningham scored in bunches off the bench, but also couldn’t nail a free throw. Chet was just that dude who you could rely on to effortlessly get the buckets.

STOP! Banner Time

The Syracuse Nationals were the final “small town” NBA franchise and made the playoffs every year of their existence. Truly one of the great basketball endeavors ever. Founded in 1946 in the NBL by Italian immigrant Danny Biasone, the Nationals were ho-hum until 1948-49 when four great events happened almost in perfect concert: basketball executive Leo Ferris took hold as a first-rate manager in finances and personnel moves; they signed Al Cervi as player-coach; they drafted local star Billy Gabor; and they outbid the BAA’s New York Knicks for future superstar Dolph Schayes.

Imagine how much different basketball history would be if the Knicks had Schayes on their squad during the 1950s?

The stage was set for the next year (1949-50) when the BAA and NBL merged to create the NBA and the Nationals raced to the league’s best record. They appeared in the NBA Finals in 1950 and 1954 before finally winning the title in 1955.

Before finally leaving for Philadelphia in 1963 the Nationals also planted the seeds for the NBA’s staggering growth by creating the shot clock. Ferris ginned up the 24 seconds to shoot, while he and Biasone both sold the idea like hucksters with miracle tonic.

So here are your Nationals stars who get their shine on the banner!

  • Daniel Biasone—franchise founder; shot clock co-creator

  • Leo Ferris—executive; shot clock co-creator

  • #3 George King (1951-1956)—point guard who sealed the team’s 1955 title with a free throw and steal in the finals seconds of Game 7.

  • #4 Dolph Schayes (1948-1964)—Hall of Fame; NBA champion; 12x All-NBA; 12x All-Star; NBL Rookie of the Year; franchise rebound leader; etc. etc.

  • #5 Paul Seymour (1947-1960)—2x All-NBA; 3x All-Star; NBA champion; also served as coach from 1956 to 1960; starter of many fights

  • #7 Billy Gabor (1948-1955)—All-Star; NBA champion; defensive pest; also starter of many fights

  • #10 Johnny “Red” Kerr (1954-1965)—described above

  • #11 Earl Lloyd (1952-1958)described above

  • #12 George Yardley (1959-1960)—All-Star; Hall of Fame

  • #15 Al Cervi (1948-1953) — Hall of Fame; player-coach; NBL Coach of the Year; NBA champion; All-NBL 1st Team; All-NBA 2nd Team; also starter of many fights

  • #15 Hal Greer (1958-1973)—Hall of Fame; 10x All-Star; 7x All-NBA; franchise’s leading scorer; NBA champion

  • #16 Red Rocha (1951-1956)—All-Star; NBA champion

  • #21 Larry Costello (1957-1968)—described above

  • #24 Al Bianchi (1956-1966)—also starter of many fights