Original Old School: The Boston Strangler
Andrew Toney wasn’t the star of those 80s Sixers squads, but he was their best kept secret.
Darryl Dawkins once put Toney’s career in perspective by saying, “if he hits one, you know he’s going to hit another and another and another.” Cheeks added, “When Andrew gets unconcious [there’s that word again], it really doesn’t matter what anybody does.” Toney stayed “unconscious” for three more years.
This was Toney’s rise and fall. As deadly as he had become in such a short period of time—by the end of his second year he was widely considered the most dangerous man in the game along with Gus Williams of the SuperSonics and another second-year player by the name Bernard King—Toney became one-dimensional. “All he can do is shoot,” is what the haters said. “And!? Ain’t that the point?” Sixer fans would respond. As long as Ainge was the victim, no one in Philly cared about the rest of Toney’s game. “Let Toney shoot that bitch,” the native New Orleans cats (who grew to have a special love for Toney) used to say as we watched every Sixer game we could. “As long as he puttin’ that bitch in the basket, don’t nuttin’ else matter, Faw.”
After the 76ers lost to the Lakers in six games in’82, two things happened that would change the course of Andrew Toney’s life and of the 76er franchise: they acquired Moses Malone from Houston, and Toney spent the summer back in Louisiana to add the second and third dimensions to his game.
You could see it coming: Toney’s third season would be one of history. Winning 65 games during the regular season, fourth-best ever at the time (after 53 games they were on pace to tie or break the 69-win record set by the ‘71-72 Lakers), the Sixers went on to eliminate every team that came close to challenging them. Malone, Ervin and Toney formed a triple-threat that wasn’t seen again in the NBA until Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman. Sports Illustrated wrote, “Philadelphia probably would have been a better team this season even without the addition of Malone, if for no other reason than the emergence of third-year pro Andrew Toney, formerly just a spectacular shooter, as a complete player.”
Added Ervin, “He sees things on the court that other players just don’t see. Andrew has such strong wrists that he can throw the pass off the dribble, sideways, behind-his-head, any way. He came into the league with the shot, but [coach] Billy stayed on him and saw to it that Andrew was not a one-dimensional player.”
The Sixers went through the playoffs that year doing something no other NBA team has ever done, losing only once (an overconfident stumble to Milwaukee in Game 4 of the ECF) and not having to face Boston. Toney’s victims this time were Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper. And just to let L.A. know what Boston had found out the year before, Toney, even with Malone and Erving averaging close to 60 points between them ignited the 76er sweep of the Lakers with his own 25. Just for the hell of it. To remind people that just because his game had expanded didn’t mean he wasn’t still lethal. To be a major player on what was considered by many the greatest team the NBA had ever seen. To keep his rep.
The next season, the Celtics hired an answer for Andrew Toney, a man known in Boston as “the Equalizer.” The only man in the NBA who could shut Toney down had come to Beantown: Dennis Johnson, the best defensive ballplayer since KC Jones. Even though Philly beat Boston four out of six times during the season (only a couple of the Toney vs. Johnson battles reached “classic” proportions), something was missing. Maybe the Sixers got complacent. Toney did not have his best statistical season that year (20.4 ppg, 4.8 apg) but things weren’t the same. Philly won only 52 games and lost to New Jersey in the first round of the playoffs. This would begin the end of Andrew Toney’s significance, followed by his career.
Over the next three seasons, the Sixers only played the Celtics once more in the playoffs, losing 4-1 in the ‘85 ECF. Boston had moved on to a rival of greater magnitude: the Lakers. Their battle would change the way America accepted sports. It brough television into the game and made Bird and Magic pop icons. But it was the birth of a kid down south who first extended the confrontations and made them legendary. For three years (even though he played from ‘80-88) Toney was Philly’s trump card, their ace in the hole, their ringer—he will go down in b-ball annals as one of the best kept secrets that has ever played.
“I learned how to play this game in the schoolyard,” Andrew Toney would tell the Inquirer’s Tim Whitaker in ‘81. “Nowhere else. I ain’t saying I didn’t get good coaching…I’m just sayin’ that is where I developed my game. Come to basketball, I always credit the schoolyard.”
Andrew Toney is living in Atlanta now, far removed from any connection with the NBA. He wasn’t among the 50 greatest, nor has he been invited to any of the League’s gala affairs. He doesn’t talk much to anyone connected with the Sixers organization, except Cheeks. His career ended because of a debilitating foot injury that the team found suspect: Toney had a hard time explaining the injury, and the doctors had a hard time finding it. Contracts, money and agents reared their ugly heads and now Toney is an unfortunate afterthought in the world of professional basketball.
But just like the SF 49ers signed Deion Sanders for one year to get past Dalls, Andrew Toney was placed in a Philly uniform for a reason. Fate? Maybe. Destiny? Definitely. Personal greed getting one organization past its long-time nemesis? Without a doubt. Because the average American hoop fiend only hears, reads or sees “the Legends” that made the Sixers-Celtics battles once for the ages; most will not read between the lines. Look under the carpet. Where the truth exists. Where birth is given to ball players who live for a reason. That’s where you’ll find Andrew Toney. Not in Atlanta but lost somewhere between the bullshit too many of us think is fact. Politick ditto, faw. “The Boston Strangler” was and will always be the ultimate and arguably the most complete hired gun the NBA will ever see. He put on shows. He, for at least a minute, ended Boston’s shine. It’s just too bad so many of you all missed it.