Original Old School: Mo Money

Located in South Philly, the Wachovia Spectrum (nee the Spectrum) housed the Sixers, the Flyers and a plethora of college ball from 1967 through 1996.  While it was their arena for just short of 30 years, a lifetime’s worth of great players, great plays and great games happened there.  World B. Free, Andrew Toney, Moses Malone, Mo Cheeks, Charles Barkley and most memorably Julius Erving, are just some of the stars that graced the Spectrum with their talent.  The 9 & 73 season in ’72-73, Daryl Dawkins smashed backboard in ’79, the last ‘chip in ’82-’83, classic games with the Bird’s Celtics and  Barkley shaking the building’s very foundations with his one man fast-break, they all happened there, in front of millions of screaming Philadelphians (and that’s just memories from the League). After more than a decade without NBA hoops the Spectrum is hosting its final game Friday night when the Bulls come to town. Before you can take a good last look the Spectrum will be gone, demolished; a shopping complex will be rising from the once hallowed ground. The crowds—the cheering voices—will be gone, only aged memories will be left. The Spectrum will finally rest, silent, forever more.

Let’s take a moment to remember how things once were. Open up your SLAM #14 and read along. As Mo Cheeks told it to us back in December of ’96. —Tzvi Twersky

by Zack Burgess

The golden age of basketball—the late 70’s and 80’s. There were rules then: Everybody not from Boston hated the Celtics. You were a Lakers or Sixers fan. And if you were a Sixers fan, you loved Mo Cheeks.

Maurice Edward “Mo” Cheeks was part of the era that was tape delay, late-night snacks and just the beginning of what the NBA has become. His steady and unselfish play helped the ’83 Sixers become one of the greatest teams ever to play pro ball. He was, in the words of CBS sports commentator Gus Johnson, the “consummate point guard.”

Though he never held a single-season record, he is fifth all-time in assists with 7,393 (6.7 per game). He never led the League for a season in steals per game, yet he was the NBA’s all-time thief with 2,310, until Utah’s John Stockton passed him last season. He is a four-time NBA All-Star and the owner of a championship ring (earned with the ’83 Sixers).

Today he’s back in Philly as an assistant coach, the sole survivor of the John Lucas regime. He has always been considered a quiet guy, Dr. J’s Tonto and Moses Malone’s Robin. But a few moments with Mo show he’s nobody’s sidekick.

SLAM: If you had to asses yourself as a point guard, how would you rate among the best?
MO: That’s not for me to do. I had a lot of great players around me, who helped me get better as time went on. You have a lot of young players coming into the league today, and if they continue to get grouped with a lot of other young players, it’s not going to help their potential at all. I was fortunate to play with a lot of older players, who already knew how to play. So, I got better and better as time went on. To rate myself—I can’t do, wouldn’t do it. I let other people do it.

SLAM: But do you think you belong in the Basketball Hall of Fame?
MO: I would like to be in the Hall of Fame. But you know what? I don’t see it happening anytime soon. There will be a lot of good and great players going to the Hall of Fame soon. The Hall of Fame is not for mediocre players. No, let me correct that—it’s for great players. I may get there, and if I do, I will be eternally grateful. But if I don’t, I won’t be totally dissatisfied, because you’re speaking of great players. It’s for the special, elite player, not just any Tom, Dick or Harry.

SLAM: Is there more that wish you could have accomplished in the LElegy to the Spectrumeague?
MO: I would have liked to have won more championships. Even though I’m satisfied with the one, I thought we had a couple more opportunities to win—actually three. We didn’t get there; we didn’t do it.

SLAM: What is the feeling when you play a game at the championship level? Take, for example, against Boston?
MO: That’s an up-and-down feeling. When you go into the game, you don’t think about losing those games. You feel like you have the ability to win all those games. We had so many [chances]. As a young player, I had to step and learn how to play in those games, because I was an even-keel player. And when you played against Boston you had to take the game to another level—because the rivalry was so intense. If you were hurt, you had to play anyway. You had to get rid of any reservedness. I used to come into the locker room and the guys would say, “None of that reserved shit tonight.” There was so much intensity, you had to bring it out of you.

SLAM: Was winning a championship your greatest feeling as a pro?
MO: It was one of my greatest feelings. I think winning a seventh game in Boston [in the ’82 conference championship] was my most satisfying victory. The year before that, we were up 3-1 and lost—they came back and beat us. The next year we were up 3-1 and they came back and tied us. The whole world crossed us out, particularly the city of Philadelphia. They said we couldn’t go to Boston and win it. We went in and won by 20. I don’t know if that was more satisfying than winning a championship but it was close. Everybody had written us off. For us to go in there are do that, was special. People were walking around with ghost masks on their heads, and then to hear the Boston crowd start to yell, “BEAT L.A.! BEAT L.A.!”—it meant a lot.

SLAM: What were those last four years in San Antonio, New York, Atlanta, and New Jersey like?
MO: First, I had to learn how to be traded. I could still play, but my heart just wasn’t into it, and after San Antonio, it seemed like I got traded a hundred million times.

SLAM: How does it feel to be back in Philly and be a part of a team trying to recapture old glory?
MO: I love being in Philly. I’m back where I love to be, and I hope I can stick around long enough to see this organization come back. I can be a piece of the puzzle.

SLAM: What was it that made the ’83 Sixers team so special?
MO: We knew who our stars were. We knew who our role players were, and we played for a common goal. I think the really good teams have that, like Chicago now. There was no ego-tripping. We had been [to the finals] so many times before, that once we got Moses…it was just a matter of time. Really, we should have won two or three more with that team.

SLAM: How did you go about making a place for yourself on a team with so many superstars?
MO: That goes back to what I said earlier: knowing your role. I knew I wasn’t going to be an offensive player. I knew I had to learn to do something to create longevity, and that was to learn to play defense and pass the ball. Having great players around me though, allowed me to make a lot of mistakes.

SLAM: Would you like to be a head coach someday?
MO: It would be tough for me. If it were thrust upon me, I would do it. I probably will not go out and seek it. There are a lot of personalities in the league and I don’t know if my personality is strong enough to handle the personalities that are out there.

SLAM: Who’s the best player ever, considering you played with Dr. J?
MO: Jordan. No question. Now, Doc will always be my number one player. I was watching a highlight film of Doc the other day, and was doing some incredible stuff for his time, but then you see Jordan and you’re like, “Ssshhhh.” I mean, that guy is unbelievable.

SLAM: What does Dr. J mean to you?
MO: Doc means growth. Elegance. Class. He has a lot of attributes. Anyone would be proud to say he helped them grow as a player and a person. I’m fortunate enough to be able to say that.

SLAM: Who do you see as the future ambassador of the NBA?
MO: Well, you got Grant Hill, Shaq. Grant Hill is the most humble. If you take attitude, Grant Hill is the perfect one. You got Penny Hardaway too. You got a lot of players, but there isn’t one that stands out in terms of talent like Doc, Michael, Magic and Bird. You won’t see talent like those four for a long time.

SLAM: One word people always associate with you is “quiet”. Are you really a quiet person, or is that just a public persona?
MO: I think I’m quiet, but with my friends, I’m not that quiet. I’m not going to be the life of the party. I’m not going to speak out of turn. I’m going to listen and give my opinion when asked. It’s like coaching, you have to wait your turn.

SLAM: I want to end this up with some word association: Moses Malone.
MO: Toughness.

SLAM: Bobby Jones.
MO: Relentless.

SLAM: Clint Richardson.
MO: Steady.

SLAM: Andrew Tony.
MO: Ferocious.

SLAM: Charles Barkley.
MO: Hard-headed. Good. But hardheaded.

SLAM: Derrick Coleman.
MO: On the verge.

SLAM: Julius Irving.
MO: Class.