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Maurice “Mo” Cheeks still remembers not knowing if he would make the Sixers’ final roster.
As he sweated through his first training camp, he heard about several other players making the team at his position. Then his roommate kept saying he was the one who was definitely going to make it on. Cheeks was sure he had no shot.
Forty years later, Cheeks is considered one of basketball’s all-time greats. His number, 10, hangs in the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center — and this weekend, he’ll be inducted into the pro Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
“I realize how blessed I am to wear this jacket,” Cheeks said.
Now 61, Cheeks donned the orange Hall of Fame attire for the first time this week as he prepared for his official enshrinement on Friday. “People talk about it being a long time for me to get in… There’s never really a wrong time to get in the Hall of Fame. I’m completely honored, extremely happy.”
Cheeks was drafted by the Sixers in 1978 and spent 11 seasons in Philly. The former point guard is still the franchise leader in assists and steals. In 1983, he helped the Sixers to an NBA Championship as part of a team considered to be one of the greatest of all time.
While winning a championship is something all athletes dream of, Cheeks said clinching that ‘83 title isn’t the moment he remembers best.
It was the round before the finals that’s most memorable.
The year prior, the Sixers had held a commanding 3-1 lead on the Celtics in the conference finals, only to lose the series in seven games. In the 1983 conference finals, the Sixers found themselves in the same position: letting a 3-1 lead slip away to set up what seemed like the impossible — a must-win seventh game at Boston Garden.
“The intensity of the rivalry between Boston and Philly was pretty high,” Cheeks noted, so the pressure before a Game 7 in the playoffs was “off the charts.” Plus, the stats were against Philadelphia: visiting teams had very little luck beating Boston at home when playoff advancement was on the line.
“We went in there and won,” Cheeks recalled with pride. “The championship is the ultimate, but that was testing us.”
After 11 years with Sixers, Cheeks also had short stints with the Spurs, Hawks, Knicks and Nets. But he remembers the atmosphere in Philly as being like no other.
“You really had to figure out how to be good, because if you weren’t they’ll let you know,” he said. “So you really had to hone your skills. I couldn’t just rest — I had to get better.”
Cheeks returned to the Sixers in 1994 as an assistant coach, and stayed with Philly through the title run in 2001. He returned again in 2005, serving as head coach until 2008.
With all those years in Philly, he had to have a favorite cheesesteak spot, right?
Sure, but he’s not telling. He doesn’t want to get in trouble by picking one place over another, he said, laughing: “I like ’em all.”