Wilt Chamberlain and Moses Malone both helped the Sixers win NBA titles and then, not long after, left when management made ill-fated decisions to trade them.
The Sixers won the 1966-67 NBA title. It took them 14 seasons to win another title. They made Chamberlain the first reigning Most Valuable Player to be traded when they shipped him to the Los Angeles Lakers after the 1967-68 season for Darrall Imhoff, Archie Clark and Jerry Chambers.
It has been nearly 3 decades since the Sixers traded Malone three seasons after he pushed the "We Owe You One" perennial bridesmaid over the top to the 1983 NBA Championship.
The Sixers have reached the NBA Finals only once since 1983. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that only two Sixers centers - Theo Ratliff in 2001 and Dikembe Mutombo in 2002 - have been selected for the All-Star team since Malone made his fourth consecutive appearance as a Sixer in 1985-86.
It's not as if the Sixers haven't tried. In fact, they've probably turned over every rock and looked in every crevice to solve their historical doughnut hole in the middle.
It's been an endless string of has-beens, never-weres and unmitigated washouts.
Some of the names like Mutombo, Jeff Ruland, Michael Cage and Chris Webber were
actually decent NBA big men
before coming to Philadelphia. They just didn't have much left by the time they got here.
In their search for a big man, the Sixers have committed some of the biggest blunders in NBA Draft history.
Picks like Marvin "Bad News" Barnes (second overall in 1974), Christian Welp (16th in 1987), Shawn Bradley (second in 1993), and Sharone Wright (sixth in 1994) are imbedded bricks in the Wall of Shame.
The names are many - like Darrall Imhoff, Bob Rule, Leroy Ellis, Darryl Dawkins, Caldwell Jones, Manute Bol, Andrew Lang, Matt Geiger, Tim McCormick, Armon Gilliam, Charles Shackleford, Todd MacCulloch, Samuel Dalembert, Mike Gminski, Clemon Johnson, Marc Jackson, Eric Montross, Benoit Benjamin, Stanley Roberts, Mark Bradtke, Kurt Nimphius, Scott Williams, Zendon Hamilton, Ed Pinckney and Steven Hunter, are plentiful.
The results have not been positive.
As with every other NBA team, the Sixers have made numerous trades and draft picks that have not panned out, but some of their bad decisions stand out from the rest.
What follows is a list of the top-four worst moves the Sixers have made in their ill-fated pursuit of a dominant center.
No. 4: Mount Mutombo
is not the Answer
This is the subject of much debate because the acquisition of Dikembe Mutombo from the Atlanta Hawks for center Theo Ratliff and forward Toni Kukoc unquestionably helped the Sixers reach the 2001 NBA Finals.
The question is whether the move was necessary and whether it ruined what could have been an extended run at the title for Allen Iverson and the Sixers.
After several years of building, the Sixers had arrived by 2001. Powered by Iverson's uncanny ability on offense and a lightning-quick defense propelled by Ratliff's athleticism in the paint, they had run their way to the best record in the NBA at the All-Star break.
But Ratliff, a first-time All-Star, broke his hand and required surgery. Not knowing Ratliff's long-term status, the Sixers made the move for Mutombo, the league's best defensive center.
"I'd be lying to you if I didn't say [Mutombo] could help us win a championship," Iverson said on trade day. "He's a rebounder. He's an intimidator. He can change the game all by himself."
As a Sixer, Mutombo won his fourth Defensive Player of the Year award and did his best against Los Angeles Lakers superhuman center Shaquille O'Neal in the NBA Finals, but the Sixers still came up short.
That Mutombo was an elephant on a team of cheetahs was immediately recognized, but the run to the Finals muted the long-term implications.
The Sixers had to slow everything down to accommodate Mutombo, and that destroyed the main thing that had made them special.
Later moves to make things better for Mutombo made things only worse for a team that steadily declined.
No one knows if the oft-injured Ratliff would have returned to play in 2000-01, and it's a solid bet that the Sixers would not have reached the Finals without either him or Mutombo.
"The defining moment was when we realized we would be without [Ratliff] for 16 to 20 games or who knows?" coach Larry Brown said at the time, explaining why he made the trade. "While Theo is getting healed, we've got Mutombo out there."
In pursuit of a championship, however, the Sixers may have given up the best chance they had to win one since the Malone days.
No. 3: Something wicked
this way almost comes
Philadelphia should have seen this one coming a mile away. Coming off of their historically bad 9-73 campaign, the Sixers improved by 18 wins in 1973-74. Still, that was good enough to earn them only a tie with the Portland Trail Blazers for the league's worst record.
Portland won a coin flip for the No. 1 overall pick in the 1974 draft and selected UCLA All-America center Bill Walton.
The Sixers settled for 6-8
center/forward Marvin Barnes, who led the NCAA in rebounding in 1973-74 at Providence. But Barnes was also drafted No. 2 overall by the Spirits of St. Louis of the American Basketball Association and he opted to play there.
Barnes opted for a $2 million contract from St. Louis and went on to be the ABA Rookie of the Year, but playing ability was never the issue with him.
A cynic would say that the Sixers should have known better than to draft Barnes. A little research would have shown that he had been a gang member in Providence and that when he was a high school senior, they tried to rob a bank. He was easily identified because he was dumb enough to wear his state-championship basketball jacket with his name on the back.
Trouble followed him to Providence and ultimately Barnes' ABA/NBA career was cut short due to issues with crime and drug abuse. "Live hard, die young. That was my motto,"
Barnes once said. "I didn't figure I'd be around that long. I figured I'd probably die in a shootout where I grew up.
"I was young. I was wild. I had a ton of money. I'd always been a bit of a con myself. I got myself to believe that I could drink, do drugs and party all night and then be the same Marvin the next day on the court."
Barnes doesn't rate higher as a failure because he never played for the Sixers. But by drafting him, they passed on future All-Stars like Jamaal Wilkes and Maurice Lucas.
Because they did not sign
Barnes, the Sixers reached on Darryl Dawkins in 1975, the man-child out of a Florida high school who never reached his potential, with the fifth overall pick.
No. 2: The mistake
from Salt Lake
The crime of drafting of Shawn Bradley No. 2 overall in 1993 isn't that the 7-6 string bean never turned into the game-changer the Sixers believed he would become.
The crime is that then-Sixers owner Harold Katz apparently figured out that Bradley didn't have much of a work ethic in him before drafting him.
Bradley had played one season at Brigham Young, averaging 14.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and a NCAA-leading 5.2 blocks. But Bradley, a Mormon, then went on a 2-year mission to Australia.
Before the draft, Bradley met with the Sixers' brass and what he said left their jaws dropping.
"His body of work at BYU was no question that of a top, top prospect," then-general manager and current television analyst Jim Lynam said. "What was very difficult to understand was his 2-year hiatus, not that he went on a mission, but that by his own admission during that 2-year period he did literally nothing athletically. Zero.
"That gave [Katz] pause. He couldn't understand that. When we asked him what he did to stay in shape, he looked us right in the face and said, 'Nothing.' He said he was doing his mission.
"The benefit of 20/20 hindsight now, that was the missing piece of the puzzle."
But Katz was looking through rose-tinted glasses, and with two can't-miss options in the '93 draft, he decided on a third.
Orlando had the No. 1 pick and selected Michigan center/forward Chris Webber. The Magic had drafted Shaquille O'Neal the year before and wasn't in the market for a big man.
The Magic wanted Memphis point guard Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway. The story goes that at No. 3 Golden State and coach Don Nelson wanted Bradley. The unacknowledged plan was for Orlando to draft Bradley and then trade him to Golden State, who would pick Hardaway at three.
But as things were said, the Sixers let it be known that if
Orlando drafted Bradley, they would take Hardaway at No. 2.
The Warriors and Magic decided on the Webber/Hardaway swap.
To say that Katz outsmarted himself goes beyond understatement.
It soon became apparent that Bradley would bring to fruition every concern about his work ethic that the Sixers had.
He was wildly inconsistent and just 12 games into his third season, the Sixers gave up on him and traded him to the New Jersey Nets.
In Sixers fashion, they traded Bradley, who averaged 8.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in his career, for Derrick Coleman - kind of says it all.
No. 1: Two All-Stars
for two bums
June 17, 1986, a day that will live in Sixers infamy.
It would be bad to trade a nine-time All-Star center. It would be bad to trade the No. 1 overall pick.
The Sixers did both in a span of 30 minutes at the 1986 draft, and the franchise started a slow spin down the toilet.
Going into the 1986 draft, the Sixers had posted a 54-28 record and featured a budding Hall of Famer in Charles Barkley.
Plus, they were sitting on the No. 1 overall pick.
Keeping Malone with Barkley would have worked. Trading Malone and drafting North Carolina All-America center Brad Daugherty to team with Barkley would have worked.
The only thing that would not work would be trading both, meaning that
Barkley could team with neither.
Of course, that's what owner Harold Katz did.
Malone, 31, wanted an extension of the 6-year, $13.2 million contract he had signed with the Sixers in 1982, but Katz believed his tank was running dry.
"[Malone] is more like 35 if you factor in the college ball he didn't play," Katz reasoned at the time.
So he traded Malone to Washington for Jeff Ruland, a 1984 All-Star.
Not satisfied, Katz then traded the No. 1 pick, which would be Daugherty, to Cleveland for power forward Roy Hinson, who played the same position as Barkley.
This turned into the disaster everyone but the Sixers foresaw.
Nobody knew about the brittle condition of Ruland's feet. Bad feet on a 6-11, 260-pound man can end a career.
Malone would score more points in his first five games with Washington than
Ruland did in his entire career as a Sixer.
Cleveland knew that the deal to get Daugherty was such a flat-out steal that the Cavaliers did it without having a general manager or a coach at the time.
The "washed up" Malone averaged 20.1 points and 10.8 rebounds over the next four seasons and made three consecutive All-Star teams after the trade. Daugherty made five All-Star teams before his career was ended in 1994 because of recurring back injuries.
Hinson (105) and Ruland (18) played a combined 133 games for the Sixers.
With that history, discouraged Sixers fans watch Andrew Bynum on the bench in street clothes. The All-Star center who cost the Sixers the equivalent of four first-round draft picks has barely practiced.
Bynum and the Sixers are talking about a February return. But who knows? He could end up leaving after the season as an unrestricted free agent without ever playing for the Sixers.
It is said that hope springs eternal, and that's good because it seems as if the Sixers have been searching, without much success, for a dominating big man for an eternity.