Recalling the 9-73 Sixers of 1972-73

Posted: March 08, 2013

ROY RUBIN never stood a chance. After just one meeting with his team, the 1972-73 76ers, his leadership and competency were questioned and never restored.

He was not used to such treatment. He had been a very successful coach at Christopher Columbus High School in New York City and had a solid, 11-year run as the head coach at Long Island University, where Rubin won 65 percent of his games.

Rubin's knowledge of the game was well-respected. He had authored a book on defense, and when Howard Garfinkel wanted to name his basketball camp, he called it the Roy Rubin Basketball Camp.

But when you go 4-47 before getting fired in the first year of a 3-year contract and your team finishes with a historic 9-73 record, good things aren't going to follow. Soon after that 1972-73 NBA season ended, the camp changed its name to Five Star Basketball Camp and Rubin was headed down to Florida to eventually own an International House of Pancakes, never coaching another game of basketball.

The 51 games he coached in Philadelphia tarnished his reputation forever. In his 105 days as Sixers coach, he lost almost as many pounds (45) as he did games.

How did this happen?

He took a job nobody else wanted. Not Al McGuire, who almost took it before smartly backing out. Not Adolph Rupp, whose wife wanted no parts of Philadelphia.

Rubin was actually recommended to the Sixers by a friend who saw a help-wanted ad, placed by the team, for the head-coaching job, in a Philly paper. A meeting was set up with Sixers management and Rubin was on his way to history.

In his first meeting with the team, according to a 2003 story on ESPN.com, he laid down the law. Rubin said he would accept no excuses for infractions, there would be a strict dress code for road trips, and there would no beer and no smoking in the locker room. There would be no exceptions.

Fred Carter, who had averaged 13.8 points a game the year before and would go on to average 20 a game for the worst team ever, then piped up, "But coach, I've beeen smoking in the locker room ever since I've been in the league. That's the only way I can calm down and get ready to play."

Rubin, without hesitation, responded, "OK. You can smoke, Freddie, but you're the only one."

Just as quickly, the team decided Rubin was clueless.

Maybe they had heard he once invested in a Broadway play that had cast Abe Vigoda in the role of Abe Lincoln. Honest. The play closed in a day.

On the day Rubin was hired, it was announced that franchise player Billy Cunningham and his 23.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists was headed to the American Basketball Association.

The Sixers went 4-4 in the preseason, giving Rubin a false sense of hope. Once the regular season started, that hope vanished as quickly as his reputation. The Sixers dropped their first 15 games before beating Houston, 114-112, on Nov. 11 in San Antonio.

Rubin couldn't even celebrate his first win properly. While he started to jump up to protest a call, he pulled a muscle in his leg.

"After the game," said general manager Don DeJardin, "when everybody was celebrating, Roy had to take off his pants and put ice on his leg."

There was no sympathy from Mad Dog.

"It was a joke, like letting a teenager run a big corporation," Carter told Sports Illustrated in 1998. "We had Hal Greer on that team and Rubin had no idea who he was.

"After we went 4-4 in the preseason, Rubin said, 'I don't think Boston will be so tough.' We just looked at each other and laughed."

The laughing continued.

On Dec. 20, the Sixers were in Detriot on their way to a 141-113 loss and a 3-31 record. Rubin was going to take forward John Q. Trapp out of the game. Trapp, maybe upset after being traded from the world champion Los Angeles Lakers who won a record 69 games to the worst team ever, was having none of it. According to legend, Trapp refused to leave the court and told Rubin to check his pal sitting behind the bench. (Almost everyone in attendance could have sat behind the bench as only 1,646 showed up.) As the coach turned around, Trapp's buddy opened up his jacket and showed Rubin his handgun. Trapp stayed in the game and shot his way to 19 points. Rubin denied the incident. Five games later, the Sixers let Trapp go. He finished the season in the ABA, never playing in either league again. Coincidence?

A week later, the Sixers were primed to win their fourth game. They were playing the Atlanta Hawks in a home game in Pittsburgh. The Sixers led, 120-119, and the Hawks called time.

"They call a timeout at halfcourt with 4 seconds left," Rubin recalled to George Vecsey of the New York Times. "I tell my players, 'If they throw up a shot, block out your man.' Because they are all such great jumpers that sometimes they forget to block out.

"Pete Maravich throws one up from 35 feet, hits the front of the rim, it bounces straight to the foul line where Donnie May puts in a jumper to beat us. Nobody blocked him out. That killed me."

Ironically, a week after Rubin was fired, the Hawks traded May to the Sixers.

Yes, it was that kind of season.

Rubin's four wins came against Houston, Buffalo, Kansas City-Omaha and Seattle. Houston coach Tex Winter and Seattle's Tom Nissalke, like Rubin, were fired before the season ended, and KC-O's Bob Cousy was fired early the following season. The Buffalo coach was Jack Ramsay, whose abrupt departure as the Sixers coach at the end of the previous season paved the way for Rubin. He was secure with the Braves.

"I was the kiss of death," Rubin deadpanned.

Kissing Rubin was not something his players wanted to do.

There were five players on the team who had played in the NBA Finals (Greer, Carter, Trapp, Kevin Loughery and Leroy Ellis), and the losses magnified their frustrations, which they took out on the coach. They said his practices were sloppy, there was a lack of discipline and that he never said anything meaningful during a timeout, at halftime and at postgame meetings.

An unidentified player, who was still on the team, told Sports Illustrated at the time: "He comes up to me and tells me I'm a great player, that I'm going to be his main guy. Then he'll talk to somebody else on the team and tell them I'm no good, that I don't know how to play, that I'm a bad guy."

Kevin Loughery took over the team at the All-Star break and finished 5-26. Five of those wins came in a span of seven games. The Sixers, quite appropriately, lost their last 13 games.

"We were all sent to Hades for that year, but how dare . . . anyone else try and break our record," Carter once said. "We earned that mark and I hope it stands."

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