Roy Rubin, a Sixers coach beloved by none

The late Roy Rubin lasted 51 games in 1972-73, going 4-47 with a Sixers team that finished 9-73. Inquirer, file
The late Roy Rubin lasted 51 games in 1972-73, going 4-47 with a Sixers team that finished 9-73. Inquirer, file
Posted: August 24, 2013

There was none of the remorse that followed Charlie Manuel's firing when Roy Rubin departed Philadelphia forty years ago.

Whatever his life's accomplishments - and they were not insignificant - the short-term 76ers coach, who died of cancer earlier this month at 87, will forever be recalled here as a miscast schlub.

Dubbed "Poor Roy Rubin" in Philly because his sad-sack countenance betrayed his ineptitude, Rubin remains the face of the worst NBA season ever, the 9-73 debacle that was the 1972-73 Sixers.

Unlike Manuel, Rubin had a short Philadelphia tenure. He wasn't in Philadelphia much longer than Danny Tartabull. Introduced to a bewildered city in June of 1972, he fled just ahead of the torches the following January.

Yet somehow in those seven months he created an enduring legacy.

Forget John Felske, Johnny Davis or Jerry Williams. When it comes to this city's justly maligned coaches and managers, Rubin heads the list. And probably always will.

A long-faced New Yorker who got the job via an Inquirer help-wanted ad, Rubin projected the well-intended but clueless image of a boss' brother-in-law.

The late Inquirer columnist Frank Dolson liked to tell the story of the night he was awakened by a phone call from the coach.

It was well after midnight on Nov. 12, 1972. Hours earlier Rubin had recorded his first NBA victory. The fact that it came in his 16th game helped explained why the coach was telephoning the sportswriter.

The Sixers' 0-15 start had led some of the city's newspapers to stop dispatching writers to their road games. So Rubin, already dodging considerable fire, wanted to insure that as many people as possible learned of his debut win.

"Is this you, Frank?" the call began.

"Uh, yes. Who's this?"

"This is Roy."

"Roy who?"

"Roy Rubin [pause]. Of the 76ers. . . . We beat the Houston Rockets. . . . I figured you'd probably have some questions you'd want to ask me. So go ahead. Shoot."

"Well, there is one thing."

"Yeah, yeah, what's that?"

"Do you have any idea what time it is?"

To be fair, the fault in the 1972-73 Sixers ran far deeper than Rubin.

Just six years after going 68-13 and winning an NBA title, they had plummeted off a cliff. Talent defections, bad trades and terrible drafts quickly decimated a marquee franchise.

By the time Jack Ramsay left for Buffalo in 1972, the Sixers coaching vacancy was toxic. Nobody with good sense would get anywhere near it.

Enter Rubin.

Al McGuire and several other big names had spurned owner Irv Kosloff, who finally grew so desperate he ran a classified ad in The Inquirer.

Jules Love, a friend of Kosloff's, saw it and thought of Rubin, an old pal and a successful college coach at Long Island University.

Love made his pitch to 76ers general manager Don DeJardin.

"I said to the GM, 'I've got a candidate,' " Love said in 2010. "I told him about Roy. And he said, 'You mean he's interested in us?' "

Even in a city where Frank Lucchesi and Ed Khayat had guided professional teams that same year, Rubin's hiring was a head-scratcher.

"He isn't exactly a household name," Kosloff conceded at the introductory news conference. "He's no Al McGuire. Or any McGuire for that matter."

Asked that day why he'd accepted a job with a franchise in such a dire predicament, Rubin proved to be a seer.

"Who knows?" he mused. "Maybe two weeks after the season starts, I'll feel like killing myself."

If he did, he likely had plenty of company among Philadelphia fans and his own team.

Flailing for solutions, Rubin benched his best player, alienated the rest of the team and then complained about the criticism he took.

"Why can't someone else take some of the blame?" the coach said at one point. "I'm not the one who misses the shots, who throws the ball away, who won't box out. They're killing me."

He wasn't lying.

Rubin lost 40 pounds and who knows how much sleep. By the end, he was barely able to get himself to practices and games and, on the bench, he mailed it in. He accused his players of quitting on him, and they returned the fire.

"During halftime," Dale Schlueter, a 76ers center then, recalled, "he'd say something like, 'Way to go, guys.' Then he'd turn to his assistant and say, 'OK, how many minutes we got left until the second half starts?' He was completely lost."

Finally, mercifully, Rubin was fired on Jan. 23. He'd won four of 51 games.

Rubin never coached again at any level. He moved to Miami and entered perhaps the only other profession where he was guaranteed to get egg on his face, opening a breakfast restaurant. He would work as a stockbroker and a social worker.

Along the way, Rubin would invest in a Broadway play that, in a miscasting nearly as horrible as his own, featured Abe Vigoda as Abe Lincoln. It closed after one performance.

Then he lent his name to a fledgling summer basketball camp. The tremendous success the Five Star Camp would enjoy happened only after Rubin's name was dropped.

Chastened by his one experience in the big-time, Rubin, for the last 23 years of his life, never again talked to a sportswriter.

Never even called one.


Contact Frank Fitzpatrick

at 215-854-5068, ffitzpatrick@phillynewscom. Follow @philafitz on Twitter. Read his blog, Giving 'Em Fitz, at www.philly.com/fitz.

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