Tip-Off Timer: Loughery Survived 73 Losses with '73 Sixers
Kevin Loughery doesn't think about it much – he had plenty of success in his career -- but he usually gets reminded every few years when a team really goes into the dumper, and people start opening the reference books to find the worst record in NBA history.
That's when his phone starts ringing.
He may never escape the season of 73 losses, his Philadelphia 76ers of 1972-73, the worst team in league history endured. There are 73 days before next season begins, so his phone rang again this week.
"Every once in a while, people still bring it up," Loughery told FanHouse. "It was a frustrating season, that's for sure. It was tough, but it was such a long time ago. And for me, it actually turned into the start of something pretty good."
There have been some bad teams in this league -- the Heat lost 67 games in 07-08; the Hawks lost 69 in '04-05; and the Nuggets lost 71 games in '97-98 – but never has one been as bad as those Sixers.
"A lot of things went wrong for us, but we just didn't have the players to win games," Loughery said.
They lost their first 15 games before the first victory. They lost their last 13 games. They also trudged through a 20-game losing streak in the middle. Other than those three stretches, they weren't all that bad. Loughery laughs.
He had a unique role on that infamous team. He started the season as a player, his 11th season in the NBA, but he finished it with the title player-coach after blustery Roy Rubin was fired after 51 games (the team was 4-47). Loughery never played after midseason because of a knee injury. His coaching record was 5-26 that season.
"There were times I actually enjoyed that season," he said. "I had always thought I wanted to coach, but I never thought I'd get into it so quickly. It turned into a big break for me. People started thinking of me as a coach."
It was a team that was set up to fail. The Sixers had drafted horribly in the previous few years. Veteran coach Jack Ramsay had won only 30 games the season before, and left for Buffalo. The Sixers hired Rubin, who had been coaching Long Island University. He didn't know the league or the players, and he didn't know that leading scorer Billy Cunningham had just left the team for the ABA.
The team was so bad that ownership was giving away hundreds of tickets every night just to put bodies in the seats. It was chaos in the front office and on the bench at times. Forward John Q. Trapp was so mad at Rubin for taking him out of one game that he asked a friend to stand behind the bench and flash the hand gun he was carrying as a way to intimidate Rubin. Trapp was waived a few weeks later.
After Rubin was fired, he left coaching, using his savings to buy an International House of Pancakes franchise in South Florida.
"It was clear we were the league's universal health spa,'' leading scorer Fred Carter said a few years ago when discussing the team as a television analyst. "If teams had any ills, they got healthy when they played us."
Loughery retired as a player after the season, and the Sixers didn't ask him back to coach. He went to the New Jersey Nets of the ABA as head coach, and won championships in two of the next three years.
Instead of Manny Leaks, Jeff Halliburton and Mike Price on the Philadelphia roster to coach, Loughery had Julius Erving, Larry Kenon and John Williamson in New York with the Nets before they moved to New Jersey.
"I didn't get smart overnight. I just got better players to coach. Players make the coach. It's that way in any sport," he said. "You're only as good as your players. I wasn't very good that first year in Philadelphia."
Loughery went on to coach three years in the ABA and 17 years in the NBA with stops in Atlanta, Chicago, Washington and Miami.
"It was no fun losing that season, but it wasn't all bad," Loughery said. "When you think about it now – no, I really don't think about it much unless somebody asks."
FanHouse's Matt Steinmetz offers another anecdote from the infamous '73 Sixers:
Perhaps there is some urban legend to all of this, but Fred Carter supposedly uttered one of the all-timers regarding his place on that Philadelphia 76ers team of 1972-73.
Carter, known as "the best player on the worst team in NBA history," led that Sixers team, which finished 9-73, in scoring and assists and ended up earning the team MVP award.
Upon receiving the award, Carter supposedly said: "I don't know whether this is an honor or an insult."