Nearly four decades have passed and the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers finally might be able to talk some trash.
Those 76ers went an abysmal 9-73 to put up the worst winning percentage in NBA history at .110. But if the Charlotte Bobcats lose their final two games to finish 7-59, that’s .106, and Philadelphia would be out of the record book.
“Talent-wise, they might be the worst team ever,” Kevin Loughery, who coached the 76ers during the second half of their Keystone Kops-like campaign, said of the Bobcats. “We had more talent than they did.”
Wouldn’t it be the ultimate computer game to feed in the rosters of those 76ers and these Bobcats to see who would come out on top? Or, better stated, on bottom. It should be noted the 7-57 Bobcats are being outscored by an average of 13.9 points per game this season to 12.1 for the 76ers.
When Loughery compares the teams, he does so believing the NBA is much weaker now with its 30 teams and so many young players who barely went to college than it was when it had 17 teams in 1972-73 and nearly everyone in the league had played four years of college ball. And the former Miami Heat coach is taking into account all the injuries the Bobcats have had this season.
“They’re just playing with a lot of 10-day contract (type of players) now,” said Loughery, speaking by phone from Atlanta, where he is now retired. “That’s difficult… I know it’s just miserable what they’re going through for (Charlotte coach) Paul Silas, who’s a great guy, and (owner) Michael Jordan, whom I coached. I just hate to see this happen to them.”
Loughery played and coached against Silas in the NBA and was Jordan’s first NBA coach with Chicago in 1984-85. While Loughery does feel for them, he said overall it doesn’t matter to him whether the Bobcats break the 76ers’ mark.
Then again, would it be the true record considering this is a lockout-shortened 66-game season? Loughery has a solution if Charlotte loses Wednesday at Orlando and Thursday at home against New York in a nationally televised game (how’s that for the macabre?).
“Maybe they’ll put an asterisk next to it,” Loughery said.
Loughery can afford to joke when he looks back on that 1972-73 season because things did turn out fine for him after he gotten his first coaching job, taking over when Roy Rubin was fired following a 4-47 start and going 5-26. Loughery the next season became coach of the New York Nets, and won ABA titles in 1974 and 1976.
Loughery entered the NBA with the Nets in 1976, and coached 16 more NBA seasons. He led five teams to the playoffs, including the Heat in their first two appearances in 1992 and 1994 while coaching them from 1991-95.
In 1972-73, Loughery began the season as a Philadelphia guard who was in his 11th season, had bad knees and also served as an assistant. He looked around and saw a roster filled with aging veterans, including future Hall of Fame guard and then 15-year man Hal Greer, and untalented guys.
“We had a bunch of role players,” Loughery puts it kindly. “You need stars to win in the NBA.”
The 76ers looked undermanned at the start but nobody imagined it would be as bad as it was. They started 0-15 and 1-21.
Philadelphia made an early-season trade, which didn’t help in the standings but would result in two guys being a trivia answer for the next 23 years. The question: Which two players were on the best and worst NBA teams of all time?
Center Leroy Ellis and forward John Trapp had played for the Lakers’ 1971-72 team that went 69-13, the best mark in NBA history until it was broken by Jordan’s 1995-96 Bulls going 72-10. So they went from prime rib to chopped steak in a hurry.
“They were miserable,” Loughery said. “We all were miserable.”
How miserable did it get when Rubin was coaching the team?
On Dec. 29, 1972, with the 76ers 3-30 and on their way to a 141-113 loss at Detroit, Rubin was ready to substitute for Trapp, who was from Detroit and is now deceased. Trapp wasn’t too happy about that so he told Rubin to look up into the stands. One of Trapp’s buddies opened up his coat and exposed a gun.
Yes, Trapp stayed in the game.
Loughery said he doesn’t know that story. But Fred Carter, a guard who led the 76ers in scoring that season with a 20.0 average, has insisted it’s true.
Rubin didn’t last too long after that. With the 76ers 4-47, Loughery was at the All-Star Game in Chicago for a players union meeting.
“The phone rang at 2 a.m., waking me up in my hotel room, and it was (general manager) Don DeJardin asking me if I wanted to be the coach,” Loughery said.
So Loughery had been handed the keys to an NBA team at 32. He retired as a player.
“I spent like 90 percent of my time the rest of the season scouting. We knew we were going to have the No. 1 pick,” Loughery said of the days before the lottery on the mission that eventually led to the 76ers taking Doug Collins No. 1 in 1973. “I went to Hawaii to scout when the guys who were going to be in the draft played out there. I even missed a few games.”
But he missed no wins. Loughery, who said he was invigorated by a chance to coach for the first time regardless of the record, at least got to savor five of those, one more than Rubin did.
Loughery said he hasn’t spoken to Rubin since he left the 76ers even though Rubin long has lived in Miami Beach, including when Loughery coached the Heat. The New York Post spoke to Rubin’s wife, Marsha, two years ago during a season in which the New Jersey Nets got off a worst-ever 0-18 start before eventually finishing 12-70 and avoiding infamy.
Marsha Rubin told the Post three years earlier her husband had undergone heart surgery. Something ended up going wrong, and Roy Rubin suffered brain damage.
She told the paper her husband understands what is going on around him but he’s unable to express himself verbally or on paper. Marsha Rubin said at the time she and her husband didn’t want the 76ers to be knocked out of the record book for worst team ever.
“The record keeps Roy’s name afloat,” she said of Rubin, now 86. “People who don’t know better think the bad record was his fault, but it had nothing to do with him (as) a coach… We all know you’ve got to have decent players to win, and the owner (Irv Kosloff) refused to spend any on talent.”
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Over the years, Carter has felt the same way about wanting the 76ers to stay in the record book. Although he couldn’t be reached to comment on the Bobcats, Carter had said that when Oklahoma City got off to a 3-29 start in 2008-09 and then during the next season when the Nets had their brutal campaign.
“I want to keep that record,” Carter had said at the time. “I want to maintain my immortality. I was no superstar who won seven titles, so I want to be known for something.”
Well, those from the 1972-73 76ers could say Charlotte wouldn’t be the real record holder because it’s a short season. And the Bobcats, who have lost 21 straight, do have two more games to somehow try to break through.
“They win one game, and they’re home,” Loughery said with a laugh.