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The best Sixers team to never win a championship

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NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation is on a quest to find the greatest NBA team to never win a championship.

In a normal year, hoops junkies would be preparing for the start of the NBA Playoffs, a grueling mini-marathon where legends are either made or broken. As Bob Costas once said: “They call it the NBA’s ‘second season.’ In truth, it is the real season.”

The Real Season is not happening as scheduled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and there’s a chance it may never happen. We won’t be able to watch one group of men triumphantly march to a title while all the others taste different flavors of failure that will define them for generations.

Since we can’t have this Real Season, we decided to bring some of the key teams from past Real Seasons back. What if we could retroactively allow teams that fell short in the past the chance to taste victory? What if we gave one non-champion of yesteryear the chance to be champions?

Presenting: Titleless: The quest to find the best non-champion in basketball. Over the next couple weeks, SB Nation will be spotlighting and whittling down a field of 64 teams in NBA history that did not win a title. At the end, we’ll hand out a spare virtual championship trophy to one past hard-luck loser.

How it works

Throughout this week, SB Nation’s Mike Prada is rolling out the teams and subregions of a 64-entry bracket. The subregions:

  • Flameout: 16 teams that were upset by weaker opponents in the playoffs. Check out the “Flameout” list here.
  • Overachiever: 16 teams that went further than their seed and/or their talent level suggested they should. Check out the “Overachiever” list here
  • Not Good Enough: 16 great teams that lost to better teams. Coming April 15.
  • What Might Have Been: 16 teams whose runs were cut short due to injuries or other external forces they could not control. Coming April 16.

Once the teams are revealed, it will be left to our community to chose the one contender to enter a final vote as the Sixers representative against the rest of the NBA.

Overachiever Division

There were not any Sixers teams in the Flameout Division but two different Sixers squads made the Overachiever Division. Coming in at the number five seed in this division was the 2000-2001 Philadelphia 76ers, who of course made the Finals but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games.

5. 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers

ERA: Iverson

RECORD: 56-26

POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +5.7

PLAYOFF RESULT: Lost in Finals to Los Angeles Lakers (4-1. Stepover game)

KEY STAR(S): Allen Iverson

COACH: Larry Brown

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Dikembe Mutombo, Eric Snow, George Lynch, Tyrone Hill, Aaron McKie, Matt Geiger, Kevin Ollie, Raja Bell

OTHER SEASONS CONSIDERED FROM THIS ERA: None

These 76ers are iconic because of one small man and one memorable stepover after a made shot. They were — or rather, Allen Iverson was — David going up against a Goliath in the apex Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers. Every NBC promo highlighted that theme.

Juuust missing the no. 1 spot is the 1981-1982 Philadelphia 76ers — AKA pre-Moses Sixers. This squad had some studs on the court, including fan favorites Dr. J, Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney and Mo Cheeks. But they were also coached by Sixers legend Billy Cunningham.

2. 1981-82 Philadelphia 76ers

ERA: Dr. J, pre-Moses

RECORD: 58-24

POINT DIFFERENTIAL: +5.7

PLAYOFF RESULT: Lost in NBA Finals to Los Angeles Lakers (4-2)

KEY STAR(S): Julius Erving

COACH: Billy Cunningham

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, Caldwell Jones, Lionel Hollins, Bobby Jones, Darryl Dawkins, Steve Mix, Mike Bantom

OTHER SEASONS CONSIDERED FROM THIS ERA: 1976-77, 1977-78, 1979-80, 1980-81

Julius Erving did win one title with the 76ers, but that was only after getting MVP Moses Malone as a running mate in the summer of 1982. Based on the rules of this game, all of Dr. J’s Philly clubs prior to then are eligible for this tournament.

The 1976-77 club had the most star power and the 1980-81 version had the best regular season, but we’re going with the 1981-82 edition because they were the ones to slay the Boston Garden dragon. Andrew Toney really was a forgotten legend.

I gotta say, I think the seeding is pretty accurate. That ‘81-’82 Sixers squad did go on to win a championship once Moses arrived, so it belongs near the top of any list of almost-champs. The Iverson Era was one of my favorite time periods in Philadelphia sports, full stop. I’ll always love that team but it just did not have the depth of talent that the ‘81-’82 team had. Plus, the Iverson team benefited from some favorable refeering against the Milwaukee Bucks in those playoffs.

Weigh in

We want to hear from you. Where do these Sixers teams rank all-time? Would you have substituted another season in place of ‘81-’81 or ‘00-‘01? Let us know! Once all the teams are revealed, we’ll put these Sixers units in a head-to-head vote. Ultimately, the Liberty Ballers community will help decide the one Sixers team that stands above the rest to go on to compete for the title of Greatest NBA Team to Never Win a Championship.

Poll

Which way are you leaning right now?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    ‘81-’82 Sixers
    (193 votes)
  • 30%
    ‘00-’01
    (85 votes)
278 votes total Vote Now