First, a disclaimer: I’m one of the new guys here at LB, but also an old guy (with the goal of just getting older). That said, the story that follows should be construed not as a back-in-my-day screed, but rather as a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Our subject is training camp, which the Sixers will begin in the very near future at The Citadel, and how it is a significant part of the larger process of whittling down the roster and determining roles. This year guys like Paul Reed, Charles Bassey and Isaiah Joe will seek to solidify a spot, whether on the team or (perhaps) in the rotation, always a fascinating process and the subject of endless debate on social media and the like.
It is, in other words, a time to make a name for oneself.
Which brings us to one of the great names in NBA history, Sedale Threatt, who just months after the Sixers secured the 1982-83 championship endeavored to make the club as a sixth-round draft pick out of West Virginia Tech.
His quest would take him through Amish Country, of all places, as from 1978-94 the Sixers staged training camp at Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster. Unlike camp these days, reporters were allowed access to every minute of every morning and afternoon session, and fans were admitted to the afternoon scrimmage. Not only did that enable one and all to gain a full appreciation of the talents of Julius Erving, Moses Malone and Co.; it also afforded everyone an opportunity to see (at least to an extent) how the team conducted its affairs.
(Side note: One of the onlookers in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s was an F&M basketball player named Chris Finch, now the Minnesota Timberwolves’ head coach.)
You might think Threatt, a throwaway draft pick from a directional school, would be a tad overwhelmed going to camp with the defending champs. He insists otherwise.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Threatt, now 61, said when contacted over the phone recently at his basketball academy in Melbourne, Australia. “I respect guys, but they’ve got to respect me, too.”
That was never clearer than the day he tried to dunk on Moses.
Repeat: He tried to dunk on Moses.
Understand the dynamic in play here. Moses was the baddest man in the league, fresh off his third MVP award and the fourth of the sixth rebounding titles he would capture in his 21-year career. Nobody messed with Moses – not even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as had been evident in the previous year’s Finals, when Malone, the series MVP, had keyed a sweep of Kareem’s Lakers.
Also: Moses stood 6-10, Threatt 6-2.
Didn’t matter. Threatt collected a ball in the open court during a scrimmage with only Moses back on defense, went right at him and tried to throw one down.
He was called for a charge – yes, these scrimmages were officiated – but no matter; a statement had been made. Even if Threatt didn’t completely see it that way, and still doesn’t.
“Back in those days, when I was coming out of college, I used to dunk on guys all the time,” he said. “When I got to the NBA, I had no fear. It was a routine thing for me, trying to dunk on guys.”
On another occasion, he recalled, he tried to cram one on Dr. J, only to clang the ball off the rim. The ball skittered to the far end of the court, and being a rookie, Threatt had to retrieve it. Then he read the room.
“Everybody looked at me,” he said, “like I was crazy.”
Coach Billy Cunningham kept telling him to pull up for jumpers as opposed to going on Kamikaze missions against bigs, but Threatt would have none of it. Then ex-Sixer Darryl Dawkins, at that point in the employ of the Nets, sent him flying in a preseason game, and he learned that discretion was the greater part of valor.
Threatt would play three-plus seasons for the Sixers, and 14 NBA seasons in all, averaging a shade under 10 points a game while making a shade under half his shots at five different stops. Camp was not his sole springboard – he had also torn it up in summer league – but it certainly didn’t hurt.
That is something to keep in mind with camp again upon us: This is no idle exercise, and no place for the faint of heart. While it would appear these Sixers boast a pretty full deck, who had a fuller deck than the franchise’s most recent title team? This is no time for complacency, no time to hold back. A player on the margins makes his own breaks, creates his own opportunities. That’s a timeless approach.