Whatever happens the rest of the playoff run for the 76ers, this season is already down in the books as an unexpected and delightful surprise.
There's praise to go around--Samuel Dalembert! Willie Green! Andre Miller! But a good argument can be made that the lion's share of the acclaim should be bestowed upon Maurice Cheeks, the 76ers' classy and understated head coach.
The NBA's regular season is excruciatingly long and grueling. It requires a herculean sense of balance and maturity to lead a group of lavishly paid and gifted athletes from city to city for so many months, through media barbs and the lure of affectionate women and the many get-even-richer-quicker endorsement diversions.
Still, despite his charitable and even-tempered nature, the pressure and stress of the endless season can cause even the most temperate of NBA coaches to experience a lapse in judgment.
Last week, after a game in which the Pistons whipped the Sixers, Cheeks was fined $25,000, mostly for giving the refs a steady stream of shit.
Typically when a coach is fined by the NBA, the reaction is to kick and fuss and announce one's intention to the media that a complaint will be lodged about the clearly unfair ruling. But Cheeks, no doubt realizing his team was in the middle of a playoff run, refused to allow the dustup to take center stage.
Instead he called his behavior "an error in judgment." He admitted to being disappointed in himself, and said he called his mother after the game to make sure she heard about his behavior directly from him, because "she doesn't want me cursing."
A feature story on Jerry Blavat in this month's Philadelphia magazine caught our attention in a big way this week.
For starters, the magazine features the remarkably buff 67-year-old Geat naked from the waist up, lifting hand weights. There's also a revelation by one of Blavat's doctor buddies (we're thinking the doc was being tongue-in-cheek here) that the Geator's heator happens to be mightily impressive. And then there's the admission by the story's author (40 years his subject's junior) that he grew exhausted trying to keep up with the Geator's schedule.
But the money moment in the piece comes when Philly mag author Jason Fagone joins the Geator, crooner Frankie Avalon and an old-school agent named Dick Fox, who represents Avalon and Jerry Lewis, for breakfast.
Writes Fagone: "None of the institutions that created and sustained these guys are around anymore--no American Bandstand (just its tawdry copy, American Idol), no records (just singles, on iTunes), not even any record stores, the kind where a kid could walk in, spin a 45, and listen to the entire record before buying it. 'You can't do that today,' the Geator says.
"'Well,' I say, 'with iTunes, actually, you can listen to a 30-second preview of any song--'
"'Stick it up your ass with your iTunes,' says Dick Fox."
What asset typically ranks lowest when publishers look for ways to make a buck online these days?
Good writing, perhaps?
Which is why it was so heartening to be reminded of the ongoing literary success of two writers with histories in Philadelphia--former Inquirer columnist Steve Lopez and former Daily News sportswriter Gary Smith.