April 25, 2014

The Philly Fifty, #29: Billy Cunningham, Sixers

For the complete list and explanation of criteria and scoring, check out the Philly Fifty page

Longevity – 4

Cunningham played 9 years here with two stints with the Sixers. He started off his NBA career with 7 years here, then took a 2 years hiatus to the Carolina Cougars of the ABA, only to return to the Sixers for his final two seasons.

Peak – 4

Cunningham made first-team all-NBA 3 times as a Sixer. His best season was probably 1969-70 when he averaged 26.1 points, 13.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists. The only other players to have seasons of 26/14/4 are Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. At his peak, he was a top-5 player in the league.

Popularity – 4

The city has a strong connection with Cunningham for several reasons. First, he was the type of scrappy player we (generally) love. Grabbing 10 rebounds per game for his career at 6’6” is impressive. Second, in addition to winning a championship in 1967 as a player, he came back and won one as a coach in 1983. We love loyalty, and we love championships.

Team Success – 4

The Sixers went 439-296 with Cunningham on the team. They made the playoffs in 7 of his 9 seasons, and won the 1967 title.

Awards – 3

In addition to the 3 1st-team NBA honors, he was also named 2nd-team in 1971-72 and was elected to 5 all-star games.

Stats – 3

For his career, Cunningham is 2nd in reb, 5th in pts, 7th in WS and Ast for the Sixers. Only he and Wilt Chamberlain averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists for their Sixers’ careers.

Historical Standing – 3

Cunningham was elected to the HOF as a player in 1986. His #32 is retired by the Sixers but Cunningham allowed Charles Barkley to wear it one year in honor of Magic Johnson, who had just announced he had HIV.

Excitement – 3

Anyone nicknamed the “Kangaroo Kid” had to be exciting, right? Cunningham was athletic and relentless, playing all over the court.

Total: 28

For the complete list and explanation of criteria and scoring, check out the Philly Fifty page

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Comments

  1. Ken Bland says:

    I don’t know how much a single point would have effected things, but on historical standing, Kang could have been given an extra point, jumping from 3 to 4.  You have to apply some discretion, and rule him out of the 5, which sport wide, is more in line with the Jordan, Wilt, Kobe type class (type being the operative word), but to label Billy as a definite first ballot Hall of Famer, and give him a 4 instead of a 3 would very probably be acceptable to basketball people nationally.  Plus, being an integral part of the 68 game winning ’66-’67 club is pretty legendary stuff, seemingly adding to historical standing. Maybe he doesn’t come across quite that high because he’s gone on to a lower profile basketball wise and maybe not now, but post retirement for years, a successful business career.

    Maybe sounds a little picky, but this guy was a great, great player, and it was business, but criminal still when he gave up some prime time to tgo hang with Joe Caldwell (I think?) and the Carolina Cougar club.  Just from lasting memory alone, and not research, it’s probably fair to have Billy above Greer, but below Wilt, Barkley, Iverson and Erving, all of whom I assume will score higher, but I still don’t have a problem with thinking of him as a first ballot Hall of Famer, and thus leaning toward the extra point.   

      

  2. jjg says:

    Billy above Greer?  No way, not in my book.  Fine player but NEVER a top 5 in NBA, even in his ’69-’70 stat stuffing year that was mentioned (42-40, 4th place).  Lived off 3 yrs of being Wilt’s on-court neighbor.  Team record that was noted in support of #29 positioning was forged through Chamberlain’s immensity; post-Dipper years with Cunningham (in order): 55-27 (w/champions Greer, Walker, Jackson and Jones still functioning well; Clark adding substance), aforementioned 42-40, 47-35, 30-52.  At that point, Cunningham sniffed the talent downswing and pre-merger loot, pirated off to Greensboro, NC,  just when the Sixers needed him most, to play for his scheming, ambitious Tar Heel buddy Larry Brown. 

    I like Billy but I haven’t forgotten his bailing on the organization for personal reasons.  Greer was more loyal to the Nats/76ers and a more impacting, prolific player for the organization too.  Billy, the better politician.  Played ball in competitive schoolyard Brooklynese language, fun guy to watch when he was here… great first step, great spring, nice J; battled; defense not his forte.  His career ending knee injury was an excruciating no-doubter.

    To Cunningham’s credit, he did a strong job as a fledgling head coach without self-important pontification a la Collins, with big help from veterans Jack McMahon and Chuck Daly.  Aligned stars, demanded focus, got it done, exited quietly. 

  3. Ken Bland says:

    I’d have preferred placing this in a more generic location, but one of the 2 points is about a teammate of Billy C’s, which is about as relavant as comparing President Obama with Herbert Hoover since they are both human, but….

    First, on football.  I just flipped through the list of those not making the Philly 50, and I didn’t see Sonny Jurgenson’s name.  So I assume he will.  Hell, he wasn’t that great, so maybe he’s next for all I know.  And it’s not like I have recollections of Sonny’s Eagle days too vividly, mostly by the time he wasn’t as effective here, but it’s interesting that he’ll make the list.  I respect the criteria as pretty specific, so a player might score higher than one’d think, but it’ll be interesting to see where Sonny places.

    Also saw where Mark Macon and John Pinone won’t be on the list.  Hark!  Hope for Wes Ramseur (cough, cough!).  But I’m going to guess that means Billy Melchionni makes it.  Billy was really cool.  He was one of the top 50 Melchionni’s to make a list of said subcultur, let alone 50 players, but it’ll be interesting to see where he lands.  Let’s put it this way, maybe just examples of close no cigar were listed,  but Billy had a tremendous college career, and winning an NBA ring with the 6ers couldn’t have hurt his popularity, one of several criteria.

    So I’m kinda looking forward to seeing where these 2 place, based on not being included in the didn’t miss by much list.        

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