May 30, 2023
The face of the Sixers right now is the reigning MVP, Joel Embiid.
Embiid, of course, isn't the only MVP from this organization's past, one that's littered with Hall of Famers and All-Stars. Who were the true franchise linchpins of the past?
We were curious. Looking back at the accomplishments from past Sixers teams, who was the face of the franchise the 1980s with a stacked all-time roster? Who was the face of the franchise back during the tanking years?
So we decided to go back through the history of the Sixers and anoint one player as the face of the franchise for each year since 1950.
Essentially, this is a "Sixers most important and/or most popular player" belt. In order for someone new to take over the team, they have to exceed the prior holder of the title in popularity or in performance.
We'll also be doing the same for the Flyers and Eagles in the coming days before naming the face of Philly sports for each passing year on Friday. The Phillies' faces of the franchise dropped on Monday.
Let's dig in...
It all begins in Syracuse...
The Sixers were actually the Syracuse Nationals back in the 1950s, and their earliest star was Shayes, who was a dominant power forward who helped lead the team to an NBA title in 1955. He was the league's rebounding champion in 1950-51 averaging 16.4 per game. He was voted as one of the 75 best NBA players of all time recently.
Greer took the mantle from Shayes in 1961 and was the best player for the Nationals franchise as they moved to Philly and became the 76ers in 1963. He, too is among the top 75 NBA players of all time. He only was top dog in the city for four years because an unstoppable force was on its way across town from the Philadelphia Warriors...
The numbers are insane, as are the accolades. He also helped lead what was arguably the best Sixers team of all time in 1967 past Bill Russell and the Celtics, who had dominated the East for a decade. Chamberlain was only a Sixer for four seasons but left an indelible impact on the franchise.
Cunningham continued the tradition of scoring and rebounding from Shayes and Chamberlain as he was the best player on competitive teams in the late 1960s. After a solid year in 1971-72, Cunningham darted to the ABA for two seasons before returning to the team for two years later in the 1970s. He also wound return to the club to coach them in the 1980s, very successfully.
Carter never made an All-Star game and was a good scorer for a bad team as the Sixers struggled after their '67 title team was dismantled.
We mentioned that Cunningham returned and he played well during his second to last season, averaging 19.5 points and 9.1 boards per game, once again for a lowly Sixers' squad. He only played 20 games in his last season and would once again hand off face of the franchise honors.
Collins was top dog for the Sixers for exactly one season, bridging the gap between the retiring Cunningham and Dr. J, who would make the leap from the ABA in 1976-77.
The Dr. was an All-Star 16 times in 16 seasons, and changed the way basketball was played as he brought finesse and art with him from the ABA. He was a key piece of the 1983 title-winning team, and was only unseated as the face of the Sixers by an absolutely dominating big man performance.
Malone was the MVP the year the Sixers won their most recent title, taking the reigns from Dr. J after being equally intimidating in Houston. He won a rebounding title the first three years he was in Philadelphia.
Barkley and Malone overlapped for a few seasons following the NBA title in '83 and clearly his love and knack for rebounded rubbed off on Sir Charles. He should have been the NBA MVP in 1990 if not for a flawed tallying system, but never led the Sixers to any postseason success before leaving in 1992 for Phoenix.
For the first time in nearly two decades, the Sixers had no Hall of Famers on the roster. Weatherspoon was the best player for a lackluster early 1990s Sixers team in the pre-Iverson era.
The Sixers had some really good draft success — and not much else — during this timeframe with Stackhouse as the third overall pick. He never really became a star in Philly because of who they would draft the next season.
The Answer was the superstar of the city for nearly a decade, as he single-handedly led an otherwise average team to the NBA Finals in 2001 — the last time Philly has advanced past the second round. He is second all time in points scored, third in assists and sixth in games played all time with the franchise. He remains one of the most popular and influential Sixers of all time.
In the post-Iverson, pre-Process era, Iggy was really the only bright spot as the Sixers did make a few futile playoff appearance but had very little to show for it. In his older years Iguodala would go on to be one of the best defenders in the NBA and helped win a few titles in Golden State.
Another player who was drafted in Philly and went on to great things with another team. His only All-Star appearance other than the one he earned in 2022-23 came with the Sixers before he was traded for Nerlens Noel and a first rounder to kick off The Process.
Another victim of The Process, MCW won Rookie of the Year honors before being traded a season later to the Bucks in a three-team trade for the pick that would eventually become Mikal Bridges, who the Sixers elected to trade as well.
So, we never said this had to be a player. And which player should we choose during The Process? Robert Covington wasn't bad. Nerlens Noel was briefly popular. Ish Smith? Tony Wroten? Hinkie changed basketball forever, and love him or hate him, he was a household name and the face of the Sixers franchise as the tanking reached ridiculous levels and a 10-72 season before things started turning in the right direction.
Embiid is the face of the franchise right now and will be until he demands a trade away from the inept Sixers front office. That, of course, is one writer's opinion — but what isn't opinion is that Embiid is objectively one of the best players in the NBA right now and the current MVP. He's lacked postseason success but he's still 29 and in his prime. It will be interesting to see how long he remains with the Sixers best player belt around his waist.
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