Matt Haughton

Emotional Maurice Cheeks inducted to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

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Emotional Maurice Cheeks inducted to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

Maurice Cheeks’ Hall of Fame call was cause for a double celebration.

“Thank you to the committee for thinking enough of my contribution to the sport to select me for such an honor. I can not think of a better way to celebrate 40 years in the NBA on my 62nd birthday,” Cheeks said on Friday night when he was officially inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame just hours ahead of his birthday.

Cheeks, a second-round pick of the Sixers in 1978, finally went into the HOF as part of the 13-member 2018 class. Over his 15-year NBA career (11 with the Sixers), the point guard was a four-time All-Star, four-time All-Defensive first team selection and a key member of the 76ers’ 1982-83 championship team. Cheeks, who averaged 11.1 points and 6.7 assists per game for his career, ranks fifth in league history in steals and 13th in assists.

“This is amazing,” Cheeks said. “… First, I want to congratulate all of the other inductees. I’m honored to be in the same class with you. Being in the basketball Hall of Fame is something I never dreamed of. It’s kind of surreal. I am humbled beyond belief.”

Always humble and cool, Cheeks let his emotions flow on Friday night when discussing the individuals that helped him reach this milestone. That was particularly the case when discussing his Hall of Fame presenters, Billy Cunningham and Julius Erving.

“He was the type of coach I never wanted to let down, but I did one time,” Cheeks said of Cunningham. “Early in my career, I was having a terrible first half against the Knicks. I had gotten the ball stolen twice and right before halftime, it was stolen again. Nobody wants that, right? 

“I went to the locker room, sat with my head down. A couple players came by and said, ‘You’ll be alright. You’ll be better the second half.’ Then Billy walks by, stands by my locker. I think he’s going to say some encouraging words. Instead he says, “I’ve got to find me another flipping point guard.’ Those words stunned me, but that was the last time he ever had to say anything like that about me.

“Playing for the Sixers and the city of Philadelphia was another moment beyond anything I could have dreamed. I had some amazing teammates. Can you imagine as a rookie the first person you see when you walk into the gym was Dr. J? I remember almost turning around and walking out. But he greeted me with open arms, taught me how to be a pro, how as a player to conduct myself. That meant a lot to me. Thank you, Doc.”

Cheeks finally broke down when talking about his mother, Marjorie, and how she raised a family full of boys on the South Side of Chicago.

“My very first coach, Mama Cheeks,” he said in tears while being comforted by Erving. “Every night when the street lights came on the whole block would hear you call out our names one by one: ‘Moses, Marvin, Maurice, Mark, you better get up here!’ And she said it with so much venom. This is one of the many ways you were protecting us. You are amazing and I am grateful for who you are. I am humbled because of you. Most importantly, I still have my hair because of you. 

“This is great, this is great. There is nothing you wouldn’t do for us. I feel the same way about you. I love you so, so much.”

You can watch Cheeks' full induction speech right here.

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Sixers heading toward training camp without resolution on Jerryd Bayless

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Sixers heading toward training camp without resolution on Jerryd Bayless

With NBA training camps set to open in a few weeks, the Sixers appear headed for a familiar situation. 

For a third straight season, the team could open camp with a high-profile player that doesn’t exactly fit into their plans.

In 2016, it was Nerlens Noel. “I don’t see a way it can work. It’s just a logjam,” he said at the time about the Sixers’ situation at center (see story)

Of course, Noel was right. The big man was eventually traded to the Dallas Mavericks after 29 games and just 19.4 minutes a night during his final stand with the Sixers in 2016-17.

Last season, Jahlil Okafor was the odd man out. The former No. 3 overall pick reported to the Sixers in better shape and with an open mindset, but the organization had already moved on.

“He comes in and his head’s good and his spirit’s good,” Brett Brown said last October (see story). “And he and I talk all the time, but that is the bottom line. He is not in the rotation.”

The #FreeJah movement finally got its wish when Okafor was shipped to the Brooklyn Nets after a measly two appearances for the Sixers in the 2017-18 season.

Now the franchise is staring at yet another training camp conundrum: Jerryd Bayless.

While nowhere near as big a name as the other two players, Bayless’ contract says otherwise. The veteran guard is set to earn $8.5 million in the final year of a three-year, $27 million deal that hasn’t yielded close to the return expected when he signed. That would make him the fifth-highest paid Sixer for the 2018-19 campaign.

That’s a pretty penny for a guy limited to 39 games a season ago, mainly because of the coach’s decision not to play him. 

Bayless started out last season in Brown’s mix of reserve guards, but his lack of consistent shooting (41.6 percent from the field) and spotty defense eventually led to him being glued to the bench (see player evaluation). The 30-year-old played in just one game after Feb. 9 — a one-minute, 44-second run in garbage time of the Sixers’ Game 1 loss to the Boston Celtics.

Things aren’t likely to change much regarding Bayless’ status for the upcoming slate, which means seeking outside options make the most sense. He had been connected to a trade for Cleveland Cavaliers sharpshooter Kyle Korver earlier this summer, but those rumblings have died down. 

That leaves the waive and stretch provision, which would allow the Sixers to part with Bayless and spread his $8,575,916 cap hit for next season over three years. It hasn’t come to that point yet since reaching an agreement on using the “stretch” can be a bit complex, but after seeing the Los Angeles Lakers recently figure out a way to get from under Luol Deng’s massive contract using the method, anything is possible.

“This whole year from an individual standpoint wasn’t the easiest,” Bayless said during exit interviews. “At the same time, when you’re around a group of guys that we had and the success that we had, it made it easier. I’m really grateful that I was able to be a part of this organization this year. We’ll see what happens moving forward.”

We’re all still waiting.

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Jahlil Okafor shares advice for Markelle Fultz, talks fresh start in New Orleans

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Jahlil Okafor shares advice for Markelle Fultz, talks fresh start in New Orleans

Jahlil Okafor has been through it all in just a handful of years.

In 2014, Okafor was the pride of Chicago as the No. 1 high school player in the entire country before choosing Duke as his collegiate destination. At Duke, Okafor dominated the competition to help the Blue Devils claim a national championship and cement his status as a top-tier draft pick.

After being selected No. 3 overall by the Sixers, Okafor enjoyed personal success as a rookie before injuries, off-court issues and flaws in his game eventually pushed him out of the team’s future plans. He was traded to the Brooklyn Nets this past season before signing with the New Orleans Pelicans as a free agent this summer.

“I am 22. As a 22-year-old I’m going into my fourth NBA season, which is crazy to even think about,” Okafor said on C.J. McCollum’s Pull Up Podcast. “A few weeks ago, I was speaking at the rookie transition program where all the incoming rookies come in and get as much knowledge as they can. It’s just crazy where I am now.”

One player that also had a bit of a wild introduction to NBA life is Markelle Fultz. The Sixers’ No. 1 overall pick from 2017 spent most of his rookie year parked on the sideline with a mysterious shoulder injury sitting next to Okafor, who was out of Brett Brown’s rotation.

During his appearance on the podcast, the center explained what advice he would share with Fultz about getting back on track in his sophomore season.

“The first thing is just realizing that you hear so much stuff on social media and the news articles it makes you think that something’s wrong with you or that life is bad,” Okafor said. “So my first thing would tell him just take a second, look at what you have around you and realize that life isn’t bad at all. You’re blessed and you’re playing the game of basketball that you love. 

“After that, it’s just knowing who he is and not forgetting who he is and that he wasn’t a No. 1 pick on accident. Those are just two reminders that I would tell Markelle.”

Okafor doesn’t need any more tips about trying to regain his standing in the league. The big man already reached rock bottom (remember the #FreeJah movement?).

Now with the Pelicans, Okafor feels he can get back to the player who was deemed worthy of the No. 3 overall pick in 2015. Why? Because New Orleans is intent on doing something Okafor hasn’t been used to so far in his career.

“It’s a fresh start for me. A new city, a new organization, a completely new conference,” he said. “With the Pelicans in particular, I’m going to a team that has aspirations of winning a championship. The whole organization, the whole atmosphere is all about winning and that’s not something I’ve been accustomed to since I’ve been in the NBA. It’s kind of been the opposite. I’m really excited about having a chance to be on a playoff team and all those great things. It’s something I’m really looking forward to.”

Interesting.

Anyway, to hear Okafor talk about the transformation of his body (he’s no longer vegan), getting the chance to play with fellow Chicago native Anthony Davis, mental health awareness and much more, check out the full podcast.

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