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.