Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dear Coach Cheeks: I'm Sorry

By Jeff Glauser
The Phanatic Magazine

Dear Mr. Cheeks,

First, allow me to say how much of a fan of yours I was when you were a player. While other Sixers loyalists of my generation would dole out their allegiances to larger than life figures such as Dr. J and Sir Charles, I admired your quiet, workmanlike style.

You were a silent assassin, rarely making a mistake as the point man and often rendering the opposition’s go-to guy moot with your stifling defense. This while being quite content with allowing your more high profile teammates to steal the glory. As long as you kept stealing the ball (the all-time leader when you retired and currently fourth, right? I’ve done my homework).

When you were traded to the Spurs (and then to about 18 other teams within a couple years), I felt it was an official end of an era for the franchise. You were the last remaining piece of the championship puzzle.

When you returned as an assistant coach, a new, albeit far-too-short, Renaissance seemed to re-emerge. Players gravitated toward you, and you were the perfect compliment of stability to the soap opera Larry Brown seemed to live.

But when you left again to coach the Blazers – perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not – so did the passion for basketball in this town. Of course, it didn’t help that the team began to suck, too.

So when you came back once more – this time as the long-awaited head coach – you could imagine my excitement. How fitting that the unsung hero from some of our most cherished moments in Sixers history will become the leader of the next ones?

(At this point, you’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. Do I want something? Free tickets, maybe? A signed basketball? The phone number of that hot blonde on the Sixers Dancers? Well, sure, I’d take all of that, if you insist, but that’s not my purpose).

In actuality, my intent for this letter is to issue a mea culpa of sorts. You see, some time after you took the reigns of the team, I began to lose faith in your abilities as a head coach. I began to overanalyze. I saw the present situation at the time, how you seemed to lose control of the players, how the younger guys on the team seemed to be more influenced by the dysfunctional ways of Allen Iverson and Chris Webber. Then I recalled your past experience with the “Jail Blazers,” and how they seemed to run amok, with virtually no regard for your authority.

Simply enough, I doubted that your coaching style would be able to get the Sixers back to the glory days.

(In your defense, Billy King sure did strap you down with some lousy personnel moves, didn’t he? I guess we can have a nice laugh about that now.)

Anyhow, I’ve been paying close attention to the team this year, your first full year without distractions from dysfunctional elements, your first real opportunity to get your message across to a young squad on what it means to be a champion.

(To be honest, I didn’t figure to pay as much attention as I have, but it’s been a lot of fun to watch and it sure beats those “Flavor of Love” marathons.)

The players certainly didn’t respond overnight – but they weren’t supposed to. In fact, the vast majority of people – myself included – didn’t even expect the team to be a blip on the playoff map this year.

Last night, after a dramatic, improbable win that induced celebratory screams which scared girlfriend and cat alike (oh, yeah, the girlfriend – I guess you can scratch the phone number from the hot blonde), I finally came to the realization that much of the credit for the rapid growth, development and overall transformation of this team needs to be given to you.

In hindsight, I never should have doubted you. I, of all people – the one who shunned conformity and chose you as my favorite baller growing up – should have known better. I should have known that your quiet, unassuming, humble style would work once more, just as it did 25 years earlier.

I am truly looking forward to what I only hope will be your long overdue comeuppance, and will one day be known as the Cheeks Era. And not just because it sounds really funny, and perhaps a bit pornographic.

So, again, Coach, I hope you can forgive me. And if not, free tickets or a signed basketball would suffice.

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