Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Embracing losing

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only perfect team in major professional sports history.

In fact, many believe the '72 Dolphins should be regarded as the best team ever. "Perfection ends a lot of arguments," the team's Hall of Fame fullback, Larry Csonka, once said.

I never bought that line of thinking. After all, it's impossible for an NBA or NHL team to go through an 82-game regular season and an entire playoff run without a blemish. Baseball teams have to tee it up 162 times every year before even embarking on a playoff run. No matter what you think, however, the
'72 Dolphins certainly deserve credit for a remarkable accomplishment that has never been matched.

Another team that tipped things off that very same year is similarly remembered for being the polar opposite of that Miami team as perhaps the worst in pro sports history.

By March 25, 1973, the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers had compiled 73 losses and just nine wins, a hearty .110 winning percentage.

Led by guard Fred Carter and forgettable players like John Block and Bill Bridges, those Sixers lost their first 15 games of the season. A few months later they embarked on a a then-NBA record 20-game skid. At one point during the nightmare of a season, Philly lost 34 of 35 games and eventually finished an NBA-record 59 games behind the Atlantic Division champion Boston Celtics.

The notoriously tough Philadelphia media forever christened the team the "Nine and 73ers".

Although threatened a few times, the 73 losses remain the all-time low-water mark for any NBA franchise nearly 40 years later.

The New Jersey Nets gave it quite a run this season but officially avoided the mark on Monday when they topped the San Antonio Spurs for their 10th win.

"I'm happy for the guys. I'm happy they continued to work hard and improve," interim head coach Kiki Vandeweghe said after officially avoiding the dubious mark. "We were playing for pride. We stepped up and fought as hard as we could."

Surprisingly, Carter was not all that disappointed. He wasn't popping corks on the champagne like some members of the '72 Dolphins do when the last undefeated NFL team falls each season, but Carter has embraced his own place in history.

"It took me 20 years to learn to deal with it," Carter told The Philadelphia Daily News. "I resented being called the MVP of that team. I resented it when I was called the best player on the worst team ever.

"I had played in the Finals, so it took me a long time to accept that. I finally decided there are a lot of ways to gain immortality, and that it's better to be remembered than to not be remembered at all."

That's a very healthy way to look at things.

No one remembers the '92-93 Dallas Mavericks or the '97-98 Denver Nuggets.

Five years from now, no one will remember this year's Nets but everyone knows the story of "Mad Dog" Carter and his '72-73 Sixers.

Author Randolph Bourne may have described it best...

"History remembers only the brilliant failures and the brilliant successes."
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