Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

It’s currently sunny in Philadelphia (because of the Sixers)

It’s currently sunny in Philadelphia
The Sixers’ great play with former star Doug Collins at the helm has brought a sunnier disposition to the City of Brotherly Love. Fan gush by Rick Olivares Photos from the Philadelphia Inquirer and Getty Images

Am I surprised that the Philadelphia 76ers are atop the NBA Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division? Not at all.

Aside from some great draft picks like Ohio State’s Evan Turner who put the kibosh on the Celtics today, they have Doug Collins as head coach. Collins, who along with Larry Brown (and to some extent Rick Adelman and George Karl), is considered “miracle worker” for turning around the fortunes of woe-be-gone clubs.

Collins, was a star with Illinois State and later the US Men’s Olympic Team and the NBA’s Overall Number Draft Pick of 1973 by the Sixers. He was a four-time All-Star before a knee injury ended his career.

It was Collins’ 1977 Philly team that was my first-ever fave NBA team. They had Julius Erving, Darryl Dawkins, Steve Mix, Caldwell Jones, George McGinnis, World B. Free, Fred Carter (who later coached the Toronto Raptors), Henry Bibby (Mike Bibby’s father), Joe Bryant (Kobe’s dad), and Mike Dunleavy (Mike Dunleavy Jr.’s pop). During the Finals of that year, the Sixers spotted the Portland Trailblazers with a 2-0 lead before losing the last four for one of the greatest collapses in the NBA’s history.

In 1986, Collins would resurface as the Chicago Bulls’ head coach during the early years of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

In his first year in Chicago, the Bulls finished with a 40-42 record. The Bulls went to 50-32 the next season, the first of Jordan’s MVP years. But Chicago finished fifth in the Central Division in Collins’ third year when they went to a 47-35 record and he was fired after losing in the Eastern Finals to Detroit.

After going to the broadcast booth for a while, Collins found himself coaching a young Grant Hill in Detroit where the Pistons went to 46-36 in 1995-96. The next season, the Motor City squad climbed to a 54-28 record that was food enough for third place in the crowded Central Division. The next season, he was fired midway through the season when his team went 21-24.

In 2001, he was reunited with Jordan in Washington where in their two-year partnership, the team finished with identical records of 37-45.

While Collins is said to improve teams, he wears his players down with his intensity and they eventually tune him out.

Finally coaching the team where he played his entire pro career, the Sixers began last season with a disappointing 3-13 record before finishing strong by winning 38 of their last 66 games for an even 41-41 record. In this strike-shortened year, he is still on pace to improve the Sixer’s standing. Their lopsided 103-71 win over Boston today shows that they are contenders – at least in the East as Miami and Chicago are seeded higher.

As a Collins fan, I love the early success he’s had with this oft-downtrodden franchise. It is great to see how he has molded this team of no-superstars into a team first mentality. Witness the dish of Andre Igoudala to Turner for a tomahawk slam against the Cs.

They’ve got Lou Williams, Jrue Holiday, Elton Brand, Jodie Meeks and well, my old favorite from Chicago, Andres Nocioni (sorry, I just have to mention Nooch who is not getting playing time here). Now if Collins can harness Nooch’s talent’s they will be a much better team. And hopefully as well, we will see a turn in Collins’ luck with his old club (he oft runs into trouble in the third year of his coaching stints) and steer them into their third title after the ’67 and ’83 championships. By next season, it will be the 30th anniversary of that team that Moses led to the Promised Land.

This Sixers team has made a name for themselves on transition but their half court set is hardly potent. They need to improve that because teams eschew the break in the post-season for a more deliberate offense.

They are currently atop the Atlantic with a 23-17 record. They are three up on Boston and this season is still a long way before it’s done. Twenty-six games left for Philly to solidify its hold in the Atlantic with Boston and New York giving chase.

Since the team began winning, there’s been a love-fest going on in the City of Brotherly Love. Team minority owner Will Smith is in attendance. So is film director M. Night Shyamalan, Julius Erving, Bill Cosby, and others. That’s star and Hollywood power right there.

Who knows? This year, this team of no-stars with their no-nonsense coach just might make a great film ending.

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