Exactly 10 years ago this past Sunday, the St. Joseph’s University men’s basketball team completed a perfect regular season, blowing out St. Bonaventure by 32 points to improve to 27-0. The Hawks, led by Naismith Memorial Player of the Year Jameer Nelson and fellow NBA-bound running mate Delonte West, did lose their first game of the Atlantic-10 Tournament to Xavier but still earned themselves a No. 1 seed. They were the last team to finish the regular season undefeated prior to Wichita State accomplishing that feat over the weekend.
With Nelson and West comprising far and away the best backcourt duo in the nation, the little Jesuit school on City Ave. was poised to make a run to the Final Four. The Hawks breezed by Liberty before outlasting Texas Tech and Wake Forest for a place among the Elite 8. A talented, game Oklahoma State team stood in the way, but St. Joe’s just looked like a team on a mission. Surely Nelson, West and company would dispose of Eddie Sutton’s squad and remain as one the last four standing.
Then John Lucas III happened.
It wasn’t just a dagger to the heart of the folks on Hawk Hill. It was a dagger to all of Philadelphia and an affront to the basketball fans who call the original nation’s capital home.
You see, this wasn’t the first time John Lucas ruined basketball in the City of Brotherly Love. Flash back nearly 10 years earlier, all the way back to 1994. That was the year the Philadelphia 76ers hired John Lucas II, father of John Lucas III, as head coach — and it marked the worst era of Sixers basketball since the historically awful 1972-73 squad that went an NBA-worst 9-73.
While it’s true that the Sixers were already experiencing troubling times following the 1992 trade of Charles Barkley to the Phoenix Suns, it was under Lucas II’s command that the Sixers hit complete rock bottom.
How bad was it? The two seasons Lucas was on the sidelines, the Sixers put forth the second worst two-year stretch in franchise history and the worst that doesn’t include that epically awful ’72-’73 team. Following a 24-win debut season, the Sixers won just 18 games during the 1995-96 season, compiling a 42-122 combined record under Lucas — a .344 winning percentage. That is just dreadful.
Now it’s true that Lucas wasn’t exactly coaching the cream of the crop — names like Shawn Bradley, Clarence Weatherspoon, Dana Barros, Jeff Malone, et al — but it was about as bad as things could get. Not even exciting rookie Jerry Stackhouse in year two of the Lucas experience could generate enough buzz to make the Sixers interesting. They were dreadful and, believe it or not, even more painful to watch than this current iteration of the tanking Sixers.
Of course, the dreadfulness of the ’95-’96 Sixers led to Philadelphia winning the lottery and selecting Allen Iverson first overall in the 1996 NBA Draft, so perhaps saying Lucas II ruined Philadelphia basketball is a bit harsh. In a roundabout way, he actually saved it by his ineptitude putting the Sixers in position to draft the future Hall of Famer and most recent honoree of a retired number.
But mention the name John Lucas in Philadelphia and you’re sure to raise the ire of basketball fans across the city. From John Lucas II and his coaching that made you wonder whether or not he was still a drug addict to John Lucas III and his backbreaking three-pointer to eliminate one of the most beloved college teams in Philadelphia history, the wounds still run deep.
John Lucas ruined Philadelphia basketball not once … but twice. And I’ll never forget either one.