My Mo Jo’s Risin’
as printed in The Philadelphia Daily News
He’s back. Who is “he”? Darth? Arnold? MacArthur? Nope. Better. Much better.
Mo’s back. Maurice Cheeks is coming back to us and taking his rightful place as Head Coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.
I love Mo. I’ve always loved Mo.Well, at least since 1981, when he was a 24-year-old point guard for the Sixers and I was a 23-year-old bond trader for another venerable Philadelphia institution, Girard Bank. It was a good time for all of us. The Sixers were winning, the bank was thriving and I was being wined, dined and escorted to games by one of my favorite bond salesmen, former Villanova, Sixers and New York Nets star Bill Melchionni. Bill knew Head Coach Billy Cunningham, then-superstar Dr. J and the formidable Moses Malone. At halftime, he bolted for the locker room to yak with his old cronies, leaving me twiddling my thumbs and wondering why he was my favorite salesman. I wanted to go to that locker room with him. And it wasn’t Coach Cunningham’s bad sports coats I was after. I wanted to meet the handsome, talented and charming Maurice Cheeks. But, no luck.
In 1985, I left the Sixers fold. I got married, began working in NYC and started following the Nets. I never went to a game and never took them into my heart the way I did our Sixers, but “when in Rome…” and all that jazz. Once I had kids, there was no time for any sport except the nail-biter known as T-ball. My favorite jock was a scrawny six-year-old with a killer smile and only slightly more athletic ability than his mother, slightly more than zilch, that is.
Sadly, my husband and I didn’t make it even as far as the marriage playoffs. I, and my two biggest little fans, moved from Nets country back home to South Jersey. The big red G was gone from Broad and Chestnut Streets, acres of Jersey peach farms had been replaced with new housing and the infamous traffic circles I’d finally mastered disappeared. But my Sixers were still here and so was Mo. No longer a player. An assistant coach instead. That was okay. My playing days were over too.
I don’t know if I was happier to see my mother or Mo. I took my kids to see a game in the new arena and fell in love all over again. Some lean years followed so I only saw my guys through the magic of television. But it was enough to sustain me.
Then something divine happened. Something that changed my life. I met a wonderful man. He was kind, intelligent, accomplished. In addition, he, via his employer, was the proud holder of Sixers season tickets, center court, directly across from the teams’ benches. It was a match made in Heaven. Eventually, I got a wedding ring and, stretching it a little, part ownership of those tickets. I easily wangled full ownership of a Sixers cap, a Sixers T-shirt and a Sixer’s sweatshirt (I was no fair-weather fan). I enjoyed Larry, Mo and The Answer on many occasions. I whistled and clapped, stomped my feet and carried signs during the playoffs. I cheered the Sixers Dance Team, silently praying that my daughter wouldn’t ask to audition one day. The edgy mascot, a big rabbit named Hip-Hop, was no Philly Phanatic but I learned to appreciate him. I even stopped ducking when he’d hurl things into the stands with a giant slingshot.
Then it happened. In 2001, Mo left to become the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. Things weren’t as happy in the stands or at home after that. I don’t directly attribute the breakdown of my marriage to Mo’s departure but the timing is coincidental. By the time Larry Brown left in 2003 so had my husband. Three very important men had disappointed me. I put my wedding ring in the safe deposit box and my Sixers wardrobe in mothballs.
But that’s history now. I’m airing out that T-shirt and the cap is perched jauntily on my bedpost. I’m considering bartering the ring for a season ticket, courtside (it was a big ring).
Welcome back, Mo. The future looks bright. For all of us.