Chet Walker (Image c/o Sixers.com)
In the last two games against Dallas and Houston, we’ve seen the best and the worst the Sixers now can be. I liked their swagger and hustle against Houston. For now though, how about a little break from the woes of the current edition of the Philadelphia 76ers franchise? Maybe a step way back in team history would be welcome.
What do Allen Iverson, Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Bobby Jones, Billy Cunningham, and Charles Barkley have in common? All have had the honor of seeing their Philadelphia 76ers uniform numbers retired. It’s time for Chet Walker’s No. 25 to be retired. This recognition of Chet Walker by the Sixers is overdue.
It happens that no one on the Sixers’ current roster has been given the No. 25. So the timing is just right – but action needs to be taken quickly, since imminent and rapid roster moves could change that at any time. Elliott Williams is gone, and the number is available.
Chet Walker started at forward throughout his years with the Syracuse Nationals and the successor Sixers. His seven-year career with this franchise was a rich and workmanlike one. The stats are very impressive. Chet Walker was an all-star seven times and he was on the NBA all-rookie team in 1963. His career scoring average was 18.2 points per game and his free-throw percentage was 79.6% – admirable compared to today’s standards. He averaged 7.1 rebounds per game, and many of those games were on a team with Wilt Chamberlain and Luke Jackson also on the court. He scored 18,831 career points.
As good as the stats are, though, they don’t tell the story of the value of Chet Walker to the 76ers. More than a few observers and basketball broadcasters of his era referred to Walker as the best one-on-one forward in the NBA. He was hard to stop once the ball came to him for a mid-range jump shot, drive to the basket, or move across the lane. In a relatively quiet way Chet Walker was critical to the team’s 1967 championship season. Most basketball fans know that during the early years of his career, Wilt Chamberlain was a scoring machine – in 1962 he averaged over 50 points per game and had his 100-point scoring rampage in Hershey, Pennsylvania. When coach Alex Hannum arrived in Philadelphia, he had a different role in mind for Wilt. Wilt would be part of a team concept, reducing his scoring to 24.1 points per game (he also averaged 24.2 rebounds). As a passer, Wilt needed to draw the defense in while he fed the ball to scorers, including Chet Walker, Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham. Without Chet Walker there as one of the three other potent scoring threats, Wilt’s game might have reverted to the scoring machine approach of his past – and maybe there would have been no title in 1967. Walker’s scoring average that season was 19.3 ppg, third best on the team. As a teenager I frequently saw the Sixers at Convention Hall and the Spectrum, and was always most impressed by the consistency of Chet Walker’s game. There was no phase of it that he did not do exceptionally well.
The 1967 team won 68 regular season games. It was voted the best team of the NBA’s first 35 years, with good reason. That team was not just a collection of exceptional basketball players. It was a well-oiled machine and a good argument can be made that it was the best Sixers team in franchise history. Three other players from that team have been honored by the retirement of their uniform numbers – Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham. One more should be so honored. Hall-of-Famer Chet Walker deserves it.
It’s hard to think of a good argument against retiring No. 25. It’s true that Chet Walker’s last seven NBA seasons were spent with the Chicago Bulls after seven with the Sixers franchise. But Walker would not be the first such honoree to have spent a significant part of his career with another team. Charles Barkley also spent the second half of his career playing for other teams. Wilt Chamberlain’s number has been retired in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Chet Walker’s years in Philadelphia were all productive and all were star-quality seasons. I remember the disappointment I felt with Chet was traded to Chicago for Jimmy Washington, whose ensuing pro career in Philadelphia was good, but less distinguished.
The Sixers organization of 2014-15 needs some winning promotions to make up for a less than winning season. It could do a lot worse than having a special night for Chet Walker. Invite Chet to the Wells Fargo Center, along with teammates Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Wali Jones, Matt Guokas, Luke Jackson, Bob Weiss, and Bill Melchionni. Then hoist Chet Walker’s number to the rafters, and show the young rebuilding team and its young fans what winners look like. Chet Walker’s 75th birthday will be on February 22nd. Wouldn’t it be great to honor him when the Indiana Pacers are in town on February 20th? How about it?