The 2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers, at 10-72, posted the second-worst 82-game record in NBA history. It was, by any metric, about as bad as it is possible to be.
But it wasn’t the worst record in franchise history.
In the 1972-73 campaign, the Philadelphia 76ers posted a 9-73 record, to this day the only failure to reach ten wins in 82 tries in the 54-year history of the 82-game schedule.
This is a franchise that had won a title in 1967. Indeed, stretching back to their days as the Syracuse Nationals, they had made the playoffs every year between their inception in 1949 and 1971.
And indeed, it wouldn’t be long before they’d kick off a stretch of 12 straight playoff appearances that climaxed with another title in 1983.
But for four years, they were putrid, and for one truly awful year, they bottomed out in a way that no team has before or since.
Let’s see what rock bottom looks like…from below.
The On-Court Record
As a purely statistical matter, when you lose an average of eight out of every nine games, you’re going to have a few losing streaks of that long or more.
Like the one Philly had to start the season, where they started out 0-15. Or the skid where they bookended an 85-82 win over Seattle with a 14-game losing streak and a 20-game slide. At that point, Philly stood 4-58.
And because the basketball gods have a sense of humor, the Sixers won five of their next seven before losing their last 13 games to end the season 9-73.
Almost 56 percent of their wins came over less than 9 percent of their games.
Also, where you find losing teams, you also find hilariously large margins of defeat, especially against good teams.
The Lakers beat Philadelphia four times. The margins of victory were 40, 38, 24, and 18. Over an 82-game season, a plus-120 point differential is enough to add nearly 1.5 points to a team’s season average.
Los Angeles got roughly 20 percent of their total season margin of victory (7.6 points) in just four games.
That’s how bad the Sixers were.
The Featured Players
Since we’re talking pre-1978 for players and pre-1974 for teams, individual and team advanced stats are subject to a bit of fudging and estimation.
Overall, the team did badly underachieve their advanced stats; a minus-10.5 Net Rating is bad, but it’s only an estimated 15-67 bad, not 9-73.
Part of the problem is that Philadelphia played at a blistering 115.2 pace, second in the lightning-fast NBA of the Seventies.
When you’re worse than the other team, the more possessions there are, the more likely it is that the Law of Averages takes over.
And when one of your starters—Freddie Boyd—posts negative Win Shares, well…
If there’s a bright side, John Block and Dale Schlueter actually cleared the Mendoza Line, posting .104 and .126 WS/48 respectively. Block, in just 1,558 minutes and in just 48 games, led the team in WS with 3.4.
Roy Rubin started the season at the helm of this team. He got himself canned after 51 games, posting a 4-47 record.
Kevin Loughery, still a player at the time, took over as player-coach and helmed that five-out-of-seven stretch. Sadly, that also means he presided over an 11- and 13-game losing streak to finish 5-26.
Rubin had never coached in the NBA before taking over the Sixers job. He never coached in the NBA again.
Loughery retired from playing after the ’73 season and took a coaching gig with the ABA’s New York Nets, where along with Julius Erving, he won two of the last three ABA titles.
In a cruel twist of fate, the NBA forced Erving off the Nets, where he went to Philadelphia. Loughery kept coaching but suffered the curse of being stuck with lousy squads.
His final coaching record? 642-746, a .463 winning percentage, and if we count NBA only, that drops to a .417 mark (474-662.)
Which means he was no Bill Fitch when it came to making chicken salad out of chicken…not salad.
The Sixers were bad in 1974 (25-57.) They were bad in 1975 (34-48.)
But they were in the Finals in 1977, thanks to getting Dr. J. They won it all in 1983. And they’d make the playoffs in 15 of 16 seasons between 1976 and 1991.
So you can say that it wasn’t that far back to bounce after hitting depths no other franchise has hit.
Come to think of it, that 10-72 2016 season that would be any other franchise other than Charlotte’s worst season had a quick bounce back as well. Philly was back in the playoffs in 2018.
What does this mean in the grand scheme? I have no idea. Now someone get me a provolone wit’out for when I’m watching Doc Rivers get outcoached in the playoffs next spring.
NEXT: Phoenix Suns, or “Going From Trash to Treasure? Just Add Chris Paul.” Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!