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July 12, 2014, 5:30 am

Thunder’s Philly ties worth cheering for

Most of the people watching the NBA Finals featuring the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat are big time basketball fans. They’re also LeBron James and Kevin Durant fans. Of course, the people from Oklahoma City and Miami are fans of their respective teams.

It’s always nice to have a rooting interest. If you’re a Philadelphia 76ers fan, you can easily be Thunder fans in this series. And this doesn’t have anything to do with Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. It has everything to do with Oklahoma City head coach Scott Brooks and assistant coach Maurice Cheeks.

Brooks is a great story. He was undrafted coming out of the University of California, Irvine in 1987 and had to go to the CBA and even the World Basketball League before getting his chance to play in the NBA. The Sixers were his first team. Jimmy Lynam was the head coach at the time. Brooks had to make the team and the 5-foot-11 point guard was quite a fan favorite. He played with the Sixers from 1988 to 1990. Charles Barkley and Rick Mahorn were his teammates during those years.

He played 10 NBA seasons with a number of teams including the Sixers as well as the Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks and the Houston Rockets. In 1994, he played on the Rockets NBA championship team.

In 2000, Brooks started his coaching career as a player/assistant with the Los Angeles Stars of the American Basketball Association. The following season, he was the head coach of the Southern California Surf of the ABA.

Like his playing career, Brooks had to work his way up the professional ladder. He held assistant coaching jobs with Sacramento and Denver before joining the Thunder’s staff as an assistant in 2008 where he worked under P.J. Carlesimo. He was named interim head coach during the 2008–2009 season and was given the job permanently in 2009.

Since becoming the Thunder’s head coach, Brooks has emerged as one of the best coaches in the league. This is just his third season on the job. In 2010, he was named the NBA Coach of the Year after his second season. Last year, he guided Oklahoma City to the NBA’s Western Conference Finals before losing to the Dallas Mavericks, the eventual league champions. Now, Brooks has the Thunder in the championship round.

Good point guards make great decisions, and bringing Cheeks on board as an assistant was certainly a good one. Cheeks was a fan favorite with the Sixers. In 1983, he led the Sixers to the NBA championship, playing alongside Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Andrew Toney and Bobby Jones. He should land in the Hall of Fame some day. He has a lot of experience. He was a long time assistant with the Sixers under head coaches John Lucas, Johnny Davis and Larry Brown. He had two stints as a head coach with the Portland Trail Blazers (2001–05) and the Sixers (2005–08). In 2008, Cheeks was let go as the Sixers head coach.

It’s nice to see him on the sidelines again. Westbrook is the point guard for the Thunder. His play as the team’s floor general has been impressive throughout the postseason. You can see where he has benefited from the knowledge and experience of Brooks and Cheeks as well as veteran backup Derrick Fisher.

It’s nice to see two guys make a small market team into one of the elite franchises in the NBA. If the Thunder can beat the Heat for the league title, Brooks and Cheeks could wind up with rings not only as players, but as coaches, too. For Philly fans, that’s something worth rooting for.

 

Contact staff writer Donald Hunt at (215) 893-5719 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .