Is Charles Barkley a “Peckerhead?”

That's what an ex-teammate says. Some thoughts on a quarter-century of lame 76ers draft picks

Twenty-five years ago today, the Sixers cursed their franchise.

That’s the conclusion of most Sixers fans when they look back at the tumultuous circumstances of ill-fated NBA draft day activities that a) traded away Moses Malone for a hobbled Jeff Ruland, and b) trading away the No. 1 pick in the draft (who would be North Carolina’s Brad Daugherty) to the Cleveland Cavaliers for forward Roy Hinson.

I remember actually being on board for that re-organization.

At that time, 25 years ago, I thought Malone was a player with a lot of miles on his odometer and we had seen the best of whatever he had to offer in the NBA. The Sixers had turned into a sloggingly slow team, one hampering the production of burgeoning star Charles Barkley. The transition was supposed to be this: they’d get a center in Ruland who was a terrific defensive rebounder, who could get the ball off the glass and up the floor quickly where Barkley in the open space was an unstoppable fast-break killer. In the half-court, Ruland would be a terrific high-post passer who could get the ball down low to Charles or Hinson, who with the Cavs seemed to be an impossible-to-stop low-post player. I was in!

It didn’t work, of course, and the Sixers would set back the franchise for years, as they tried incessantly to make up for and catch up to the mistake they would make that fateful draft day.

Ruland came here with an undiagnosed bum knee. No one knew what to make of his condition at the time — it was the now prevalent condition of a lack of cartilage where bone rubs against bone with no cushioning. He couldn’t play anymore. Hinson seemed to shrink like Saran Wrap in a microwave when faced up to the boisterous Barkley, who didn’t suffer fools gladly. Barkley wondered aloud, during practice and games, whether Hinson was any good at all, and that only chipped away further at the confidence of the former Cavalier.

I had Ruland on my radio show the other day and this is what he said about the Barkley-Hinson thing: “I love Charles but he can be a real peckerhead. I’m sure the guy [Hinson] didn’t feel really good about being told by Charles that he sucked all the time.”

The Sixers would go into a big toilet over the next several years. Hinson was traded a year later. Ruland would try several comebacks and was really the first recipient of what is now common micro fracture surgery, where holes are drilled into the bone to generate the growing of new cartilage. But it wasn’t perfected back then, and Ruland only got on the court for five more games the rest of his career. The Sixers would have a brief respite with the Thump and Bump days, with Barkley and Mahorn on the low post and Johnny Dawkins and Hersey Hawkins at guard, and then some brief success with Mike Gminski as the new center. But not long after that, Barkley would demand to be traded and the Sixers would dig themselves even deeper by trading him for Tim Perry, Andrew Lang and Jeff Hornacek, the only REAL player they would get in the deal. But Hornacek hated playing here, and they would trade him a couple years later for an aging Jeff Malone.

It’s enough to make you cry, if you love the Sixers.

I don’t know whether the player the Sixers selected in the 2011 NBA draft will pan out to be anything. I know so much, though, about the ones who didn’t pan out. And you can just draw a crooked line from the drafts that evolved since that fateful day 25 years ago.

Christian Welp and Vincent Askew in 1987. David Wingate as their only pick of the 1989 draft, a second rounder. Brian Oliver and Derek Strong (from Xavier) in 1990. Clarence Weatherspoon, who wasn’t bad, but was taken I’m certain only because he LOOKED a little like Barkley, in 1992. The incredibly fateful selection of Shawn Bradley in 1993 (and Alphonso Ford in the second round). Sharone Wright and B.J. Tyler in the first round in 1994, and Derrick Alston (from Duquesne!) in the second round. Stiffs all.

In 1996, new general manager, Brad Greenberg, took three white players in the draft! Ryan Minor, Mark Hendrickson and Jamie Feick from Michigan State. I remember interviewing Greenberg for a magazine piece I was writing. I told him there was no way that Minor, the first-round pick, would ever play in the NBA. He asked why I would say that. And I explained to him that Ryan Minor was also a high-quality baseball player at the University of Oklahoma and that in his first practice he would realize that he could never guard any of the players he would match up against and then start thinking about playing professional baseball. And that’s exactly what happened.

Sometimes, you just want to turn back the clock. Suppose the Sixers had kept Moses and just drafted Daugherty? Would it have worked? The only thing we can say for certain is that it just may have worked out a little better than it did the other way.