Remember Mo Cheeks….Man that Guy Sucked
Today the Philadelphia 76ers made the irrational decision to extend the coaching tenure of Maurice Cheeks. This is a curious decision in light of Cheeks’ lack of success in Philly, but then again Cheeks is a 76ers hero who holds a special place in the heart of sports fans from the City of Brotherly Love.
Inexplicably, many Blazer fans also hold fond memories of Coach Cheeks despite his record, inability to coach and participation in the darkest years of the Blazer franchise. Considering all of Cheeks’ failures, why do many fans and more interestingly, the media, continue to remember Cheeks fondly?
In 301 games as the Blazers’ coach, Cheeks amassed a 162-139 record. During his first two years, the Blazers lost in the first round of the playoffs and the following two years they failed to even make the playoffs, breaking a 21 year old consecutive playoff streak. During this time now remembered as the “Jail Blazer” Era, the Blazers’ roster and front office was much maligned. As is well documented, a once proud Blazer franchise wilted and like a love affair gone wrong; the greatest city in the NBA and its beloved team seemed on the verge of a nasty divorce.
Throughout these turbulent years, the Portland and national media pointed many fingers, blaming everyone from owner Paul Allen to GM Bob Whitsett and players Bonzi Wells and Rasheed Wallace for the down fall. However, mysteriously, Mo Cheeks always seemed to get a pass. Yes, Cheeks had a team of thugs that loved wine, women, and song. Yes, he had a roster full of malcontents, but so do many NBA coaches. Yet through it all, the Portland fans never seemed to come to grips with the fact the Maurice Cheeks is a horrible coach. If Cheeks was a US president he would Herbert Hoover.
On an almost nightly basis, Cheeks would be out coached. His understanding of the X’s and O’s of the game was comical. Like Nero playing his fiddle while Rome burned, Cheeks rarely walked the sideline or called out plays, but chose instead to remain seated on the bench. Oddly, Cheeks’ strongest attribute as a player, his defense, was his biggest liability as a coach. But why to this day does Cheeks still not share a large part of the blame for the Jail Blazer Era?
Was it because he was nice guy, which he undoubtedly was? Was it because the Portland media, especially the Oregonian, liked Cheeks as a person and felt sorry for him? Is it because Cheeks stood up and helped 13 year old Natalie Gilbert sing the national anthem? Is it because Cheeks was surrounded by equally as inept players and front office personnel that he did not seem so bad compared to his co-workers? Or is it because Portland fans by nature are nice folks who were willing to give Cheeks a pass? In reality, it is all of these.
It is only human nature to feel sorry for a nice guy like Coach Cheeks. To see the turmoil surrounding the team one could not help but feel for him. But the guilt of the Jail Blazer era falls just as squarely at Maurice Cheeks’ feet as it does any other Blazer employee. At a minimum Cheeks aided and abetted the Jail Blazer Era, a spineless bystander who went along for the ride never bothering to go public with a demand that the organization clean up its act. Instead, Cheeks collected his check, signed autographs and smiled while the local media blamed the Blazers’ problems on everyone else. At least Rasheed Wallace had the decency to be an All-Star while he proudly lived the “CTC” (Cut the Check) motto.
Portland may never feel the need to blame Mo Cheeks for his role in the darkest days in Blazer history. Maybe it is better that we let bygones be bygones and forget the whole era. Mental health professionals often recommend that for a person to properly address and move past a traumatic experience in one’s life, they must first make an honest assessment of what happened, laying blame where blame belongs, and then moving on to forgiveness. This can take months and many times years. Well Portland, maybe its time to spend a little time on the psychiatry couch, topic of discussion for this week’s session: Coach Cheeks.