Allen Iverson and Chris Webber had been playing through injuries as Cheeks’ 76ers chased a playoff berth late in the 2005-06 season, but Philadelphia was eliminated before its penultimate game.
Picking up at Cheeks’ pregame news conference for that game, Associated Press:
Maurice Cheeks had just finished calling Allen Iverson the ultimate gamer, somene who always played hard and always gave his full effort for his teammates and fans.
That was before the Sixers coach was informed by a reporter about 55 minutes before Tuesday night’s tipoff against New Jersey that Philadelphia’s franchise player was not yet at the arena, and neither was Chris Webber.
So Cheeks left for the locker room, saw for himself the jerseys hanging in the locker, and returned to tell reporters the two were “not going to play tonight,” against New Jersey.
Cheeks didn’t bring up the subject with reporters until a TV reporter asked him, roughly an hour before game time, if he was aware that neither was in the building.
“You are expecting them to play tonight? You didn’t give them the night off or anything like that?” Cheeks was asked.
“I didn’t give them the night off, no,” answered Cheeks, who then left his office for almost two minutes to check into the situation.
“No, Allen and Chris are not going to play tonight,” Cheeks said upon his return, explaining their medical situation.
Asked if he made that decision because they weren’t there, Cheeks said “You know what? In practice today I didn’t know whether or not they were gonna play, and I assumed that they were gonna play, so I just made the decision they weren’t going to play.”
[76ers president Billy] King said he knew at Tuesday morning’s shootaround that Iverson and Webber would be given the home finale off because of injuries. But King did expect the duo to be at the game. Iverson was to miss the game with an ankle injury, and Webber had a sore back.
“I’d like them to be here, hell yeah,” an agitated King said on the court about 45 minutes before tip. “They’re not and I’m going to take care of it.”
With reporters staked out awaiting the duo’s arrival, King walked by the horde minutes before tip and let loose with a profanity-laced rant when pressed again about their absence.
coach Maurice Cheeks looked like a fool.
Then again, that was hard to do since neither King nor Cheeks ever talked to their stars to get an answer. Neither player spoke to the media.
“It makes me look like I’m not in control, which I am, but it makes me look like that,” Cheeks said. “I feel bad, not only for myself, but for our organization. It will be addressed and it will not happen again.”
Cheeks said he’d probably been “lax” this season in enforcing the time players needed to show up and that would be “cleaned up” next season. He also apologized to the fans.
“It’s unacceptable that they got here a little late,” Cheeks said.
Cheeks never said Iverson or Webber was not going to play for the 20 minutes he talked to reporters before he was told they had not arrived at the Wachovia Center. He looked dejected when he returned and slumped in his seat, looking much like he did 11 days ago when he remained at the postgame press conference podium, ice bottle on his head, with the lights turned out.
When asked if he was disappointed in the duo, Cheeks said, “I’m done, man.”
The way Celeste Whittaker tells it, first Cheeks didn’t know they weren’t there. Then he didn’t know how he was supposed to handle it. Then he pretended that it was his idea they wouldn’t play.
What a mess.
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