Originally created 05/25/05

Cheeks and Iverson glad to be back together



PHILADELPHIA - Maurice Cheeks got his dream job. Allen Iverson has the coach he always wanted.

Cheeks and Iverson were reunited in Philadelphia on Tuesday, a day after the 76ers fired Jim O'Brien and replaced him with Cheeks, one of the most popular players in franchise history.

"I'm excited about being here. It's a place I've always loved," Cheeks said at a news conference held in the Wachovia Spectrum, where he starred for 11 seasons with the Sixers from 1978-89. "It's a special feeling. It's something I almost can't believe."

Iverson, the perennial All-Star guard, joked he was so elated Cheeks was hired he wanted to kiss him on the mouth. The two formed a close relationship when Cheeks was an assistant coach with the Sixers.

"A lot of times, you think things like this are too good to be true," Iverson said.

A four-time All-Star point guard during 15 seasons in the NBA, Cheeks was a fan favorite on Philly teams that also included Julius "Dr. J" Erving and Moses Malone. Cheeks helped lead the Sixers to the NBA title in 1983, the last time any of Philadelphia's four major pro teams won a championship.

Cheeks was an assistant under three coaches from 1994-2001, and was part of Larry Brown's staff when the Sixers went to the NBA Finals in 2001.

"If you got a problem with Mo Cheeks, there must be something wrong with you," said Iverson, known for feuding with coaches.

Cheeks was fired March 2 after nearly four seasons as coach of the Trail Blazers. He had a 162-139 record in Portland, the fourth-highest win total in Blazers history.

Cheeks guided the team to the playoffs his first two seasons, but the players hardly made his tenure easy - on or off the court.

The team was nicknamed the "Jail Blazers" after several brushes with the law, many of them involving marijuana possession.

"It certainly couldn't hurt that I started out somewhere else," Cheeks said. "I had to figure out if I was able to do the job. Once I got there, I started believing I can do it."

Cheeks' return to Philadelphia is no surprise. The Sixers wanted him after Brown left for Detroit following the 2002-03 season, but were denied permission to speak to him.

Cheeks is the fourth coach hired by president Billy King since Brown stepped down. Randy Ayers lasted just 52 games into his first season, and Chris Ford finished out the final 30 games.

O'Brien led the Sixers to a 43-39 record - a 10-win improvement over the previous season - and a return to the playoffs. But his stubbornness and unwillingness to alter his system to fit his players cost him his job, though the Sixers owe him about $8 million on the final two years of his contract plus an unknown buyout for an option on the fourth year.

Cheeks is a defense-oriented coach, a stark contrast to O'Brien's style. His most important role might be developing young players Samuel Dalembert, Willie Green, Kyle Korver and Andre Iguodala.

"We have athletic guys," Cheeks said. "When you have athleticism, you utilize it. I like the overall makeup."

Cheeks said he isn't certain whether Iverson will remain at point guard or return to shooting guard. Iverson is coming off his best all-around season, but isn't a true point guard.

"I got all these fingers and no rings on them," Iverson said. "I'm willing to do anything to win a championship. I'll run through a wall if Mo tells me to."

Cheeks already has begun putting together his staff, bringing assistant Bernard Smith over from Portland to fill one of several spots. It's likely Cheeks will consider retaining some of O'Brien's assistants.

The image of Cheeks dribbling up the court, leaping in the air for a rare dunk and triumphantly raising his arms to celebrate as the final seconds ticked away in Philadelphia's title-clinching victory over the Lakers 22 years ago is firmly etched in the minds of Sixers fans.

If he can somehow lead the Sixers to a championship from the bench, Cheeks will be revered in a city that built a statue to honor fictional hero, "Rocky."

"I'm certainly not a savior. I'm not that smart," Cheeks said. "I'll try to do the best I can."