Fo' Fo' Fo' At Thirty

The Philadelphia 76ers won only one title with Julius Erving and Moses Malone. It was enough.
Share |

So, we've spammed it a lot, which means you probably know that the second issue of The Classical Magazine is out. This piece, from our dude Patrick Sauer, about the legendary "Fo' Fo' Fo'" Philadelphia 76ers NBA championship team, is from that issue. To get the app, and get the issue, go here. To read this piece, just keep reading.

Thirty years ago this spring, a man of few words spoke.

He didn’t say much, and what he said were not quite words, at least as typically understood within the rigid confines of the English language. But the man—high school educated, Virginia-born, an exceedingly gifted giant—spoke from his heart, and said all that needed to be said, in a clipped vocalic epizeuxis with all the power, force and simplicity that a string of fancy-pants words could never pack. Someone asked Moses Malone for his prediction on how his Philadelphia 76ers would do in the NBA Playoffs, and he said “Fo', Fo', Fo.” As it turned out, he was right.

***

From 1980-88, the Los Angeles Lakers or the Boston Celtics won every NBA title. Save for one, the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers.

“We had everything you want on that team. We all played to get the right guys the open shots. If you have to give something up yourself, do it,” says Bobby “Secretary of Defense” Jones, a 76er from 1978-86 and that season’s Sixth Man of the Year. “It started with Moses Malone, the MVP of the league, at center.”

In the late '70s and early '80s, the Sixers were the proverbial third bridesmaid, losing in the Finals three times, to the TrailBlazers in ‘77, and taking 4-2 defeats at the hands of the Lakers in ’80 and ’82. The Sixers were led by the incomparable Julius “The Doctor” Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrving, who was what he was, and arguably even more amazing than you've heard. But '82-83 would be his twelfth professional season, and Dr. J. was no longer quite the airborne ABA “score at will” acrobat he had been, and not yet the crafty groundbound veteran he would become. His Sixers were good, borderline great, but they weren’t the Lakers, a juggernaut with three Hall of Famers in the starting lineup and led by an all-world illusionist—his name was Magic, for chrissakes—who, as a rookie in 1980, had filled in at center for Kareem and thrown up a 42/15/7 to win it all on the Sixers court. It was brilliant, Showtime at its showiest, but also enough to leave Sixers fans longing to wipe the Showtime-eating smile off Magic’s face. To do that, something drastic would have to happen.

On September 15, the 76ers traded for Moses Malone.

***

“I was in shock when I found out we got Moses,” says Earl “The Twirl” Cureton, a Sixer from 1980-83. “I called up Andrew Toney and said, ‘It’s over. Ain’t nobody going to beat us now.’”

Cureton wasn’t far off. From tip-off of the first game, Moses let it be known that this Sixers team was playing at another level. “Moses was a perfect fit. He came in with open arms and said, ‘This is Doc’s team’" says Cureton. "He made it clear he was the final piece, that he was there to help Doc win a championship."

Behind closed doors, Malone may have been deferential, but this was not the Doctor’s team. Not any more. There wasn’t a Wade/LeBron-ish year in which top dog status was awkwardly sussed out in bro-hugs and overdone deference. Malone grabbed the role with both hands as if it was an offensive board and led to the team to—yes, it's obvious given his name, and hell yes, I’m going there—the Promised Land. In deeds, if not so many words, regardless of where one stands on "fo'" being a unit of language.

“He was the hardest-working guy I ever saw in practice, constantly hustling,” says Jones. “Even when he was injured, he would ride a stationary bike so hard they’d put towels down on the floor to keep his sweat off the court.”

The Sixers were no longer the close-but-no-Auerbach-cigar squad of recent years. Behind the nightly combo of Malone’s 25/15 and Erving’s 21/7/4, the Sixers throttled the NBA. Sports Illustrated gave them a cover proclamation of “The Sixers Are Going for Seventy,” a win total that no team had ever reached.

“We probably could have reached the 70-win plateau if Coach [Billy] Cunningham kept his foot on the gas, but he knew the most important thing was preparing for the playoffs,” says Cureton, currently an assistant coach for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury. Echoes of second fiddle disappointment still resounded loudly in the Spectrum, for better or worse; once the Sixers clinched what was then a first-round bye, the starters rested, the season culminated in a 65-17 record, and the team took to regrouping at a mini-camp in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

It was a low-key affair, which gave Philly's typewriter-ribbon stained reporters ample time to ask Moses Malone about his sore knees.  And hey, Mo, since time permits, why not give us your playoff prediction. “Fo', Fo', Fo,'” he told them. So there it was.

***

Malone's prediction, translated, was a call for the sweep of all sweeps: a prediction that the Sixers would not lose a single playoff game en route to a championship, and during the NBA’s ballyhooed Golden Era, no less. Moses wasn’t known as an arrogant sort, more of the type to shoot it to you straight, so his repeated not-quite-a-word was bond, almost as tight as the 76ers themselves.

“I think it rallied the Sixers. They totally got behind it because they thought they were that good. That was their personae,” says longtime Sports Illustrated NBA writer Jack McCallum. There was no fear of Mo’s exhortation becoming the dreaded—really kind of ridiculous when you think about it—“bulletin board material” for the likes of Ed Sherod, Truck Robinson, and Paul Westphal.

The team was well aware that it was their time for a chip, in large part because they had the best player in the world and his large posterior dominating the paint. Also, not-unhelpfully, Julius Erving was still running his clinic.

“Moses didn’t care if his shot got blocked, he probably preferred it, so he could get an offensive rebound, get fouled, and score the basket. He had touch and strength, which you didn’t see back then with guys his size,” says Jones, who now coaches middle school basketball at Carmel Christian School in Charlotte, North Carolina. “We were the shortest team in the league, but we could score inside and from the wings. And we recognized our biggest strength was defense.”

Teammates swear Moses could be a cutup away from the spotlight, but in public, he wouldn’t say jack. And when he did speak, his low and world-historically guttural small-town Virginia patois didn’t come within 90-feet of the polished camera-ready patter of Dr. J. But Moses’s talk-softly-and-bang-in-the-post-like-a-ton-of-bricks approach epitomized who he was. What’s an ongoing case of marble mouth between friends and enemies?

“The characterizations of him from then are vaguely racist—that he was a dumb guy who didn't talk well," McCallum says. "But he mumbled, was hard to understand, and wasn't really interested in expressing himself. Moses’s predisposition to be incomprehensible wasn't something racist. It was just a fact.” McCallum offered an anecdote that shows both Malone's resolute unpretentiousness and frankly ambivalent relationship with the King's English:

Someone asked him what he planned to do that summer. He answered something that sounded like SWIMINPOOL.

‘Oh, do you have a pool, Moses?’

‘No,’ he answered. ‘Swim. And play pool.’”

For Sixers folk, though, “Fo' Fo' Fo'" was as eloquent as any Shakesperean sonnet. It was, first and foremost, a declaration of greatness the likes of which the league had never witnessed. Really, Moses? The Sixers are going to go undefeated? Through the playoffs? Namath’s “guarantee”'s got nothing on “Fo', Fo', Fo'." Any given Sunday and whatnot. Make it a dozen and call Dr. J in the morning, Broadway Joe.

Beyond being an incredibly ballsy thing to say, “Fo', Fo', Fo'” carried a certain childlike quality, in cadence, in sound-it-out-phonics, and in its homophonic symbiosis to the big fella what lived atop a beanstalk. At 6-10, 215lb., Malone was far from the biggest physical presence in the league. But in the spring of 1983, he cast a giant shadow over the NBA, not just willing but eager to go out every night to grind up bones and make his bread. "Fe-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of Mag-ic John-son..."

The bitch of it is, the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers damn near pulled it off. They swept the Knicks, lost once to the Milwaukee Bucks, and then broke out the brooms against Kareem, Magic and the hated Lakers, a dogged effort if there ever was one considering the 76ers were down at halftime in all four games. “Fo,' Fo', Fo'” wasn’t simply an off-the-cuff remark for the press corps, it was a goddamn prophecy. The Sixers came closer to pulling it off than you probably even know, know, know.

“To this day, Moses says that at the end of Game Four in Milwaukee he was open under the basket and if Andrew Toney had thrown the ball inside it would have been 'Fo', Fo', Fo,’” says Cureton with the laugh of man still enjoying the ride. “They’ve been arguing about this for thirty years.”

***

I was twelve in 1983, which was then and probably remains the perfect age to be a sports fan. That is: old enough to know what’s happening, smart enough to read up on your respective team, dogged enough to pay attention to every box score, and pre-pubescent enough to be focused on sports 24/7 before the sticky changes come and the up-and-under-move takes on a different and more urgent meaning. In other words, 1983 was a fannnnnnnnntastic year, my relatives back in Philadelphia sending newspaper clippings from the Inquirer and the Daily News to my Montana mailbox, along with whatever trinkets they picked up at the Spectrum. Back in the days when a union carpenter and a toll booth collector could afford season tickets, my Aunt Judy and Uncle Jimmy went all the time. I loved every minute of it, albeit from a great distance. Beating the Lakers, in LA? I vividly remember jumping up and down on my couch, even getting peeved at Maurice Cheeks because he dunked the final basket and didn’t give it up to the Doctor. Such is the idolatry and loyalty we have as sixth-graders. All is forgiven, Mr. Cheeks. Bygones and all that.

Unfortunately, three decades hence, as an adult journalist, I feel it's my duty to do a little muckraking here. If you’re a Sixer-backer you might want to jump ahead to the next section. Or, if for some unknown reason, this story is being read aloud to you, cover your ears, close your eyes, and yell out. It gets real, now.

So, the thing is, there’s a bit more to “Fo', Fo', Fo.” In a new Kindle retrospective of the ’83 run, we come to find out that dearly Departed Daily News basketball guy Phil Jasner wrote up the story about the famous turn of phrase—coincidentally written in both daily papers as “Four, Four, Four,” although that’s not the tragic part—and gave Malone a chance to explain what he meant. Moses said that it should not necessarily be read as a prediction. "I ain't saying we're gonna sweep everybody in four games, I'm just saying, if we have an idea of winning the championship, the best thing to do is win it as fast as we can—”

All very reasonable, all true, but also: FOFOFOFOFOFOFOFOFOFO—

***

“Fo’, Fi', Fo'” doesn’t have quite the dramatic ring to it, but a play on Moses’s monosyllabic prognostication is etched in Sixers history. Literally. The 1983 championship rings are engraved with “Fo’ Five Fo’.”

The letter-of-the-law lexicon even had its moment in the upper reaches of the “urban contemporary” charts. “Fo, Fi, Fo” became a national hit for the Philly band Pieces of a Dream; a slice of smooth jazz cheese so gloriously '80s that it feels like it was recorded in neon:

I was watching the game, just the other day

When Moses Malone said to Dr. J

He said oooh my lucky number is fo-fi-fo, 4-5-4

***

Thirty years later, it’s the original version that abides. This spring, the question was asked, “Can the Heat go Fo', Fo', Fo'?" We know now that they couldn't, but this is the same question that was asked of the Lakers, Celtics, Pistons, Bulls, Lakers again, Spurs. The answer remains the same, for all of them. Nope.

Part of the reason “Fo’, Fo’, Fo’” endures is because the 76ers unraveled after 1983. The following year, they got bounced in the first round, at home, by a New Jersey Nets squad led by Otis Birdsong, Micheal Ray Richardson, and Albert “For the last time I am neither Bernard nor the cat who recorded ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’” King. The collection of Sixers that came within a couple of wayward jump shots of an undefeated playoffs would never reach another NBA Finals. Moses was traded in 1986 for—sorry, I need a minute—a gimpy-footed Jeff Ruland. It was, quickly and profoundly, over.

“I feel like we wasted the next year,” says Jones. "Guys were looking at themselves, their contracts, whatever, and our focus wasn’t there. We didn’t go into the playoffs with the intensity as the championship year. It was just...different." But he says that as the years pass, the missed opportunities aren’t the important thing. “Going 12-1 in the playoffs, it's still the highest playoff winning percentage in NBA playoffs history. It was special to be on a team with that much talent.” That’s a .923 winning percentage. In the playoffs.

Maybe the Sixers should have done more; they certainly had the manpower. But, beyond delighting a tween far from Philly, what would have been the point? For one glorious season, the Sixers came, saw and conquered more or less as they said they would. A man named Moses led them—hell yes, I’m doing it again—to the Promised Land. If they had won again in 1984, who knows if those three iconic words would still send fans of that team back into the warm cocoon of nostalgia, complete with short-shorts, painters’ caps and Starter jackets, every time it's mentioned. Nobody remembers a two-hit wonder.

“It’s original. With Mo it wasn’t ‘Four,’ it was ‘Fo’. it rang out,” Cureton says. “Fans of Philadelphia will never forget that phrase.” A championship is a championship, but only a very rare few are fo'ever.


Share |

Comments

I am sure to all the commenters here! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained. catch cheat girlfriend

I just thought it may be an idea to post incase anyone else was having problems researching but I am a little unsure if I am allowed to put names and addresses on here novoline online spielen

I just like the valuable info you provide for your articles.I’ll bookmark your weblog and take a look at once more right here regularly. I am reasonably certain I’ll learn a lot of new stuff proper here air sponge odor absorber

I am pretty much pleased with your good work.You put really very helpful information. Keep it up. Keep blogging. Looking to reading your next post. delhi jaipur taxi rates

Wow, tthis post iis pleasant, myy sister is analysing such things, so I am going to let know her. http://www.line-creative.uk/

Great Article it its really informative and innovative keep us posted with new updates. its was really valuable. thanks a lot free 0800 calls from mobile

verbalize from your coronary heart and also quality with this crucial subject matter may be effortlessly witnessed. more details see web site... blog comments backlinks

Exclusive selection of most beautiful Mallorca Escorts . New additions every week, please check our girls on our website. Call us now! Lumitea.com

.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.
escorts in beirut

I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.. Salvia for sale

I just like the valuable info you provide for your articles.I’ll bookmark your weblog and take a look at once more right here regularly. I am reasonably certain I’ll learn a lot of new stuff proper here cheating spouse singapore

Amazing content here. This is one of the best content articles that I've read on the internet this year. This is written in such a beautiful manner. It's just a great pleasure to read this. Keep giving content like this. http://www.coldsorescured.com

I feel very grateful that I read this. It is very helpful and very informative and I really learned a lot from it. www.yellowtoenailscured.com/

It is perfect time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I've read this post and if I could I desire to suggest you some interesting things or suggestions http://www.harrisonhearing.com/

The best way to predict the future is to create the own future. If you fail on this day, do not despair, because there is no tomorrow and so on that will take you to be more successful. Skin Tags Gone

You have a real ability for writing unique content. I like how you think and the way you represent your views in this article. I agree with your way of thinking cheat boyfriend

Your Voice is the Karaoke app for you if you have ever harbored a secret desire to be a music star with your own bevy of fans. Your Voice is the app for you if you have ever wished to craft and create successful music on your own. Your Voice will guide you and help you practice to be a better singer and performer and also share your performances with the rest of the world. It will be fun and quite easy to sing along to your favorite song. In fact, you can also record yourself singing or dancing in a video. At the click of a button, you can send this video to all your friends and loved ones, as well as professionals in the music industry. Sharing videos is compatible with social medias. We use in an immense database of all the songs and music videos that you could ever think of. We are constantly updating our collection of music from YouTube and cataloguing them each and every day. This means that you will have an unlimited music library that you can use to create your own karaoke video and music tracks at your own pleasure. Get Your Voice today and tap into that hidden talent for amazing results! karaoke version

Really great post, Thank you for sharing This knowledge.Excellently written article, if only all bloggers offered the same level of content as you, the internet would be a much better place. Please keep it up! high trust flow

It is perfect time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I've read this post and if I could I desire to suggest you some interesting things or suggestions cheat boyfriend

I was decisively examining for. An obligation of appreciation is all together for such post and please keep it up Recommended site

had considered creating an eBook on this subject. Your writing would sell it fast. You have a lot of wrthe auto binary signals
iting talent

Awesome work! That is quite appreciated. I hope you’ll get more success. url opener

Every day I visit a number of blog sites to see content, however this offers quality based content.

Wedding Video Production

I may have become more dedicated to the deep study of dogs than I was to my Falcons playbook," Vick writes. Jarabacoa

I have read all the comments and suggestions posted by the visitors for this article are very fine,We will wait for your next article so only.Thanks! www.ecomsuccessacademy.net

You have a real ability for writing unique content. I like how you think and the way you represent your views in this article. I agree with your way of thinking מהיתרו ללונדון

I was searching the blogs for a long time and that is good to know that I have found such blogs here. Great working! Keep it up! Gabung Sbobet Casino Sekarang

Such a very useful article. Very interesting to read this article. I would like to thank you for the efforts you had made for writing this awesome article. Bursa Taruhan Euro 2016 Terbaik

This is one of the most important blogs that I have seen, keep it up! Cara Daftar Sbobet Via Mabosbet

I was searching the blogs for a long time and that is good to know that I have found such blogs here. Great working! Keep it up! cheats for csr racing

It is very nice to see writers and bloggers taking the initiative to write an exciting and interesting articles for their readers not just enjoy reading at same time having fun also!

vitapulse

I recently found many useful information in your website especially this blog page. Among the lots of comments on your articles. Thanks for sharing. Permainan Taruhan Casino Online

I have to search sites with relevant information on given topic and provide them to teacher our opinion and the article. http://bandarjudipialaeropa.com/login

I encourage you to read this text it is fun described ... Day Trader Salary

Everything is patent in this world from birth to death. people need record, which is belongs to who. best innovation. make it for need peoples

vitapulse nac

At Spa Samira Laser Clinic, our number one priority is customer satisfaction. Highly experienced staff, certified aestheticians, and competitive prices are among reasons why our clients choose us. With services ranging from facial peels and waxes, to laser treatments and permanent hair reduction, we strive to exceed your expectations by offering exceptional customer service, employing state-of-the-art technology and using top-of-the-line products. Contact us to schedule an appointment, and one of our aestheticians will be happy to talk to you. anti aging clinic

This is one of the most important blogs that I have seen, keep it up!
opulence for life reviews

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon. job search

Hey buddies, such a marvelous blog you have made I’m surprised to read such informative stuff. taxi in ajmer

Here at this site really the fastidious material collection so that everybody can enjoy a lot.

Bulimia concerns

Every day I visit a number of blog sites to see content, however this offers quality based content. jaipur to delhi taxi

I have been searching to find a comfort or effective procedure to complete this process and I think this is the most suitable way to do it effectively. DNA Wealth Blueprint

Hi buddies, it is great written piece entirely defined, continue the good work constantly.
opulence for life bonus

Welcome to the party of my life here you will learn everything about me. bike transport pune

All you share with us is up to date and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job credit score comparison

Nice to read this article will be very helpful in the future, share more info with us. Good job! fridge repairs

Your style is so unique compared to other people I have read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I'll just bookmark this blog. clash of clans apk mod

I have been in look for of some information about it almost three time. You served me a lot indeed and analyzing this your publish I have found many new and useful information about this topic www.judi-sbobet.net/

This is truly a decent and useful, containing all data furthermore greatly affects the new innovation. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing it cccam server

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon. http://bandarjudipialaeropa.com/