By Theodore N. Beitchman

Wilt and McGuire on SI's cover in 1961 and in 1967 snatching a board in Boston Garden (photo above)..

Wilt and McGuire on SI’s cover in 1961 and in 1967 snatching a board in Boston Garden (photo above)..

You don’t have to live in Cleveland to love LeBron James coming home to play for the Cavs.

This story has rhapsodized the media, pro hoops fans and especially those who were offended by the way LBJ left Cleveland four years ago — announcing his decision on what appeared to be an ESPN promotional video that was hosted by the unctuous Jim Gray.

Four years and three days after “The Decision” sent LBJ and his talents to South Beach — where he and the Heat appeared in four NBA finals and won two — he announced he was coming home to play only 30 miles from Akron, his real hometown.

For less money than he could have made with the Heat.

But of all the people in Cleveland, no one, with the possible exception of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, was happier than Cleveland’s kids. Sports are played for kids by kids who hope to never grow up until their bodies or their owners tell them that play time is over.

Philly kids are just as sensitive to the ups and downs and comings and going of their favorites.

In 1962, I was 15 and emotionally invested in the Philadelphia Warriors.

Wilt Chamberlain was the team’s hometown hero, and though he had left Philly after Overbrook High to attend Kansas and play for the Globetrotters Warriors owner Eddie Gottlieb made sure he came back to play for the Warriors.

Wilt’s first two seasons established him as one of the greatest players of all-time but the team always fell short in the standings, thanks in large part to the greatness of Bill Russell and his Boston Celtics.

But for the 1961-62 season, Gottlieb hired a great coach, Frank McGuire, whose North Carolina team beat Wilt’s Kansas team in triple overtime for the 1957 NCAA title. Wilt admired McGuire who motivated his greatest individual season — he averaged 50 points and 30 rebounds a game — and the Warriors were similarly improved.

Four of the Warriors starters — Wilt, Guy Rodgers, Tom Gola and Paul Arizin — were Philly natives and they won 49 games and knocked off Syracuse before playing the mighty Celtics in the Eastern finals. The Celtics won in seven, taking the seventh game 109-107 on a Sam Jones 25-foot jumper with two seconds left.

The season was over on April 5, three points away from an NBA finals. On May 25, Gottlieb sold the team which was moved to San Francisco.

I still have the clip of Sandy Grady’s Bulletin column with the headline — WHEN A SPORTS TEAM MOVES ONLY THE KIDS CRY.

I was one of those kids, but we were lucky to have gotten another team a year later, and in January 1965 Wilt was traded back to Philly — his first game was against the Warriors at the old Arena and he went for 30 points and 30 boards against his old mate Nate Thurmond.

In 1967 Wilt led the Sixers of Chet Walker, Luke Jackson, Hal Greer, Wally Jones and Billy Cunningham to a 68-13 record and an NBA title, which included waxing the Celtics in five games and the Convention Hall crowd, screaming, BOSTON’S DEAD!

It was a great story of homecoming, and I hope Cleveland’s kids will have a similar celebration with LeBron and the Cavs.


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