With decades passing by and the game's evolution, a lot of great players from the earlier eras of the league tend to get lost in the traps of time. But Philly is Philly, and The City of Brotherly Love never forgets a brother, so we’re here to (re)introduce you to Andrew Toney, The Boston Strangler.
Toney was part of probably the most talented era of the Sixers. Behind names like Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Maurice Cheeks and Charles Barkley, Toney may seem like a trifling player. But according to everyone who had the chance to see him play, the Boston Strangler was as important and deadly as anyone on that list.
The Alabama native got drafted in 1980 by the Sixers with the 8th pick. From the get-go, the components that would make him such player were visible: determination, confidence, effort and class. After starting in a bench role, Toney’s ruthless scoring earned him a starter spot in the 1983 victorious team. He averaged 17,5 points in his five healthy seasons and was named an all-star twice in 83’ and 84’. The moment that really propelled him into stardom was his 1982 finals’ performance against the Lakers, where he outscored Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson as a sophomore (!!) by averaging 26 points per game, in a 6 games-serie that the Sixers lost.
"I feared him more than [I feared] Michael Jordan." Danny Ainge.
The imposing nickname “The Boston Strangler” was officially given to him in 1983 by Boston’s press itself, after he repeatedly torched the Celtics in the play-offs. Like in 1982, when they combined for 63 points with his partner in mid-range's crime Julius Erving during the pivotal game 7 of the 1882 Eastern Conference Finals against Boston, en-route to the NBA finals.
Toney was a big-time player, never afraid of the moment. Despite sharing the court with multiple Hall-of-famers, when it was time to win the game, Andrew was always the most dangerous player on the floor.
All the greats who composed the 83’ championship team constantly acknowledge it: without Andrew, there was no ring. With the addition of Moses Malone, the Sixers went on an historic run where Toney was once again a top contributor, losing only one game in the entire 1983 playoffs. His feared mid-range jumper, his pump fakes or the specific-to-the-era elegance with which he attacked the rim were a nightmare to defend for opponents and a joy to watch for Philadelphians.
"The best player I've ever played with is Andrew Toney." Charles Barkley.
Andrew was Philly, and Philly liked Andrew. Fearless, relentless, Toney gave his all for a city that always recognized itself in him, but also for an owner that only considered money. In his 6th season in the league at 28 years old, the 6'3'' shooting-guard started suffering from stress fractures on his foot. After that, everything went downhill between him and the franchise, as his unavailability started raising doubts about his implication after he received the biggest contract of his career. 36 years later, questioning the desire to win and the fighting spirit of a man like Toney still seems incredibly disrespectful and uncalled-for.
After playing only 87 games in the last 3 season, The Boston Strangler retired in 1988 and sadly, only appeared at a Sixers event once in 2012, where he got largely acclaimed by the fans.
Injuries deprived him of the career he deserved. Otherwise, he would’ve been wildly viewed as an all-time great: “Toney was the clutchest player I played against”, “Toney was one of the best guys I ever played against.” said legend and rival Larry Bird, here’s what Billy Cunningham answered when asked about where Toney would be without the injuries “Hall of Fame. There’s no question about it,”.
But you don’t need to be vastly known to be loved in Philadelphia. In 2013, Andrew Toney finally got inducted in the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.
Despite the partnership between him and the franchise ending up in a ugly-fashion, the way Andrew Toney illuminated The Spectrum in the first half of the 80’s with his grit, the 8712 points scored in a Sixers uniform along with a ring to show for it will forever make him a Philadelphia great, and one that should never be forgotten.
I've written an article on phlsportsnation.com about how Tyrese Maxey could have the same importance in today's Sixers squad as Toney did in 1983. Some paragraphs are basically the same as here but the analogy makes a lot of sense so go check it out anyway !