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Andrew Toney, Forgotten Basketball StarSports

by Joseph Mackin on July 17, 2013

toney

Andrew Toney (photo: nba.com)

Of the five starters on the 1983 NBA Eastern Conference All-Star team there were four 76ers and one guy wearing green. The Philadelphians included basketball royalty Moses Malone and Julius Erving, plus two guards, Maurice Cheeks–the admirable, sturdy hoops lifer who is the new coach of the Detroit Pistons–and the forgotten Andrew Toney. The only people, it seems, who never forgot Toney are those who had to play against him. That guy in green? His name was Larry Bird. In his basketball memoir, Larry Legend picked the two greatest players of his era at each position. For shooting guards he named Toney and a certain Michael Jeffrey Jordan, noting (astoundingly) that as far as scoring ability he couldn’t separate the two. Bird later said, “Toney was a killer. The absolute best I’ve ever seen at shooting the ball at crucial times.”

Why isn’t Toney mentioned anymore? The cover of Sports Illustrated once proclaimed him “The Boston Strangler.” (It was a less sensitive age.) And vis-a-vis the nickname, if anybody should remember Andrew Toney it’s Celtics fans. Because it was specifically to slow down Toney, who routinely lit up the Boston Garden, that the Celts fetched defensive stopper Dennis Johnson from out West. Johnson was subsequently instrumental in a couple of Boston championships; Boston fans have Toney to thank. Longevity plays a part in legend, of course, and Toney had stress fractures in his feet that cut short his productivity and career. He left the 76ers, who were cavalier about his injury, with not a little bitterness. But in his short prime he was so good that, together with Moses, he made the great Dr. J merely the third option on offense. During his great years, he averaged over 50% shooting from the floor (unheard of for a shooting guard not named Jordan; Ray Allen, for instance, never topped 50% in a single season). Yet somehow Toney isn’t even on Bleacher Report‘s list of the 50 Greatest Shooting Guards of All Time. It’s a terrible but typical oversight. Said Charles Barkley, considering all his illustrious teammates: “the only one I was in awe of was Andrew.”

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Joseph Mackin is the publisher of 2paragraphs.com. He was the original Internet Editor of The Paris Review, under the direction of George Plimpton, and is the author of the novel Pretend All Your Life. mackin@2paragraphs.com

Andrew Toney, Forgotten Basketball Star
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