They Called him The Strangler for a Reason
Andrew Toney, whose 76ers career was cut short by foot injuries, was inducted Thursday into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame. Toney was among 17 inductees in the ceremony at the Society Hill Sheraton, and arguably the most intriguing.
An all-star on the 1982-83 championship team, Toney appeared in 70 or more games in his first five seasons from 1980-81 through 1984-85. Injuries limited him to just 87 games over his final three years. His career ended in 1987-88 with Toney playing just 29 games and averaging just 7.3 points.
During Toney's final three years, his feet simply broke down, but there was criticism from those who did not understand the severity of his injuries. Former Sixers general manager Pat Williams remembers the criticism. "I left in the summer of 1986, and it was just beginning to become a huge problem, and so often in the media, little innuendos would creep out with people wondering if he was really hurt that bad and wondering why he wasn't playing," said Williams, another inductee. "That kind of talk is unfair to any athlete."
The criticism stung Toney, who refuses to talk about things to this day. When asked Thursday for an interview, he politely declined. "I haven't done interviews since the 1980s," the 55-year-old Toney said.
There were others, including Williams, who were more than willing to sing his praises. "I interviewed [former Boston guard] Danny Ainge for a book I did on the Sixers," Williams said, "and he said there were three players who kept him awake at night, knowing he would have to deal with them: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Andrew Toney."
Toney earned the nickname "The Boston Strangler" for the way he fearlessly shot down the Celtics.
In 1982, when the Sixers beat the Celtics in seven games to reach the NBA Finals, Toney averaged a team-high 22.7 points during the series. In Game 7, a 120-106 Sixers win at Boston Garden, Toney scored 34 points.
"He is definitely one of the toughest guys we ever played against," Celtics Hall of Famer Larry Bird said in a telephone interview. "We really didn't have anybody to stop him, and it seemed like he scored at will." Bird said there were many reasons for Toney's effectiveness. "He could create his space to get his shot off," Bird said. "I think people didn't appreciate how high his basketball IQ was, and he was a very good passer even though he didn't get a lot of assists."
Bird summed up the feelings of many basketball people about Toney. "He was one of the best [shooting] guards in the league at the time," Bird said. "He was virtually unstoppable, and it's unfortunate that he got injured." Toney was a two-time all-star who averaged 15.9 points in the regular season and 17.4 in the playoffs. Those numbers don't begin to tell the story of the 6-foot-2 guard, who was explosive, strong, and fearless in a career cut far too short.
"It was sad," Williams said. "He would have been a surefire Hall of Famer had he been able to continue playing."
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