When the phone rings these days in his Philadelphia home, Fred Carter instinctively knows the caller is more interested in discussing the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, with whom he played, than the present team he now serves as an assistant coach.
Of course, all the interest in that team of 20 years ago centers on its dubious distinction of owning the worst record, 9-73, in NBA history. Now its place in basketball's Hall of Shame is being seriously threatened by the Dallas Mavericks, who after last night's loss have won just three of 40 games.
"I was the high scorer on that 76ers team," Carter recalled. "I averaged 20 points a game and was named the MVP. I didn't know if I got the reward for helping us win nine or lose 73."
Actually, most of the blame fell to Roy Rubin, the former Long Island University coach who was hired by Philadelphia after the 76ers finished 30-52 under veteran coach Jack Ramsay the previous year.
Rubin lasted 51 games before being replaced by former Baltimore Bullets guard Kevin Loughery, who would finish the season as player-coach. In time, Rubin and Loughery would become the joint answer to a trivia question: "Which 76ers coach won five games, which won four?"
"Kevin won five, so he must have been the better coach," said Rubin.
Carter, who, with Loughery, was traded in 1971 by the Bullets for Archie Clark, tends to agree.
"To be perfectly honest, the job was too big for Rubin," he said. "His main coaching experience was with a Division II college team. It was like naming a high school math whiz the CEO of a major corporation."
Harvey Pollack, who has kept statistics for the 76ers for more than 40 years, remembers Rubin for a different reason.
Said Pollack: "The opening day of training camp, Rubin called the players together and told them, 'I don't care about past reputations, and whether you were a starter or 12th man. Every job on this team is now open.'
"He was looking right at Hal Greer when he said it. Hal was one of our all-time greats and a future Hall of Famer, and Rubin buried him on the bench."
Greer had a hard time remembering the names of all his fellow bench-warmers that forgettable season. Nineteen players would wear a 76ers uniform, including five different centers -- Leroy Ellis, Dennis Awtrey, Dale Schlueter, Mel Counts and Bob Rule.
"There was constant chaos," said Carter. "We used to joke that we had a turnstile rather than a door leading to our locker room."
Does he empathize with the hapless Mavericks?
"I really feel sorry for these kids. At least, when I was with Baltimore, I had an opportunity to play and observe great players, like Wes Unseld, Gus Johnson and Earl Monroe," said Carter, who was drafted by the Bullets and played here 2 1/2 seasons.
"These young guys in Dallas all have about the same talent. It's difficult for them to improve because they have no role models. The survivors will have a lot of mental scars. Teams don't like to make trades for players from losing teams."
After Michael Jordan played only 27 minutes in the Chicago Bulls' 123-88 rout of the Mavericks in Dallas last Tuesday, His Airness said: "You can basically do anything you want with them. I just wanted to do my work, sit down and watch, but it wasn't fun. You just take it as a win."
Rumors are circulating that the Boston Celtics may be willing to send power forward Kevin McHale, 35, to the Seattle SuperSonics for reserve center Benoit Benjamin, 28. Said McHale: "If rumors were water, we'd all be wearing life vests."
Benjamin, 7 feet, who has not fulfilled his potential in seven NBA seasons, has played 57 minutes for the Sonics since Dec. 16. But the Celtics are seeking a replacement for Robert Parish, who is 39 and nursing a sore back.
He won't Wilt
Asked to compare himself with rookie superstar Shaquille O'Neal of the Orlando Magic, Wilt Chamberlain said, "Ninety-nine percent of his baskets come on dunks. People only remember me as a power player. But I could shoot the jumper off the board better than anyone except Sam Jones and Cazzie Russell. When I averaged 50 one year, a lot of my points came off jumpers and hooks. So far, I've seen Shaq make only one jump shot."
"He stuck it to us, and I took it personally," said Maxwell. "The Nets left him in the game even though they had it won, just so he could get his career high. I guess I kind of owe him one."
Last Saturday the teams met again in Houston. The Rockets won, but Petrovic scored 32. Maxwell is an admirer now. "He's the real rifleman," Maxwell said. "I've never seen anyone shoot like that."