Jumaine Jones found himself starting in the NBA Finals, playing alongside Allen Iverson, the league's MVP, and against Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and a formidable Lakers team in the middle of a dynasty.
He was not the Sixers' Plan A.
"We were beat up," Jones recalled in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "I think the whole entire team was probably going through injuries except me. I was one of the young guns that didn't get injured much. I was young - I was running around crazy at the time."
Iverson is the unavoidable story of the 2000-01 Sixers, the feisty, skinny, special icon that seems to be the center of any tale. However, Iverson's story isn't the only compelling one from that team, which won 56 regular-season games and overcame seven-game epics against the Raptors and Bucks to reach Game 1 in Los Angeles, when Iverson scored 48 points and took a famous, disdainful step over Tyronn Lue.
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The injuries are a good place to start. Aaron McKie, the Sixth Man of the Year that season, fractured his ankle in Game 1 of the Finals. Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo played with a broken pinkie, Matt Geiger had right quadriceps tendinitis and George Lynch appeared in the Finals despite having a broken bone in his left foot. Eric Snow, who'd missed 32 regular-season games because of a stress fracture in his right ankle, suited up in the playoffs.
The superstar had his share of ailments as well.
Snow told NBC Sports Philadelphia his ankle "wasn't fully healed."
Then, in Game 4 of the Sixers' Eastern Conference Finals series vs. Milwaukee, he suffered a new fracture. How painful was it to play on?
"I broke my ankle," Snow said with a laugh. "… It never really was the same for the rest of my career … even now."
According to Snow, the injury is why he decided, with the ball in his hands, the shot clock expiring and Lue smothering Iverson, to take a runner from the left elbow in overtime of Game 1. He sunk the shot with 10.5 seconds left, giving the Sixers a four-point lead.
Snow said he took the runner, a shot he first incorporated into his game at Michigan State under the late coach Jud Heathcote, because it was easier on his ankle than stepping into a conventional attempt or shooting after a jump stop.
Unlike Snow, who averaged 12.6 points and 6.0 assists in the Finals, Lynch couldn't manage much production after his playoff injury - he gave the Sixers eight minutes in Game 4 of the Finals, six in Game 5. Those 14 minutes were not pleasant.
The unfortunate part is the screw that they put in was too small to carry my weight," he told NBC Sports Philadelphia. "I felt it throughout workouts leading up to those last two weeks. If I landed on that side of the foot, it was very excruciating pain. I checked in to try to play - my timing was off a little bit. I felt that if I could've played defense, I could've helped the team. I wasn't able to do that when I gave it a shot. …
"I don't think it was quite healed up, but the doctor said if I could play with the pain, I couldn't do any more damage to it. When I was traded to Charlotte, they had to redo the surgery. They put in a bigger screw to support my weight.
He played without any medication to alleviate the pain.
"I probably should've taken a pain shot," he said, "but then I probably wouldn't have been able to feel my foot, putting down it on the ground, so either way I was done. So it was just whether I was able to manage the load at that time, and I wasn't able to."
Playing with Iverson was not a thankless job, but it helped to have self-awareness and humility. Jones, who the Sixers picked up in a draft-night trade in 1999, learned that quickly.
"It was a transition for me because I came from being a scorer and I led the SEC in scoring [at Georgia], and I thought that was one of the reasons why I got drafted to go to Philadelphia," he said. "And it was funny, the first day I got to practice, [head coach] Larry Brown came up to me and he was like, ‘Look here, Jumaine. You want to play for me, you've gotta find something else to do, because we've got a little guy on our team who's going to shoot 50 times a night.'"
While Jones entered the NBA with scoring pedigree, the roster general manager Billy King constructed had little overlap with Iverson's best talents. The Sixers finished the 2000-01 season second in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage and fifth in defensive rating. They chased down loose balls, fed Iverson, set screens and excelled at unglamorous tasks.
"A lot of guys, to get to the NBA, you've gotta have a lot of confidence, you've gotta have a lot of pride, you've gotta be competitive," Lynch said. "And you've gotta have the right guys willing to make the sacrifice in order to be successful."
Three-point shooting and shot creation were clear weaknesses for Iverson's supporting cast. Outside of Toni Kukoc, who was traded in February to the Hawks along with All-Star center Theo Ratliff, Nazr Mohammed and Pepe Sanchez in the Mutombo deal, the best three-point shooting mark for a Sixers regular that season was 33.3 percent.
When defenses denied Iverson the ball, the offensive burden often fell on players like Snow. It was sensible to leave him open, and Snow grew familiar with those situations. He scored 18 points on 7 of 9 shooting in Game 5 against the Bucks, including a couple of clutch jumpers.
"I was used to taking the big shots, because guys would double [Allen]," he said.
A teammate of Iverson's for seven seasons, Snow said he wasn't bothered by the off-court drama that often circulated around the MVP.
"As players, we didn't worry about any of that," said Snow, who still calls Iverson a close friend.
The reality, however, is that Iverson was set to be traded to the Pistons the previous summer, but Geiger refused to waive his trade kicker. The relationship between Iverson and Brown, a coach insistent on "playing the right way," had deteriorated.
"I did not want to trade Allen Iverson, but I could no longer defend him because he was breaking Larry's rules," then-Sixers president Pat Croce told Bloomberg News in 2001. "Allen just told me he didn't want to go. He wanted to be a professional."
Jones acknowledged the tension between Brown and Iverson but said he saw them reconcile for a common good that season. Iverson memorably asked, "Where's my coach?" after receiving the All-Star Game MVP trophy.
"I think it was a misconception with most people thinking there was a big thing between Allen and Coach Brown," Jones said. "I think it was just two egos that really wanted to win. Allen wanted to win his way, Larry wanted to win his way. And they kind of came together, bonded together that season, which made it more special, especially after the summer with all the rumors that were going on about him wanting to be traded and Larry not wanting him here."
Iverson, Brown and the Sixers could never replicate the magic of their run in 2000-01, in part because of two moves the ensuing offseason that did not have the desired impact. The team traded Jones and power forward Tyrone Hill to Cleveland in August, acquiring Matt Harpring, Cedric Henderson and Robert "Tractor" Traylor. In October, Lynch went to the Hornets and a 34-year-old Derrick Coleman came back to Philadelphia in a three-team, eight-player deal.
The 2001-02 Sixers won only 43 games and lost to the Celtics in the first round.
"With the team that we had and the confidence that we had in each other, I honestly think that if we could've been healthy, I think we could've challenged the Lakers again that next season," Jones said. "The day after the Finals, I was in the gym working hard, waiting until the next season started - I couldn't wait. All I could think about is if I could get a lot better and bring more to the team next year, then we'd really have more of a chance to make the Finals again.
"I remember getting a phone call when I was in the gym training, and my cousin was like, ‘Your agent wants to talk to you.' And I was like, ‘Tell him I'm in the gym working, man. Tell him to call me later.' And he was like, ‘No, he needs to talk to you now.' Right then, I was like, ‘Uh-oh. What just happened?' And he told me, ‘Man, the 76ers are going to trade you and Tyrone Hill to Cleveland.' And I just could never understand why that happened. That's when I was introduced to the business side of basketball."
Lynch also believes an intact, relatively healthy version of the 2000-01 Sixers could have repeated as Eastern Conference champions the next year. He requested a trade after the season, a choice he regrets.
In my contract it stated that I could get my contract re-done if the Sixers weren't over the salary cap," he said. "Every move they made, they kept going further and further over the salary cap. I felt that I was underpaid for what I brought to the team. At the end of the day, I kind of wish that we could've kept that team together to make one more run at it. Sometimes you listen to agents and you listen to people outside of the locker room. Sometimes you make the wrong decision.
Both Lynch and Snow worked under Brown at SMU and hold him in high regard. Lynch is now the head coach at Division II Clark Atlanta, while Snow is an assistant coach for the Texas Legends in the G League.
"One thing I did learn from Coach [Dean] Smith and Coach Larry Brown, I coach my superstars just like I coach my role players," Lynch said, "and I expect the same thing out of them."
He's the co-founder of HBCU Heroes, a non-profit organization that's seeking donations in an effort to provide 6,000 laptops for HBCU student-athletes struggling with the remote learning environment necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.
"The demand that I put on them is the same demand that I'm sure any D-I coach - Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, [John] Calipari - puts on their players. … A lot of student-athletes at historically black colleges don't have the resources that most D-I schools have," Lynch said. "On my team, six of the nine student-athletes are home without computers or devices that they can learn on. Some of them would go to Starbucks and sit so they could have free Wi-Fi. Those are the challenges that we're dealing with."
Snow, who lives in Frisco, Texas, enjoys the developmental focus of the G League - "it's kind of like coaching in college but without the school," he said - though he would like to coach in the NBA at some point. Lynch is happy with the impact he can make in his current role, but he shares Snow's desire.
"I would love to be able to maybe someday get on an NBA team, working with the coaches moving forward," Lynch said. "I'm definitely open to all. I just love staying around the game, I think I have a lot to share through my experiences and I think kids will be receptive to listening to what I have to say."
Jones resides in Atlanta and helps with community service projects in the area. He'd previously been in Philadelphia, where two of his daughters live, and worked with the Sixers Youth Foundation. After a whirlwind basketball life that's included stops in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston, Los Angeles, Italy, Russia, Bulgaria and Mexico, he has interest in high school coaching and said he'll probably complete his degree from Georgia to open up that possibility.
Nineteen years later, the memories of the 2000-01 season are still vivid for Jones, Snow and Lynch. They've moved on to other things, yes, but have little trouble recalling the granular details of that year. The joy of the journey and the people they shared it with sticks out to them, too, even if it didn't end in a championship.
"We were friends," Snow said when asked what he remembered most. "We all got along really well together."
"A lot of times on the road we had team dinners together," Lynch said. "It wasn't organized by the coaching staff, it was just the players getting together and having a good time, sharing, laughing at each other, cracking jokes.
"And how much we enjoyed being around each other, that was the most memorable thing as far as my 12 years as an NBA player. That team, not only did we play hard, but we enjoyed time together off the court."
Nineteen years after he walked into Staples Center as a Finals starter and walked out with a transient series lead, Jones gets reminded about that season.
There's no other experience like Philly fans, man," he said. "Even now when I go back to Philadelphia, I'm still getting all the love from the 2001 team. Anywhere I go people are telling me, ‘Thank you.' And I'm like, ‘What are you thanking me for?' And then they're like, ‘You know, for that 2001 run.' I'm like, ‘You remember that? That was like 20 years ago.' I still get the same love, and I still love the city of Philadelphia. They still show me love no matter how long ago that was.
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