The story behind how the Syracuse Nationals became the Philadelphia 76ers


Have you ever wondered how the Philadelphia 76ers got their name?

Maybe you haven’t … because it’s now so synonymous with the city that it’s hard to imagine the Sixers being called anything else.

But there was a time when the name wasn’t so popular.

“I remember thinking, this was the worst name I’ve ever heard. I absolutely hated it, I thought it was terrible,” David Richman, son of former Sixers owner Ike Richman, told NBC Sports Philadelphia. 

It all started back in 1963, when Ike Richman and Irv Kosloff purchased the Syracuse Nationals and moved the franchise to Philadelphia.  (A year earlier, the Philadelphia Warriors were sold to an investment group in San Francisco, a deal which Richman, a longtime attorney, had helped to negotiate).

(Photo courtesy of Ron Pollack) 

At the time, Philadelphia fans hated the Syracuse Nationals, almost as much as they hated the Boston Celtics.

So, if Philadelphia fans were going to get on board, there needed to be a major change.  

“My father knew that the first thing that needed to happen was to change the team name,” David Richman remembered. “My father came up with the idea of holding a ‘Name The Team' contest to try to get fans involved.”

(Photo courtesy of Ron Pollack) 

Ike Richman also had a cousin, Mel, who owned a big ad agency in Philadelphia, and was a big influence (he even created the original 76ers logo). Sure, they thought they might get some good names, but even more important was feeling like the team got a strong foothold in Philadelphia.

A few thousand entries rolled in, but there was one in particular that caught Richman’s eye.

“My father was fixated on 76ers … because he really wanted to just shock Philadelphia,” David Richman said. 

David’s brother, Mike, remembers being on a long car ride with his father when his dad told him that 76ers was in the lead.

Rumor has it that "The Colonials" was the runner-up.

But the late Walter Stahlberg of West Collingswood, New Jersey, was the winner.

(Photo courtesy of Ron Pollack) 

“There were almost 500 different suggestions among the entries and Stahlberg was one of several who picked the 76ers,” according to an old 76ers media guide obtained courtesy of Ron Pollack, a member of the Sixers’ statistical department. “However, his accompanying 25-word explanation was deemed the best by the judges, and he and his wife received an all-expense paid trip to the West Coast to see the 76ers play San Francisco.”

The explanation, printed in the Aug. 19, 1963 edition of Sports Illustrated, read: "No athletic team has ever paid tribute to the gallant men who forged this country's independence, and certainly Philadelphia, Shrine of Liberty, should do so.” 

Still, it wasn’t until 1965, when Richman made a deal with then-San Francisco Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli to bring Wilt Chamberlain back to the city of Philadelphia, that the new name and brand of Philadelphia 76ers basketball was embraced.

“We went from having 2,000 people in a 10,000-seat auditorium to the place being sold out at every game, and that transformed everything,” David Richman said.

The 76ers brand was cemented.

And now … could you imagine any other name?

“Just seeing the name, hearing the name, puts me back to my childhood,” said Sixers broadcaster Marc Zumoff, who says he has a long-standing policy to make his very first reference to 76ers (and not Sixers) on the broadcast. “It keeps me grounded. It keeps me young.”

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