Remarks on Greeting the Philadelphia 76'ers, the National Basketball Association World Champions

June 8, 1983

The President. Well, thank you very much, and welcome to the White House. It's a real pleasure to play host to a team and a basketball family that have come to symbolize America at its best. With your dogged determination, your high style, your fierce competitiveness, and your great talent, you've given new meaning to the ``Spirit of '76.''

You came so close to winning the championship so many times before, others might have become frustrated, but none of you gave up. Your owner, Harold Katz, was determined to do whatever it took to gather the best players into the club. Your coach, Billy Cunningham, played on the last Philadelphia championship team, so he had the vision. But you, the players, are the ones who put it all together with your individual effort and team spirit.

I know that Dr. J [Julius Erving] and Moses Malone -- ``Mr. Four, Four, Four'' -- are two of your brightest stars, but it took every one of you pulling together to make this dream come true. Your regular season was nothing but awesome -- 65 wins with only 17 losses -- and your performance in the playoffs set a new NBA record. I think Coach Riley of the Lakers put it best when he likened your playoff style to ``controlled fury.'' And he should know, since he was on the receiving end.

But whenever people excel the way you have, it's usually because they burn for excellence somewhere down deep inside. I remember once reading that Dr. J said he put the most pressure on himself because of his ambitions to be the best basketball player ever. ``What happens around me,'' he said, ``can't put any more pressure on me than that.'' Well, your team history of come-from-behind striving tells me that you felt that internal pressure as a team. You were determined to be the best, and because of that, today you are. I can't think of a better example of the American dream come true.

On behalf of your admirers -- which by now include all Americans -- thank you for a thrilling season, those spectacular playoff games, and the inspiration that you provided all of us to find the best within ourselves.

Before I close, let me wish the youngest rookie on your team, Mark McNamara, happy birthday, and tell all of you how sorry I was that I wasn't able to phone you the night you won the championship. But there's always next year, and I won't forget. I owe you one. [Laughter]

Thank you very much.

Mr. O'Brien. [Lawrence F. O'Brien, commissioner of the National Basketball Association] Mr. President, on behalf of the NBA, I want to express our deep appreciation for your invitation to the World Champions and the NBA here today. It's wonderful of you to do it, and I'm sure fans throughout the country and the world are equally appreciative. Thank you.

And I've been told that there are occasions when you do a little refereeing here, and I want to present to you, therefore, an official referee's jacket which you can wear on those occasions when Tip and the rest come down to visit you. [Laughter] And it is the official referee's jacket. So, now you are an honorary referee in the NBA, Mr. President.

The President. Well, I thank you very much. You mean -- you wouldn't mean there aren't enough people mad at me already? [Laughter]

Mr. O'Brien. I want to present to you, Mr. President, the owner of this great team, the World Champion 76'ers, Harold Katz.

The President. Yes.

Mr. Katz. Mr. President -- --

Mr. O'Brien. Go ahead, Hal.

Mr. Katz. Mr. President, on behalf of the whole team, we thank you for bringing us here today. And we're deeply honored by it. And Moses Malone has a ball for you.

The President. Hey -- and all autographed.

Mr. Katz. And Julius Erving has your number -- number one.

The President. Thank you very much.

Mr. Katz. And this is for you, President Reagan.

The President. Hey.

Mr. Katz. Now, they told me that you're very strong on defense, so you'll fit in on our team. [Laughter] So, maybe you might make the starting lineup next year. [Laughter]

The President. Okay.

Mr. Katz. Thank you very much.

Mr. Erving. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Mr. Malone. Thank you.

The President. Well, listen, thank all of you. And I'm very proud to have these things.

Mr. Erving. Thank you.

Mr. Malone. Thank you.

The President. You bet. Well, we're all proud of you, and I did -- later, and on a replay -- get to see some of the last few minutes of that all-important game. And all it did was just make me wish to hell I'd seen the rest of the game. [Laughter] All right.

Well, thank you all very much, and congratulations.

Mr. Katz. Thank you.

Mr. Erving. Thank you very much.

Reporter. Throw the ball! [Laughter]

Mr. O'Brien. Thank you again, Mr. President.

The President. On the lawn?

Q. No, sir. In the air. [Laughter]

The President. If I'd have known that, we could have had baskets put up here -- both ends. [Laughter]

Mr. O'Brien. Just about the right size.

The President. Yes.

Mr. O'Brien. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the World Championship Trophy, that now becomes the permanent possession of the 76'ers. It was designed by Tiffany. It is gold. And we protect it at all times. [Laughter]

The President. I'll bet they don't think I could. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 11:54 a.m. to guests and reporters assembled in the Rose Garden at the White House.