• Leigh Gerstenberger

I’ve Got Your Back




When he was inducted into basketball’s Hall of Fame in 2018 on his 62nd birthday, Maurice Cheeks ranked 13th on the NBA’s list of career assists with 7,392. Eleven of Cheeks’ fifteen year playing career were spent with the Philadelphia 76ers and during his tenure the 76ers went to the playoffs 10 times. When he retired from the NBA in 1993, Cheeks was the NBA’s all-time leader in steals and assists. Following his playing career Cheeks served has a head coach for the NBA’s Detroit, Philadelphia and Portland franchises.


While many will remember his prowess on the court, Natalie Gilbert will never forget how the head coach of the Portland Trailblazers “had her back” one evening.


On April 25, 2003, before a game between the Trail Blazers and the Dallas Mavericks, Cheeks aided 13-year-old Gilbert in singing the national anthem. After Gilbert forgot the words to the anthem "…at the twilight's last gleaming", Cheeks rushed over to help her and they finished it together, with the entire Rose Garden Arena crowd singing with them. As the song concluded Cheeks and Gilbert received a standing ovation for their performance.


Cheek’s acceptance speech during his induction into the Hall of Fame included several references to individuals who “had his back” during his career.


In his speech, Cheeks attributed his early career success to his friend and DuSable High School teammate William Dice who, while heavily recruited by West Texas State, refused to play for the team unless he could bring a friend, Maurice Cheeks with him.

Cheeks also his success to his mother, Mama Cheeks who kept him and his brothers on the straight and narrow while raising them on the South Side of Chicago’s notorious Robert Taylor Homes housing project, a two mile stretch consisting of twenty eight, 16-story apartment building that housed up to 27,000 residents.


This two-minute video of Cheeks “assisting” Gilbert with the national anthem followed by his eight-minute acceptance speech at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony speak volumes about what it means to “have someone’s back”. Enjoy.


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