Few players in Toney's day were as complete and talented as him. In today's terms picture Richard Hamilton's shooting, Jose Calderon's ball handling, Kobe Bryant's competitiveness, Mike Bibby's passing and Reggie Miller's killer instinct. Combine all that with a fundamentally sound game and physical body strength that would make most power forwards envious.
For those who think I'm over-exaggerating Toney's physical strength, look no further than top 50 all time great and teammate, Charles Barkley, who once said in his autobiography Outrageous!, "Toney was amazingly strong, he and Moses were the only ones on the team that could post me up!" Barkley went on to say in the book, "I thought he (Toney) was the best player on the team when I got here. We had Bobby Jones, Moses Malone, and Julius Erving, but the only one I was in awe of was Andrew."
That's high praise for someone who came out of little known Southwestern Louisiana (now University of Lousiana at Lafayette) as the 8th pick in the 1980 draft. During what would be his healthy years, Toney averaged 17.5 points and 4.4 assists per game with two All-star appearances in his first 5 seasons. This is phenomenal considering the Sixers had two 22+ point scorers and Hall of Famers in Moses Malone and Julius Erving. Nevertheless, what made Toney one of the decade's most dominant players was his ability to raise his game when the stakes were high.Current Miami Heat general manager Pat Riley once said, "He's the greatest clutch player I've ever seen. The hell with Jerry West!"
There are a select few players in the NBA that have nicknames that transcend their God given names, like Earvin to Magic, Jordan to Air, and Isiah to Zeke. Boston fans and the national media knew Toney as the "Boston Strangler" for the way he single handily dominated the Celtics. He was to Boston what Reggie Miller was to the Knicks. He had the talent plus a killer heart on the court, sticking the dagger in when it mattered most.
The Sixers loved to run isolation plays on the wing for Toney. His cat quick first step would be the blueprint for future guards Tim Hardaway and Allen Iverson. He was so much of a dominant offensive force that Boston actually traded to acquire defensive stalwart Dennis Johnson, just to guard Toney. Did it work? Absolutely not. Toney continued his stellar performances with regularity.
Former Celtic player and current head of Celtic basketball operations, Danny Ainge once said in a NBATV interview "I tell you, Andrew was giving you nightmares when you thought about playing against him. He was already the Boston Strangler, so by the time I got there, I had heard all the stories about Andrew Toney. I was given all kinds of advice on how to defend him - be physical with him, just hang on to him, fight him and hold him. I learned through my own experience that was the exact opposite way to defend Andrew. I thought it was better to just let him run wherever he wanted and try to let him get bored, because every time he was challenged either mentally or physically, he seemed to respond."
Toney's confidence was one of his biggest attributes, even on a team loaded with legends like Moses and Doctor J., and stars like Cheeks and Bobby Jones. Andrew still displayed the will to take over games.
Former Sixers coach Billy Cunningham once spoke about his willingness in an interview. "We're playing the Lakers, the game is in overtime, and we're down a point. We have the ball with close to 20 seconds left, so I call a timeout. The play was for Maurice to hold the ball and, at a certain point, Andrew would come off a screen for a shot. Now, I know Andrew heard me, but as the play starts, Andrew runs over to Maurice, says give me the ball and takes it from him. I'm livid. Here we've designed a play, and he just takes the ball. So, the clock is running down, and Andrew finally drives to the right of the lane. I'm not exaggerating, but three Lakers come flying at him to block the ball. Andrew lofts a 12-footer over them, banks it off the board, game over. His argument? 'Coach, I hear what you're saying but just give me the ball.' That was Andrew."
Unfortunately, Toney's greatest challenge came when stress fractures developed in his feet. To make matters worse, the Sixers team doctors could not detect the injuries. This led management and former Sixer owner Harold Katz to believe that Toney was faking his injuries to hold out for a bigger contract. The rift between Toney and Katz got so bad that Katz told the NBA to test Toney for drugs. The test came out negative but this only illustrates how intense the feud between the two became.
Toney stayed in the league for 3 more seasons, hobbling along, never staying healthy, and far from the glory days of his offensive dominance and brilliance. Before the 1989 season began Toney retired without much of a farewell or any sort of fanfare. He vowed never to step foot into a Sixers' arena again until Katz was no longer the owner.
Time has helped heal the wounds that Toney felt from his painful departure from the NBA. He's watched his son, Channing Toney, play ball at Brookwood High School and move on to a scholarship with the Georgia Bulldogs. Channing, now a junior, recently transferred to UAB where he'll be eligible for play in mid December 2007. It's been said that, to this day, Channing cannot beat his dad. Just remember the next time you see Cuttino Mobley, Gilbert Arenas or Ben Gordon, none of them could hold a candle to Andrew. There have been few that could take over a game like he once did.
Larry Bird once said "Do I remember Andrew Toney? The Boston Strangler? Yeah, I remember him. I wish we would've had him. He was a killer. We called him the Boston Strangler because every time he got a hold of the ball we knew he was going to score. He was the absolute best I've ever seen at shooting the ball at crucial times. We had nobody who could come close to stopping him. Nobody."
Toney played in a much different era. In the early 1980s, the NBA was a fledgeing league where games were broadcast once per week and highlights barely shown on the evening news. The idea of sports marketing was a foreign concept. Doctor J was once interviewed before a Lakers finals game with a Star Wars cap on, and there was no deal with George Lucas. It was an age of innocence for the NBA.
Unfortunately, due to a shortened career and higher profile teammates, Toney rarely receives the recognition he deserves. For those who played with and against Toney, he'll be remembered as the top clutch go-to player of his era.
YouTube clip of Toney in action during the 1982 NBA Conference Finals.
*This article is sponsored by Film Fatale, Inc.