Why Are the Philadelphia 76ers Called the 76ers?

With some truly legendary players over the years, the Philadelphia 76ers have a longer history than any other NBA team. While referencing their name seems like second nature to fans, many still wonder about the origin of “76ers.” The franchise has a fascinating story about where its name comes from and its significance to the City of Brotherly Love. Let’s look at why the Philadelphia 76ers are called the 76ers. 

The history of the Philadelphia 76ers

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According to Britannica.com, the 76ers (often called the Sixers) have won three NBA titles throughout their storied franchise history: 1955, 1967, and 1983. They’ve also had some phenomenal players during their run: 

  • Julius Erving aka “Dr. J”
  • Moses Malone
  • Allen Iverson
  • Charles Barkley
  • Wilt Chamberlain
  • Hal Greer
  • Billy Cunningham
  • Dikembe Mutombo

With its creation in 1939, the Sixers are the NBA’s oldest franchise. Along with experiencing the highest of highs, they’ve also been through the lowest of lows. The team won a league-low nine games in 1972-73. They acquired Erving in the mid-’70s, which led to a new era of prosperity.

Malone and Erving teamed up to deliver what was probably the franchise’s best iteration in 1983, the year they won their last championship. Now? The 76ers are a solid playoff team behind Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but they’re still trying to move into the league’s upper echelon. 

Other unusual NBA team names

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The 76ers aren’t the only NBA team with a name that may make you scratch your head. Several other teams have unusual names with interesting backstories: 

  • Los Angeles Lakers: It doesn’t take a topography expert to realize there are zero lakes in LA. That’s because the Lakers franchise initially called Minneapolis home. Minnesota is colloquially known as the “land of 10,000 lakes.” They kept the name when moving west. 
  • Utah Jazz: Like the Lakers, the Jazz’s team name doesn’t fit with their location of Utah. That’s because the team originally played in New Orleans, where jazz music is the norm. The team changed cities, but not names. 
  • Charlotte Hornets: The team originally joined the NBA as an expansion franchise in the late ’80s. They moved to New Orleans. Charlotte was later awarded another expansion franchise called the Bobcats. NBA legend Michael Jordan later bought the team and changed the name back to the Hornets in 2014, according to ESPN.

It’s clear the 76ers aren’t alone when it comes to having an odd name. So where did it come from? 

Why are the Philadelphia 76ers called the 76ers? 

The 76ers' Julius Erving in 1983
Magic Johnson of the Lakers and Julius Erving of the Philadelphia 76ers talks with a sports commentator in 1983 | Focus on Sport/Getty Images

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The Sixers originally played in Syracuse and went by the Nationals, according to NBA.com.  Two Philadelphians, Irv Kosloff and Ike Richman, bought the team and moved them there. In 1963, they had a contest to change the team name. Residents put forward 500 ideas for a new name. Several people suggested the 76ers. The most persuasive of the bunch was a man from New Jersey named Walt Stahlberg.

He submitted a 25-word mini-essay on why the team should choose the name. It swayed judges, and the franchise’s identity was born. For his troubles, Stahlberg and his wife earned a trip out west to see the Sixers play the Warriors — coincidentally, a team that had previously played in Philadelphia. 

The 76ers name commemorated the birthday of the United States. Philadelphia played host to some of the most important events in the country’s formation, and 1776 was the year the country signed the Declaration of Independence.