Beginning with the 1978 season, Maurice Cheeks played 15 years as a point guard in the NBA, including 11 years with the Philadelphia 76ers. He earned four trips to the NBA All-Star game, and he helped the 76ers earn three trips to the NBA Finals in a four-year span, including one NBA championship in 1983. At the time of his retirement from the NBA in 1993, Cheeks was ranked fifth all-time in assists. But his greatest assist may not have come as a player … but as a coach.
In 2003, Maurice Cheeks was the head coach of the Portland Trailblazers. On April 25th of that same year, the Trailblazers were matched against the Dallas Mavericks. Just before the tip-off, like in every NBA contest, someone was scheduled to sing the National Anthem. It just so happened that someone was 13-year-old Natalie Gilbert who had been voted on by the fans in a local talent contest.
Miss Gilbert began the song in great fashion, confident and on key. But as she approached the fourth line of the song, which reads “At the twilight’s last gleaming”, something strange and unexpected happened. Young Natalie Gilbert, who I am sure was quite overwhelmed with excitement and nervousness, forgot the words. As Miss Gilbert stood there in shock, an uneasiness came over the crowd as they felt her pain and embarrassment.
But suddenly, like he had done for 15 years as a player, Maurice Cheeks handed out yet another assist as he rushed over to the young girl and began to sing with her. With his arm draped over her shoulder, the two finished the song together as the entire Rose Garden arena crowd sang with them. Upon finishing the song, both Cheeks and Gilbert received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Sometimes in life, we all need a friend like Maurice Cheeks, someone who will stand by us, put their arm around us and help us find the right words. As America faces these current times of uncertainty, we are to be that for each other and the hurting world around us. Our greatest testimony doesn’t always come in the words we say, but instead, in the actions we take.
© 2014 Dave Davlin All rights reserved.