Ex-76er Toney now fights pain, bitterness

March 31, 1991|By Jackie MacMullan | Jackie MacMullan,Boston Globe

It was never a matter of memorizing dead spots on the parquet or the way the lip of the south rim bent ever so slightly. The lighting? Nothing out of the ordinary, Andrew Toney reports. In fact, said the former Philadelphia 76ers guard, the only thing special about the creaky court on 150 Causeway Street was that it served as the stage for his most famous role: the Boston Strangler.

"My first step out of the locker room, I was in range," Toney says. "It was easy. I have no explanation for it. It was just easy for me to score at Boston Garden."

The ease with which Andrew Toney would loft 20-foot daggers into the hearts of Celtics teams became legendary during the early '80s, when Philadelphia and Boston were the true Bad Boys of the East, and their rivalry was one of the fiercest in professional sports.

Andrew Toney has not been in uniform since Feb. 27, 1988, when he played 17 minutes and scored three points in his final National Basketball Association game. A pair of ravaged feet forced him into retirement at 30.

The Boston Strangler may be gone, but he is hardly forgotten. The mere mention of Andrew Toney's name still sends shivers up the spine of many a Celtics veteran, and a smile to those Sixers who remember when.

"Andrew Toney is the best player I ever played with," asserts Charles Barkley. "When I first got to Philadelphia, everyone kept asking me, 'How's Dr. J? What's Moses like? How about Maurice Cheeks?'

"I told them, 'They're all fine, but wait until you see Andrew.' "

Danny Ainge remembers the first time he saw the Strangler. Ainge was a rookie with Boston, and Toney welcomed him to the NBA by raining jump shots on his head.

"He was the toughest guy I ever guarded," says Ainge. "I still talk about him all the time. I was telling the guys in Portland about him last week.

"I still wake up in the middle of the night screaming his name."

Remember how No. 22 sized up a double-team, smiled ever so slightly, then busted both defenders with a fadeaway? How he lined up for the long ball, forcing the defense to play him tight, then whirled and drove to the hole, leaving a frustrated Celtic in his wake? How he snickered as they overplayed him to his left, because he could go either way with the same lethal results?

"You say that name to me, and it messes up my day, even after all those years," says former Celtic M. L. Carr. "He was the best when it came to undressing a defensive player.

"It was a waste of time trying to guard him, because he could pass the ball, too. There was only one way I ever found to stop him. You got him away from the ball, made sure no referee was looking, then laid a forearm to his face."

The Celtics feared Toney so much that they traded for a defensive stopper by the name of Dennis Johnson in 1983, just to find a way to curb the Strangler's assault.

When Toney says he was unstoppable, it's without a trace of bravado; it's more like an accountant ticking off his business assets.

"I was a road warrior," says Toney. "Lots of guys could step up at home, but very few could do it consistently in someone else's building. I was one of those players. If you needed something on the road, you came to me, and I delivered."

That is not what Andrew Toney does now. A pair of stress fractures that went undetected for a long time caused his decline, which included an ugly battle with owner Harold Katz that left both parties bloodied and muddied. In fact, since Toney left the Sixers, he has not set foot inside the Spectrum. He also has not spoken with any Philadelphia reporters.

But more than emotional scars remain.

"My feet are still a problem," he says. "You know how it is. You play one night, and you start to heat up, and the more you're in, the more you want to go.

"Then I go home, and I'm back in the same old agony and pain again. It's unbearable sometimes, and I want to be past that stage. I probably shouldn't play at all."

In the three years since he last appeared in an NBA game, Toney has tried to come to grips with the abrupt and controversial ending of his career. Those who were there still wince when asked about the demise of an All-Star.

"The whole city was divided over what happened to Andrew Toney," says former Sixers coach Billy Cunningham. "It was a sad, sad ending to a great career."

Financially, Toney is still tied to the Sixers. They will pay him roughly $700,000 this season, just as they have the previous two. His contract runs through 1991-92, and next season he will make about $460,000.

In the meantime, Toney is a part-time scout for Cunningham's Miami Heat, and spends his time "watching a lot of exciting players."

"I don't dwell on what happened to me anymore," he says. "It has passed. I had an opportunity to show my talent, and I did that."

Toney has seen Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson and others, but they aren't the same, he says.

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