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Ex-76er Toney now fights pain, bitterness

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

He missed the rest of the season. In 1986-87, he played 52 games, averaging 20 minutes and 10 points, but his relationship with the franchise was deteriorating steadily. The Sixers felt Toney could play. Toney insisted his injuries prevented him from doing so. Eventually, he was activated and told he'd be fined if he refused to cooperate.

Bill Walton, who suffered through a similar situation, went public with his outrage. The talk shows in Philadelphia debated nothing else. The players and front office backed different versions of the story.

Meanwhile, the Strangler was a shadow of himself.

"No one guard in the league could stop me," he lamented. "Now they all can."

Toney believes the recurring pain is a result of pushing the original stress fractures to the limit.

"It was a case of playing too long on injured feet," he says. "I didn't have any swelling, and the tendency is to convince yourself nothing is wrong. I played on them too long that way, and it caught up with me."

In January 1987, the Sixers put Toney on the injured list, saying he had become a negative influence on the team. He was instructed not to appear in the locker room. He was not to attend practice. He was forbidden to sit on the bench during games. Said general manager John Nash, "His demeanor has been a source of distraction."

Toney acknowledges that the stress of the controversy affected him. He felt he could trust no one. One afternoon, when reporters approached him for an interview, he reached back into his locker, pulled out a tape recorder, then turned on a homemade tape -- complete with background music -- stating his position.

"I didn't want people manipulating my thoughts anymore," he says. "I figured they couldn't change what was on the tape. Besides, I wanted to throw them off-balance."

By that time, the war of words between Toney and Katz had escalated. The team was in turmoil, and morale was low.

"He was hurt and they didn't believe him," says Barkley, who arrived in 1984. "It didn't show up on the X-rays right away, and they had some questions.

"But I can tell you, he was hurt. I saw how painful it was for him to take even one step. I have one stress fracture right now, and I can't imagine what it's like to have two.

"The bad thing was they made it a question of honor, and that was too much for Andrew."

Toney said the Sixers even asked him to submit to a drug test, which he passed. A former team official confirmed this.

Katz finally told Toney he would be paid if he retired. The deal was struck, but the damage was long done.

"An organization will always throw all types of stones so they can find out which ones hurt," says Toney. "I was in a tough situation with Harold. When you are criticized publicly as a player, then you come back in defense, and it gets kind of dirty. Both sides did a lot of firing off at the mouth.

"I don't have any hang-ups about the decisions Harold made, or the ones I made. There's no reason to point fingers. It's over.

"I was not going to let anyone determine things for me. I stood up for the decision I made. I can live very comfortably knowing I did that."

Katz declined to be interviewed for this story. Whenever the Sixers come to town, the Celtics start reminiscing. Images of Andrew Toney come rushing back; first there's a rush of fear, then a wave of sadness.

"It never should have happened like this," says Carr. "Andrew should have had a 12-year career, should have been a Hall of Famer."

He will likely have to settle for a place in the Celtic Hall of Fame -- as the single most terrifying opponent they ever faced.

"It wasn't fear, it just seemed that way because he scored so many points," says Larry Bird. "We did just about everything we could to stop him, but we usually didn't."

Could anyone stop Andrew Toney?

"The only guy that really put the clamps on me was T. R. Dunn," says Toney, "and the only reason he could do that was because he grew up in Birmingham with me, and we played together year in and year out.

"DJ was a good defender, but I thought he was a little too slow for me. The guy that played me the best on the Celtics was Gerald Henderson. He was good at reading my moods and playing me that way. But that's not to say he stopped me. I don't think anyone could really stop me."

Toney says he hasn't been to Boston Garden since he retired. He doesn't think much about the flags, or Red, or the creaky floor.

"But I do miss those ball boys," says the Boston Strangler. "Tell them I said hello."

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