Philly Freedom This time around, 76ers guard Aaron McKie is thriving--and not just surviving--in his hometown

January 22, 2001

On trips between the First Union Center and his house on
Philadelphia's leafy Main Line, 76ers guard Aaron McKie sometimes
takes a detour. He'll drive down Broad Street in North
Philadelphia, not far from Temple, where he starred in college.
He'll pass the abandoned lots, graffiti-tagged buildings and
dilapidated homes, shaking his head the whole time. It is here
that McKie grew up under conditions so dire they're difficult to
fathom.

He was nine years old when his father, Woodrow, died of heart
failure. Five years later Aaron's mother, Pearl, succumbed to the
pressures of raising a family alone and left the home. During an
adolescence that was less about actual living than survival,
McKie moved from relative to relative, at one point residing in a
car until he could move in with an aunt. "I wouldn't want anyone
to have to go through that," says McKie, who reconciled with
Pearl when he was in college. "But I made it out because I had a
support system and people in the background leading me down the
right path."

With his selfless, utilitarian play, McKie, 28, has emerged as
the soft-spoken leader of the Sixers, who at week's end had the
best record (27-9) in the Eastern Conference. "He's a pro's pro,
the behind-the-scenes guy who does an honest job every night,"
says coach Larry Brown. "He takes pride in his game but does
nothing to bring attention to himself."

Earlier this month McKie took a rare turn in the spotlight when
he became the first 76er since 1979 to have consecutive triple
doubles, and was named Player of the Week. Indeed, the way McKie
efficiently fills a box score, it's a wonder Harvey Pollack,
Philly's venerable statistician, doesn't suffer from carpal
tunnel syndrome. At 6'5", McKie is a capable passer, rebounder
and scorer, and he ranks among the league's best defenders.
Though he is a natural shooting guard, he can play every position
but center and is currently starting at the point for the injured
Eric Snow. "There's nothing Blue won't do for us," says center
Theo Ratliff, another of Philadelphia's dirty-work warriors,
referring to McKie by his boyhood nickname. "Just having him
around makes us a much deeper team."

To Brown's delight McKie plays another vital role for the Sixers:
helping ease the tortuous (and sometimes torturous) process that
is Allen Iverson's maturation. A loyal pal who can relate to
Iverson's hardscrabble upbringing, McKie will also privately
upbraid the team's mercurial star for transgressions such as
arriving late for practice. "Our temperaments are different--he
has more energy than I do--but we're similar in that we both had
to deal with families in a crisis," says McKie, who lives with
his girlfriend, Kianna, and their year-old daughter, Erin (left).
"Now we're better for it."

Among the league's bigger bargains, McKie will earn $1.82 million
this season, barely half the league average. (That doesn't
include what he claims to make off his teammates--"Shooting holes
in their pockets," as he puts it--playing Bourre, a card game, for
high stakes.) A free agent this summer, McKie figures the money
will take care of itself. "Just knowing my daughter will never
have to go through what I did," he says, "that means the world to
me."

--L. Jon Wertheim

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)