NEW YORK — The Philadelphia 76ers were pleading for help. In the spring of 1972, they ran ads in The Philadelphia Inquirer seeking applicants for their head coaching job. They had been NBA champions in 1967, but poor trades and terrible draft choices had sent them plummeting, and they could not find anybody to fix things.
A stockbroker and former college basketball player, Jules Love, knew the 76ers’ owner, Irv Kosloff, so when he saw the ad, he phoned the team’s general manager, Don DeJardin.
“I said, ‘I have a coach for you,’” Love recalled in an interview Thursday. His candidate was Roy Rubin, for whom he had once been an assistant.
Mr. Rubin, who died of cancer Monday in Miami at 87, had been a successful basketball coach in New York City. After coaching at the high school level, he spent 11 seasons at Long Island University in Brooklyn, where he revitalized a small-college program. But he had no experience in coaching big time college basketball or the pros.
The 76ers nonetheless hired him with a stunning three-year, $300,000 contract.
Today, Mr. Rubin is remembered for coaching the worst team, at least statistically, the NBA had ever seen. His 76ers lost their first 15 games and had a record of 4-47 when he was fired at the All-Star break in January 1973. Sixers guard Kevin Loughery became player-coach and did a bit better, winning five of 31 games.
The 76ers’ record of 9-73 represented a winning percentage of .110, the lowest at the time in NBA history. Their record for futility endured until the Charlotte Bobcats went 7-59 for a .106 percentage in the 2011-12 season, shortened by a labor dispute.
Basketball was Mr. Rubin’s life, and the losses took an emotional toll. When he was fired, he said he had lost 45 pounds since the season’s outset.
“Some nights when we got beat and the losses mounted, my stomach became one big knot,” he told The New York Times. “I felt so humiliated.”
“But I never promised I would be God’s gift to basketball in Philadelphia,” he said. “I made it clear to the owner that I was moving into a situation where the hope for the season would be zero.”
Born in New York, Mr. Rubin wrote the book “Attacking Basketball’s Pressure Defenses.”
Love, who played basketball at Brandeis before becoming an assistant to Mr. Rubin when he was coaching in Brazil at the 1966 Pan American Maccabi Games for Jewish athletes, nominated his friend for the 76ers job.
“I called Roy in New York and told him what I did, and he said, ‘You crazy nut,’” Love recalled. Mr. Rubin did not expect anything to come of the unsolicited nomination, but DeJardin knew him. The 76ers interviewed him and hired him as coach in June 1972.
Mr. Rubin moved to South Florida soon after the 76ers debacle. He married for the first time in 1981, when he was 56. He settled in Miami Beach; ran an International House of Pancakes with his wife, Marsha, who announced his death and was his only survivor; and he taught at a middle school.
He never returned to the basketball world.