The Sixers, And Their Fans, Can't Win For Losing

Committing to The Process wasn't easy, and it wasn't necessarily fun. But for a fan who bought into the idea that Sam Hinkie could move things forward, the end of the Hinkie experiment feels like a step back.
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It was not a good look when I excused myself from a high school recital Wednesday night, just because Sam Hinkie had dramatically resigned as the Philadelphia 76ers’ general manager. I have had enough experience in The Process to know that suffering alone is the best option, lest people realize how broken I am over an NBA team.

I still remember the 2014 NBA Draft, when I just let the darkness envelop my room as two men who still have yet to play an NBA game were picked to lead my favorite team into the future. The next year bode even worse, as I stopped just short of wishing death upon whoever the Los Angeles Lakers drafted with the second overall pick. Seeing the year D’Angelo Russell has had with L.A., I fully take it back.

Now that Sam Hinkie is gone, the date May 17 does not carry as much dread within me. Had the Sixers wound up with the third pick for the third year in a row, I might have lost my mind. When Hinkie resigned, so did I—to the idea that no matter what the Sixers do, it will be the wrong decision, and that we will have to be content with perennial first-round exits against the best of the Eastern Conference in a best case scenario. Reliving the horror that was the 1972-73 Sixers’ season is easy compared to repeating the grinding muddle of the 6th through 9th seeds Philly endured every year but one from 2004 to 2013.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for yourself when something you rely on to make you feel happy consistently blows up in your face. Philadelphia sports fans have received so little from so much, especially when it comes to the 76ers—only one championship each from Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving; one Finals appearance from Allen Iverson and nothing out of Charles Barkley.

At one point in my long journey into begrudging acceptance, I went to my local Acme to collect myself in addition to collecting further news on my phone. Joan Baez’s cover of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” came on the supermarket Muzak, an anthem to crushing defeat if there ever was one. Less than an hour into the post-Hinkie era, the self-pity of the problematic had already enveloped my soul.

The simultaneous feeling of hatred and impotence lingered throughout the night. Five or six minutes of listening to Jody McDonald on WIP elicited “the few, the proud, the foolish” from the nighttime host regarding Sam Hinkie’s remaining true believers. When Jody Mac said Bryan Colangelo is a much better GM than Hinkie, I said “fuck you” several times, each more louder and incredulous than the last, and turned it off to regroup.

Rampant profanity and gallows humor are needed sometimes in order to dull the incessant pain of The Process. Sometimes I tell myself, “To be a Sixers fan is to hate basketball.” Many other times I have started a tweet with “As a Sixers fan...” and ended the statement with a hail of gunfire. The act of rooting for this team has become such a Sisyphean task that only dark irony and tragic overstatement can add some modicum of levity to it. This, I think, is the exact opposite of what fandom should be.

The sound of the world’s smallest violin comforts me as I write this. The Philadelphia 76ers are much better off than they were in 2013 thanks to Hinkie, owner Josh Harris and coach Brett Brown. As a Sixers fan (I know) I now have up to four first round draft picks to look forward to this year, as well as the Pavlovian reaction to punch something whenever I hear the name “Colangelo.” I can only assume Jerry and his son (and our new overlord) Bryan are nice fellas who know what they’re doing, but the past stench of Billy King, Ed Stefanski, Rod Thorn, and Doug Collins wafts into the air whenever the name “Colangelo” is brought up. The idea of having the man who selected Andrea Bargnani as the first overall pick in 2006 lead this team into the future doesn’t help, either. The cult of Sam Hinkie, of which I am an OT-IX, will not be placated by anything less than an NBA title; that was the new expectation, not a slight improvement upon the old thing, and we bought it. There is also the fact that a dedication to the latter can serve to short-circuit the former, greater goal; pro basketball is the one sport where barely making the playoffs could be more detrimental in the long run than missing them.

Dario Saric should be coming to the U.S. this year, Joel Embiid might finally show a shred of promise, and if we are lucky, the team can add a genuine star as a free agent and flip one of its big men for more players. But none of this seems to matter at the moment. We are primed to do much better than we have had in the last three years, but our measuring stick is the last ten to fifteen, back to the dark ages when the team tragicomically overvalued Samuel Dalembert and Evan Turner, and reacted to a fluke upset in 2012 over a mortally injured Derrick Rose and the Bulls by going all in for the original Sixer Who Never Played A Game, Andrew Bynum.

***

The good people of Philadelphia have two opportunities to watch one of the least successful runs in NBA history come to a merciless end, and I might attend either Friday night’s game against the Knicks (mere hours after Villanova’s victory parade), or the home finale on Sunday against the Bucks. I have only seen one game in person since The Process started, and had hoped the Hinkie era would last forever, or at least long enough to start seeing the future it promised start to blossom in the present. Any hope that the Sixers would end the 2015-16 season on a positive note has been replaced by a desire to visit the ruins in person. Also I might get myself some discounted Sixers swag.

We Sixers fans paid our three years in Hell to avoid another decade in Purgatory, a fate that now feels inevitable when linked with a “win now” attitude. We have a lot to take from these last three years of disruption, and years more of self-hatred and depression projected onto ourselves thanks to the Sixers’ inability to succeed. We have to get through a Phillies season that will most likely see them finish last, and witness the teardown an Eagles team that underwent a similar #process with a much more dickish demagogue in Chip Kelly.

I have no idea how The Jerry And Bryan Colangelo Show will play out in Philadelphia. Maybe someone who was twice named NBA Executive Of The Year isn’t as disastrous a hire as the Process’ true believers fear; he very probably isn’t. The very idea that the Sixers will stay in Philadelphia, made concrete by the practice facility and front offices they are currently building on the Jersey side of the river in Camden, offers a specific sort of promise. Given a future that now looks like a long, slow climb to a series of 41-41 seasons, I’ll take that promise, if only to keep from drowning.


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