They Can't All Be Winners, Part 2: Philadelphia 76ers

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“The overwhelming meaninglessness of life is what’s getting to you,” I said. She had her face pressed into a pillow.

I tell my fiancee, lovingly and with frequency, that she is my person. This is a compliment in obvious ways—it’s shorthand for I am so fucking glad you exist—but it’s also a loosely philosophical term. I wrote this to a friend once, and it felt right: all we have is our work and our people. (As I type this, a large, fuzzy cat is pawing at my left hand, which I take as his argument that animals are important, too.) These are the things that keep us from the terror, boredom, and insanity of being alive. They don’t always do this successfully, but they’re invaluable all the same.

Occasionally, the futility of existence bores into my fiancee. She lapses into a couple days of listless misery. She’s an illustrator, which means she spends a lot of time with a sketchpad in her lap or a mouse at her wrist, trying to make something expressive, or beautiful, or haunting. When that ability eludes her for a stretch, or when she begins to feel trapped in a graphic design day job that siphons time and energy away from the work that she would rather be doing, disaffection engulfs her. Though these spells always pass, they are bad in the moment. She becomes withdrawn and sad, and I can’t help her. I tell her things she already knows about the nature of creative work, tell her what she’s feeling will pass. The words move right through her.

This troubles me, but it’s nothing I’m not familiar with. Neither of us are happy people. I am soaked to my bones in anxiety, she in exhaustion. When we can, we bring each other back from the ledge. When she comes home from work, we have a long, warm hug. For the day, we’ve been off in our respective corners, making stuff, chanting stay focused to ourselves, and then, at once, we remember we are in love, which is like a gulp of cool water.

I often don’t know what to do with myself, other than work. Work isn’t satisfying, but it’s noisy. On a good day, I spend a few hours consumed completely by thought. I hear only the dull thrum of my own low-level aggravation, and my trying to overcome it. But I can’t tend to paragraphs indefinitely. I close my laptop, and search for something else, and I’m often not sure what it is. This search is the other part of my life, the most difficult part, and it’s broadly hopeless, but sometimes it’s wonderful. I am at the zoo with her, watching the sea lions swim. I am in my friend’s living room, listening to Mobb Deep and cracking jokes. I am in a bar, the kind of drunk where I feel like I look good.

And soon after, I feel down again. For every flow, there are several ebbs.

I reject Sam Hinkie’s Philadelphia 76ers on principle. In the way life is rewarding almost exclusively in small and unsustained ways, so is basketball fandom. Title chases are exhilarating and all, but given the zero-sum nature of sports, the slenderness of any given team’s championship odds, and the yawning expanse of the NBA’s regular season, the fan who measures her enjoyment in trophies is not only likely to be disappointed, but is missing out on the bulk of fandom’s richness. The incorrect assumption Hinkie and his technocratic brethren make is that a January tilt in what eventually turns out to be a 42-and-40 season doesn’t have an extensive capacity for meaning. As if part of being a fan isn’t being neck-deep in a week where nothing has gone right, and thinking to yourself, as you rub your temples in the mid-morning, at least there’s a game on tonight.

What do those poor so-and-sos with Sixers season tickets say to themselves, in year three of a complete teardown? This unrelenting bleakness will have been worth it. That’s no way to live, and it’s definitely no way to watch sports, considering they are supposed to be more enjoyable than other aspects of our lives.

That hypothetical title in the Sixers’ future won’t be so special. It will feel tremendous, and then the intense joy will fade, as all feelings do. Instead of a franchise that promises to encase me in a golden glow at a later date while aggressively sucking for something like half a decade, give me one that understands there is value, to those of us who are struggling to live day-by-day, in spending 82-plus games with a good (if limited) basketball team. Sometimes, you want to see a win, for the sake of seeing it.

I’m not a great writer, and even if I were to become one, it wouldn’t fix much. The same goes for my fiancee, in her pursuits. There’s no far-off point at which our vocations will make us whole. That shit is illusory. If we think about this too hard, we dissolve into panic and tears. But there is a different way of understanding it, which helps: if the future holds nothing that will save us, then what we have and what we’re doing now is what matters most. So, we work because it would feel wrong not to. And we are each other’s people. That brings regular comfort, regular pleasure. It gives us what we need to survive. Second over second, we assemble our lives. They go wherever they go, then extinguish. We find meaning in them wherever we can.

Previously on TCABW: Charlotte Hornets

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As a Sixers fan, I have to reject this premise that a mediocre team with no greater aspirations is somehow better, more noble, more ideal than a the Hinkie era Sixers.The Sixers before Sam Hinkie were the 42-40 type team for a number of years and after a while the sheen of simply being competitive wears off, and the joy derived from meaningless victories in January isn't all that satisfying; when it becomes apparent that the team is simply treading water its hard to think that watching and investing your time is worthwhile.

I work a dead-end job in a factory and do the same mindless repetitive tasks over and over again, I'm certainly guilty of turning to sports as a form of escapism, but I don't view watching this current incarnation of the team as unrelentingly bleak. I see a lot more value investing my time in a team that is building toward something big. After pushing the same stone up the same hill all day, I'd rather distract myself with something that isn't a funhouse mirror reflection of my daily life.

I'm even a little concerned that when the team is competitive and games start to matter that the stakes might actually lessen my enjoyment of the games. Its an interesting feeling going into a game, or every game for an entire season really, knowing the team has no business winning, but its a refreshing experience. The wins, as few and far between as they may be, are more fun; going into a fourth quarter tied against a team that by all rights should be dominating is exciting. It's like being the 15 seed in the NCAA tournament, except 82 times a year. Maybe in a few years they'll be Duke, but for now the Sixers are Marist, and I think that's great.