Most 76ers greats possess characteristics that help us remember them beyond basketball. Wilt Chamberlain's most infamous statistic isn't 100 points, but 20,000 women. Julius Erving's over-sized afro and beaming smile are as large a part of his legacy as the thunderous dunks. Need I say anything about Allen Iverson's practice thoughts and trademark braids?
The 76ers will still be impotent, but Nerlens Noel and his Gumby fade will give Philadelphia something they've been missing -- a figure to stand behind.
Resonating with the fans beyond your playing ability makes the tough stretches tolerable; anointment as a "Philly guy" is only tangentially related to athletic skill. Young Nerlens already seems to grasp the concept of embracing his adopted home's culture:
Noel has earned the goodwill of the fans with kindheartedness, but he will stick in their minds as a result of uniqueness, some of which can be traced to a glorious haircut. He is already a large man, standing in the vicinity of 6'11", and his hair creates the illusion that he's even taller. There's no evidence that a luxurious head of hair impacts playing ability, but Brandon Jennings has gone completely off the rails since ditching his high school look. I'm sure Hinkie and Co. have barber analysts tracking data as we speak.
The running joke last season was that each week brought a new face to South Philly, leaving less-dedicated observers confused as to who was suiting up for the home team. It's not just on the fans, either. Casper Ware has been with the team since March, but he's either living up to his ghostly name or the Sixers website has declared him the modern-day Jerry West.
Recognition won't be a problem for Noel. It's near impossible to miss him galloping down the court. All respect due to Michael Carter-Williams, who carried on gamely with a rotating cast of characters, but long, athletic guards aren't particularly rare. A seven footer with Noel's speed is akin to a unicorn, and despite his game being a work in progress, the rarity of players like him makes seeing it worth the price of admission.
More than anyone else on the roster, Noel is emblematic of the grander process in Philadelphia. During his off year, Brett Brown stripped his shot down to nothing, building a new stroke from the ground up to maximize future returns. He will suffer through growing pains and be asked to do things he isn't capable of yet, bigger goals supplanting immediate contributions.
Bright spots will be there -- he showed that much at Summer League -- and I'm not worried if he doesn't come out and set the world on fire. Noel's return means another piece of the long-term plan is on the court, rather than on the mend. Rooting unabashedly for development and success is a hell of a lot more fun than waiting for the remnants of the last regime to be traded. The decks are cleared for the new wave to grab the torch.
It doesn't hurt that he seems like a cool dude, either:
PIC: Nerlens Noel helped 7-year-old Kelly Melton over some puddled water as they arrived at the Kentucky Derby. pic.twitter.com/Mr6FlNTmVB— ExCats (@ExCats) May 4, 2013
Noel may not grow into a talisman on par with the likes of Wilt, Dr. J and AI, but it'll be fun to imagine he can as that flat-top bobs up and down the hardwood. For now, freshness remains -- bring on the blocked shots.