The great American poet Jay Z once asked, "I went from the greatest to the most hated, but would you rather be overpaid or underrated?" While that love vs. money dichotomy is perplexing for a person in any walk of life, it's particularly relevant for someone in the public eye, someone who bursts on the scene and is such a breath of fresh air in a stale situation that it feels like they can do no wrong.
There were two men like that in Philadelphia beginning in 2013: Chip Kelly and Sam Hinkie.
After a loss to a Washington football team yesterday so dysfunctional in all aspects of being a professional sports franchise that they could rival Vivek Ranadive and the Kings for the most incompetent team in America, the grace period bestowed upon Kelly as the Eagles' head coach looks to have ended. The Eagles are now 1-3 after riding through a preseason of Super Bowl hype and an offseason of complete roster upheaval. This isn't to say that Kelly and the Birds can't turn this season around and make a playoff push or that he's a complete failure as a personnel evaluator, but to indicate that an unorthodox philosophy that doesn't produce tangible results can quickly bring out the pitchforks and torches. There are dents in Kelly's once impenetrable armor.
People can wax poetically about the Big 5 and the high flying 76ers teams of the late 70s and early 80s all they want; this is a football town. It aligns with the somewhat flawed ethos that many in the city pride themselves on as the blue collar town that was the perfect setting for the Rocky Balboa narrative. Forget even the Phillies' championship run in 2008. A common refrain at that season's victory parade down Broad Street went, "This is awesome, but I could only imagine what it'd be like for the Eagles."
That works to Hinkie's benefit, allowing him to construct a contender out of the limelight of the city for the moment, and to Kelly's detriment, knowing every single misstep of his is a back page newspaper headline waiting to happen. Despite working somewhat in the shadows in the greater Philadelphia sports scene, time will come when the nucleus of Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and other future top picks will be judged for what they are not what they can become.
It seems so foreign right now. For over two years, Sixers fans have been so forward-thinking, worrying more so about the longterm health of injured centers and pouring over draft ranking and scouting videos, that no single game has been viewed with the scrutiny of a Kelly-coached Eagles game. The roller coaster ride that every Eagles game seems to present isn't for the faint of heart and it's likely hard for fans to think of the last time the outcome of a Sixers game truly left their stomachs in knots and had them shooting their friends text messages about the absurdity of a sports team sucking so much life out of a person.
With more and more draft picks joining the Hinkie-led Sixers in the coming year or two, even a pessimist would concede that they should have enough decent players to field a competent basketball team. While just being competent, feisty and a little competitive doesn't cut it forever in the NBA, it's probably the next phase that the Sixers franchise will see themselves in if this current core keeps growing together. When that turning point is reached, wins and loses will begin to matter much more for people than international stashes and pick swaps.
While trusting the process and eschewing results-based judgment is the more rational way to eventually view Hinkie's tenure with the Sixers, it's clear that an unforgiving and brutally passionate city might someday be ready to drop their golden boy off with a one-way ticket at 30th Street Station, much like it's done with every once-towering figure in the Philly sports canon. Once expectations ramp up, as Kelly and all those athletes and coaches of yesteryear can attest, that's when disappointment and anger seep out into the stands down at the Sports Complex and onto talk radio call lines.
Even if Hinkie stumbles on his way to returning the franchise to its glory days of decades past, having even the staunchest Hinkie fanatics lose their patience along the way, winning and riding down Broad Street in a float are the easiest panacea for any ire drawn from Philadelphians.
Jay Z's contemporary Kanye West later claimed, "Went from the most hated to the championship god flow/I guess that's a feeling only me and LeBron know." For Hinkie's sake, the general manager better hope that one day he can be singing to himself, "I guess that's a feeling only 'Ye and I know."