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Something About Sixers, But Not Really: The Phylogeny of a 76ers Cult

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Two years (not three, not four, not five...) of constant criticism has created a bunker, borderline-cult-like mentality among a sizable portion of the Sixers fan base. Detractors and critics blame Sam Hinkie for the hypnosis. This writer explains otherwise.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Being a sports fan is complicated. It took me a few minutes to just come up with that thought, especially as I try to combine rational thought with my irrational emotion. For roughly two years it's been a constant struggle to be a fan of my favorite professional basketball team. It's easy to just blame the actual product, a team that's won less than a fourth of their games over that period. Despite not being the absolute worst, the Philadelphia 76ers have been a very poor team, almost impossible to watch at times.

That's not it, however.

Slicker Than Your Average

My struggle for the last two years has not been due to my terrible basketball team. I enjoyed watching the hardworking, hopelessly over-matched band of misfits more than I did many of those mediocre, perennial low-playoff or low lottery teams over the past decade. I can stomach watching them try and fail as they also learn and grow, however incremental that growth is.

My ire rests with every opinionated fan, media member, and person that spews never-ending, always negative, fan depreciating, lacking context, mostly ignorant... critique of everything involving this current era of Philadelphia 76ers basketball.

We live in a time where it's all about instant reactions and "what have you done for me now". Patience was a virtue that was dumped about a decade ago, around when Twitter became a thing. With endless coverage and access, media has evolved to a point where anything and everything can be news. Furthermore, the inner-workings of our brain are available at the click of the mouse or tap of the phone, so opinions run rampant and instant reactions become the front-page.

I get it. This is just how it is these days. But what's irritating is how this type of  opining becomes the major headline, that more or less shape public perception.

As fans, we root for the name on the front of the jersey above everything else. When the name on the back of the jersey changes, many of us drop the unconditional support and optimism for that name. Unfortunately, there is also a portion of the fan base that go the full 180 and, for some reason, hate the players once they're off the team.

Specifically, this year we witnessed a big trade deadline move where Michael Carter-Williams was moved to Milwaukee for a potential lottery pick. Subjectively, it was a tough blow to lose a player that I'd grown attached to during this rebuild, warts and all. Objectively, it was a forward-thinking move. Carter-Williams deficiencies shadowed his strengths and presented a questionable fit with a potential front court that would feature Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel.

Unfortunately, that was not the narrative that was spun both locally and nationally. It's been well documented how Sam Hinkie and the Sixers regime have been made the villain. Trading away the reigning "Rookie of the Year" was only going to add more fuel to that fire. But it's the blatant lack of context or research beyond the box score that continues to burn.

I genuinely want to see him succeed. Yet, in trying to point out his shortcomings and poor performances, why is it that I'm labeled the "hater" and illogical one?

The moment MCW has a productive game, the crows come out to caw about how the Sixers should regret their decision and/or hope that their draft pick better turn into something great. Conveniently, it's as if the multiple games of struggle, poor play, and inefficiency magically don't exist. The irony here is that I'm a big MCW fan and supporter. I genuinely want to see him succeed. Yet, in trying to point out his shortcomings and poor performances, why is it that I'm labeled the "hater" and illogical one?

There's the rub. In trying to defend what seems like a logical point, I'm buying into some sort of twisted narrative where I'm being fooled into "a scheme" perpetrated by Sam Hinkie. Yes, those who have yearned for this team-building strategy long before Sam Hinkie rolled into town are apparently delusional. And, as if proving Newton's Third Law, we predictably react and push back.

It's obvious that this was the intent. These days it's called "trolling", or the being purposefully inflammatory with the intent to elicit an emotional response from an audience. Whether or not they actually believe what they say, this is all about attention. Sixers' fans, unfortunately, are the easy target, as Philly fans are generally passionate and outspoken and the Sixers were going through a drastic rebuild.

It's the constant attempt to find ways and reasons to continue to instigate and incite which is frustrating. The slightest amount of news that could be parlayed into a negative critique is thrown full throttle at Sixers fans, whether we like it or not. These takes become the pervading thought around the league and sports. Consequently, this is the reason Sixers fans have developed a bunker mentality.

No, we fans aren't sipping Kool Aid or being hypnotized. No, we aren't clueless about the risks or the possible failure. If anything we're more in-tune and informed with what's happening with our favorite team and what they're trying to accomplish, especially after watching them either flail or plateau for years. These Sixers may be a modern version of the Stanford marshmallow experiment, but that delayed gratification is definitely worth the wait.

If one thing is clear, contrary to popular belief, it isn't the Sixers, Sam Hinkie or "The Plan" that's torturing the fans. We've had poor to mediocre basketball for most of the last decade... so this is nothing new. On the other hand, being treated like we're taking crazy pills, despite sound logic and reasoning, is less than palatable.

Because, is it really Hinkie and his team building strategy that's 'brain-washed' the Sixers' fan base into defending every move? Or is it the over-the-top backlash and consistent trolling that has fostered this mentality?