Numb isn't quite right. Surprised definitely isn't, given how calm my reaction was to the news last night. I spent the next three hours living under a thin veil, a translucent layer separating me from the people living around me. It's a headspace I've rarely, if ever, inhabited before; I felt simultaneously calm, quiet, at ease, and as if my brain had gone into hyperdrive, circuits whirring frantically.
Emoting has never been a strength of mine, and certainly expressing the depths of my emotions has been anything but. So I struggled greatly to explain to myself this vast, new mindset, let alone to elucidate it for others. In doing so, I kept returning to the same basic question: What does this mean for me?
I am unique among the LB staff in that I grew up entirely devoid of connections to the Sixers. I never supported this team before The Process' inception; I have no fond memories of Iverson crossing over some boorish behemoth in the late 90's; I have no painful scars remaining from the mediocrity of the Eddie Jordan and Doug Collins' eras. My first piece for this website was about my decision to become a Sixers' fan, and how I had arrived at that culmination.
In that piece, I focused on the differences between fans, and the importance that we give legitimacy to each fan's personal, lived truth, regardless of how it may differ from our own. If you'll excuse the indulgence of quoting myself, I wrote:
If each person feels that his particular brand of fandom is how he is best able to enjoy the experience, then who are we to begrudge him that personal fulfillment? We're all aiming to attain the same sensation, we just take separate paths to get there.
For me, that brand was largely wrapped up in Sam Hinkie. My support flowed, in part, from my decision to move to the city of Philadelphia after graduation, but by no means did that drive my enthusiasm for the Sixers' team to a level where I not only followed the team on a day-to-day basis, but invested time and energy into writing and researching about current, past and potential future Sixers. For me, it was Sam Hinkie's genes in the team's DNA that drove me to love it the way I did.
I've written at length, twice, about the things I admire about Hinkie's management, many of which were evident in his resignation manifesto. The more I heard from Hinkie, the more I respected his approach not only to team-building but to viewing the world.
I've been consistently in awe of his thirst for knowledge, his humility towards his own understanding, and his tendency toward collaboration and the merit of ideas. These are qualities I want, not only in the manager of my favorite sports team but in my own manager. I want him to give credence, truly, to the best ideas winning out; to the due process and investigation of all different viewpoints; to the reality that even the best of humans have so much still to learn.
Hinkie's impact was not limited to the 76ers' organization alone. Rather, it reverberated through the fan base, fundamentally altering the types of conversations many fans even thought were possible surrounding this franchise. I have had wonderful, spirited debates in this community on the merits of fringe second round prospects as well as the risk and uncertainty involved in each of the Sixers' moves.
These aren't discussions we should take for granted, or even discussions that occur in most sports communities. Hinkie's mere presence in the front office elevated the discourse of Sixers' fans to include ideas and theories that I had never opened my mind to as a sports fan. It pushed us to explore corners of the sports-universe we previously ignored out of disinterest.
He had profound consequences on my view of sports and my understanding of how they fit into my own life. Hinkie inspired me to start writing about basketball, an outlet I never thought to explore even as I enjoyed the writing of so many others. He generated a new dream that never previously existed: the idea of working for the Sixers. To be clear, I didn't want to work in the NBA. I wanted to work for these Sixers, specifically, under the guiding principles of meritocracy, comprehension and innovation.
Seeing those principles usurped by the powers of nepotism and cronyism makes me profoundly sad. There could not be a stronger contrast to Hinkie's tenure than the first few hours following his departure, a realization that causes me to waver in my continued support of this franchise.
To those who would call me a fan of Hinkie rather than a fan of the 76ers, I reject this premise. It is a crude rendering of complicated, interwoven, emotional threads that have had a real impact on my life. It is reductive of my agency and it trivializes the principles that underpinned and buttressed my buy-in to this regime. And above all, it rejects my own personal lived experiences as a fan, my passions, my reactions, and my sorrows at the last two years' successes and failures. It diminishes the personal in favor of the assumed superiority of what society tells us a fan "should" be. As I wrote in my very first piece for LB, no one has the authority to police fandom.
What does this mean for me?
I still don't know that. I fully intend to continue writing for Liberty Ballers and to produce quality content to the best of my ability. But a lot of the drive will be gone; it will feel less apt than it did in the past. I love a few of these players, but always held them at arm's length, knowing they were likely to be moved on eventually, once a stronger core was in place. Where before, statistical breakdowns of draft prospects or a treatise on uncertainty fit the ethos of the organization, where I could know that it was the sort of discrete, exhaustive discourse management would be encouraging and undertaking, now it feels more like shouting into the void.
I've lost the faith that my team's front office will give extreme thought to all the possibilities open to them, as they have already demonstrated a deep inability to do so in the single largest decision they could have made following Hinkie's departure.
The fire of passion has been extinguished. I don't know what it will take to spark it again.