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My earliest memories of the Sixers are some sporadic flashes of watching an Eastern Conference Semifinals playoff game against the Pacers in 2001. I went out and played ball on the milk crate net on my street after. I was six years old. A few weeks later, I remember watching parts of Game 1 of the 2001 Finals. The Sixers have never been a good team since. Their downfall into a third-rate NBA franchise synched up perfectly with the time my memory became concrete. It couldn’t have been more fitting.
I still loved the Sixers throughout the years though. When a washed-up Chris Webber got traded to Philly in 2005? I literally threw a party and had my friends over to watch the game. There was one thing my young 11-year-old brain didn’t understand though: the Sixers were a racket who didn’t have any intentions of fielding a true championship contender. Their owner didn’t give a damn about the team and their front office didn’t have a dozen brain cells between the bunch.
This led to Philadelphia sports fans becoming apathetic to the franchise. I would frequently see people with three stickers on the back of the cars in the city: one Phillies sticker, one Eagles sticker and one Flyers sticker. My precious Sixers? Nowhere to be found. Very unfair!
I got really into the team for the 2010-2011 season. I just became a die-hard, Zach Lowe-reading, live-tweeting type of NBA fan and that extended to my Sixers fandom. I guess it was around this time though that my personal life started to crack away too. I started being depressed a lot and then eventually all of the time. I threw myself into all of their mediocre glory to stave off that depression. I ate that 2012 fluke playoff run up. Andrew Bynum? I went to that asinine introductory press conference at the Constitution Center for him.
Things got better for me though. I went to college. I made friends. I had fun, but all of these demons didn’t go away and would occasionally appear until the point that I sort of just crumbled to pieces by the time I moved out of college. I found out I had bipolar disorder last summer. I finally prioritized my mental health and sought help, help I still get today. I’ve written about this before in relation to how happy I was about being able to watch Carson Wentz play for the Eagles, but it applies here just as much. Hell, maybe more.
All of those years of misery and sleepless nights where I could barely find a strand of hope to grasp would eventually lead my mind to thinking about the Sixers, as it always did. I could never get my brain to think about anything other than my present worries, but the focus over the last four years with this team has always been on the future. I always had so many questions: Who’s going to be their superstar? Who are they going to draft next summer? When’s that Croatian guy coming over? If I could find hope for an organization as dreadful as the Sixers, I could pull myself up and find some hope for my own life.
I remember my mother once asking me, “Do you like the Eagles or the Sixers more?” It was a good question. I live and die with both with the same passion as a rollercoaster love life. I think I care more about the Eagles in the sense that I would sell my soul to eternal damnation in a split-second if it meant I could watch the Birds win the Super Bowl and attend the parade after (as if I wouldn’t die at the parade anyway).
The Sixers mean more to me though. No one gave a shit about them, locally or nationally, when they were slowly dying in the quicksand of mediocrity for a decade with the likes of Darius Songaila and Francisco Elson on the roster. They then became a punching bag, both locally and nationally, when Sam Hinkie, the only person with a fucking clue who’s run the team in my lifetime, tore this hastily and poorly-built team to the ground. Loyalists who had been calling for such a radical plan with the Sixers for years couldn’t have been more happy, myself included, and instructed others to “Trust the Process.”
It’s something that I would’ve laughed at seeing on the cover of a self-help book in a Barnes and Noble five years ago, but I might as well get “Trust the Process” tattooed across my chest at this point. It’s dumb, but it can really be applied to any situation. I probably could’ve used a self-help book five years ago too.
For a fleeting moment, as positive things always feel fleeting with this team, the Sixers actually looked like they were turning a corner this past January. Joel Embiid was the personification of all of our hopes and dreams on the court. Dario Saric had a fire lit under him every time he played in a way that only a city raised on CYO Basketball could appreciate. They won 10 out of 13 games at one point. Great teams do that all of the time, but it felt like the Monstars were out there in Sixers uniforms when you replace Jarvis Varnado with Embiid and James Nunnally with Robert Covington.
There was the the January 18 win at home against the Raptors. God, that felt like Game 7 of the Finals. It just illustrates how long it’s been since the team was playing meaningful basketball with a clear purpose. I was banging my hands on the bar and screaming at a muted TV at Fado while the rest of my friends and the bar played quizzo. Why would I care about who won big at the 2002 Grammy Awards? Embiid was dropping 26 points on Toronto! DARIO JUST BLOCKED TWO DUDES ON BACK-TO-BACK SHOTS!
Oh, Dario. I turned my slightly tongue-in-cheek adoration for Saric on Twitter into a world where people pay me at to write about basketball. How the hell couldn’t I be so emotionally invested in these guys?
I came home and wrote about that game, crying my eyes out as I watched highlights from it. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. All of these emotions I have now as I type this flowed then too. I kept my personal details to a minimum there, but it had the same general theme. I aptly titled it “Not All Who Wander Are Lost.”
I felt like I was finally starting to get better too. Months of meetings with a therapist and psychiatrist started to pay dividends. I started regularly exercising. My mind was clearer than it had ever been. I felt like I was a real member of society again after a few years out of it. The Sixers felt like a real basketball team again after spending a few years playing roulette with the draft lottery gods.
After everything the team dealt with in terms of being a laughing stock, the Sixers finally were going to be okay. They trusted the process and it worked out. It felt like that for me as well. After everything in my life, from manic highs, to being depressed and never getting out of bed, to antidepressants that didn’t work and only made things worse, to unhealthy romantic relationships, to a once-constant state of emptiness, things were going to be okay. I trusted the process and it worked out.
So why am I a Sixers fan? I was born and raised in Philadelphia, of course, but it’s more than that clearly. It’s the belief that you shouldn’t settle for mediocrity, for doing “just alright” when “just alright” feels like it’s slowly killing you.
The weirdest and most confusing time in my life coincided with the weirdest and most confusing time in the history of the Sixers, maybe in the history of any sports team. We’re both trusting the process and on the right path. And if I’m being honest, we’re both getting there.
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