As we await the ball dropping to signal the start of 2019, our staff takes a look back at our favorite Sixers moments after the ball was tossed up on the hardwood in 2018 (and some things from off the court, as well). The previous calendar year saw the Philadelphia 76ers franchise reach some highs, and some lows, but one thing is certain — things were never boring.
Adio Royster (@AdioBRoyster) - Joel Embiid dunks on Russell Westbrook
January 28, 2018
(Checks the date of the event.)
Yup. It still counts. I get a lot of miles off this moment, but welcome to it (pun intended).
Listen, I know this happened very early in 2018, so it may not be as fresh as other Sixers moments (i.e. the Jimmy Butler trade, a second straight Christmas Day game, etc.). Joel Embiid “Thanos-snap”-dunking Russell Westbrook off this plane of existence, however, was pretty special. First off, I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever seen Westbrook get dunked on like that in a game – unless I missed it.
Secondly, the dunk, the reaction, and the staredown were all fantastic, and what happened after was the icing. A beef was born, and I’m here for it. During that game, it seemed like Westbrook put a bounty on Embiid’s body, as Paul George tried his hand at dunking on Embiid. Post-game, the trash talk began, later carrying to the All-Star game where this fantastic exchange happened:
Embiid drills a 3-pointer in full view of Westbrook, then blocks him on the other end. I hope this beef never ends. We’ll find out in a few weeks. The Thunder come to South Philadelphia on January 19, 2019.
Tyler Monahan (@TMon_19) - Joel Embiid starts in the All-Star game
January 18, 2018 (announcement), February 18, 2018 (game)
It’s no secret that Joel Embiid is one of the best, if not the best, centers in the NBA. Last season, that point was proven, as Embiid made his first All-Star game appearance as a starter. This moment was one that Sixers fans have been waiting for, and after years of hoping and praying that Embiid would actually get on the court, the franchise cornerstone didn’t disappoint. Whether or not “The Process” results in rings or even a dynasty, fans can sit back and think fondly about how they were right to wait on the health of the big man from Cameroon. Joel Embiid is only getting started, and this first All-Star appearance should be looked back upon as a warning shot to the rest of the league.
Brian Murphy (@Bri__Man) - Dad meets Franklin
My favorite Sixers memory of 2018 is somewhat of an odd one.
I didn’t exactly grow up in an NBA household – my Dad introduced me to basketball, but he has always preferred college basketball to the league. The 2017-18 season was the first time I was able to drag him to a game that didn’t feature a St. Joe’s alum since the days of Iverson. Although he was an adamant opposer of Hinkie and The Process, he had been sporadically watching on TV since Embiid debuted, and I hadn’t really realized just how extreme the disconnect between fans of his nature and my ilk had become.
That disconnect became very apparent to me when Franklin came running onto the court just before tip, and my very confused dad turned to me and said, “What is that… a raccoon?”
I had given a final presentation in my Sports Marketing class in 2015 on Franklin shortly after his debut, and it took my Dad until 2018 to find out about him. It was that moment that made me realize that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were no longer Sixers fans’ secrets and that the city was back behind the team. That was the moment that made me realize that the Sixers had arrived.
Steve Lipman (@SteveJLipman) - Markelle Fultz’s 2018 debut
March 26, 2018
My favorite Sixers moment of 2018 was Markelle’s first game back. Now, it’s a shame that my favorite moment is mired within my least favorite story, but that’s how it goes. First, it was so unexpected when Brett announced it out of the blue midday. And the way the fans and his teammates reacted to him being back on the court made me proud to be a fan of the team. Obviously, now we’re back to square one (negative-one?) with this whole story, but that really stuck out as an impressive show of empathy by a collection of professional athletes and Philadelphia sports fans who certainly didn’t have to react that way.
Roy Burton (@TheBSLine) - Sixers 132, Cavaliers 130
April 6, 2018
”There’s no way they can run the table.”
That’s what I said to anyone within shouting distance midway through the Sixers’ 16-game winning streak at the close of last season. I had pegged the team at somewhere around 48 wins, and I figured that they’d HAVE to drop a couple of games before heading into the playoffs. Right?
The Sixers went an entire calendar month without losing a basketball game, and the climax of that 30-day run was a 132-130 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 6.
Sans Kyrie Irving, the 2017-18 Cavs weren’t THE CAVS of recent years, but LeBron was still LEBRON, and that’s all any basketball team needs in order to have a fighting chance. That night, the Sixers jumped out to a massive early lead, nearly choked it all away after a putrid third quarter, and barely held on for the win, despite a transcendent performance by Ben Simmons (27 points on 12-for-17 shooting, 15 rebounds, and 13 assists).
You may not remember the specifics, but we’ve seen various iterations of that game 97 times over the past two-plus seasons. However, thanks to a hot Wells Fargo Center crowd, and a 56-point (!!!) contribution from the bench, the Sixers — without the services of Joel Embiid, who was getting fitted for his Phantom of the Opera mask — withstood a 44/11/11 line from LeBron, and a 33-point outburst from the 63-year-old Jeff Green.
That night was the moment when I knew that this Sixers team was for real. That night was also the moment when Adidas had second thoughts about blowing all that money on an idiotic Donovan Mitchell ROY campaign. Simmons — and the Sixers — had finally arrived.
Sean O’Connor (@soconnor76) - The Winning Streak and the Phantom of the Process
It felt good to be right. The Sixers played a particularly brutal early schedule in the 2017-18 season, a schedule packed with road games and back-to-backs against strong competition. The Sixers predictably struggled with that schedule due to a lack of depth (sound familiar?), even though their predictive identifiers (strength of schedule, point differential, lineup data) indicated they were actually a good team.
Then, once the schedule turned around, so did the Sixers’ fortunes. With a team finding its footing, along with key buyout market acquisitions, the Sixers struck a 16-game winning streak to end the season, grabbing the third seed in the NBA playoffs. It included Ben Simmons cementing his ROTY vote, Markelle Fultz unexpectedly returning and becoming the youngest player to ever record a triple-double (ah, the good times), and a whole lot of Marco Belinelli. The winning streak, to me, validated a lot of what the Sixers players and their fans endured during the worst moments — longer losing streaks, 10-win seasons, national embarrassment and ridicule, and truly ridiculous takes. The Sixers were fun, and the Sixers were good, and, but for one moment, it was perfect.
A literal dent was put into the team’s plans when Markelle Fultz ran shoulder-first into Joel Embiid and broke his face. It likely cost the Sixers a chance to go further in the playoffs, due to Embiid’s subsequent conditioning issues and struggles playing with a mask. But it gave us an iconic Embiid moment: his decision to call himself the Phantom of the Process. It truly cemented his dual stature as superstar and showman, reminding us that the NBA is a theater of the absurd, and that the Sixers are the most obvious example of that phenomenon. He emerged as the game one pre-game Bell Ringer, returning mid-way through the first round of the playoffs to figuratively stomp on the try-hard Miami Heat. The Sixers had arrived, as weird and brilliant as ever, on the big stage, and people knew for sure once Embiid had put on the mask.
Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak) - The Bryan Colangelo burner saga
May 29, 2018 - June 7, 2018
For many franchises, former general manager Bryan Colangelo’s burner scandal would have qualified as their most bizarre occurrence over the last decade or two. For the Sixers, though, it was just Tuesday. Still, even on the Sixers-adjusted scale, the week and a half from when Ben Detrick and The Ringer first dropped the bombshell to Colangelo’s eventual ‘resignation’ was a surreal experience.
The situation unleashed the full investigative power of Sixers Twitter, as if everything the community had done until that point was honing their skills for this fateful moment. Things unfolded in a not dissimilar fashion to the John Cho movie where he has to comb through social media to find his wife’s killer. Was it Bryan? His wife? Was someone framing him in order to take him down? How do the phone numbers factor in? Wait, there are breadcrumbs on forums other than Twitter? If you wrote a Hollywood script depicting the events exactly as they happened (paging Mike Levin), executives would laugh off the idea as being too far-fetched.
Still, favorite Sixers moment? For something that, despite the fun we had with it, was still incredibly embarrassing for the franchise? It was also certainly not the ideal way to head into a pivotal draft and free agency period. But, yes, favorite Sixers moment. Let me explain why.
The burner scandal rid us of the Colangelo family once and for all. As the Sixers improved on the court, we began to talk ourselves into Bryan ‘actually doing an OK job’, as if helpful buyout signings and good value on a Robert Covington extension made up for squandering the team’s treasure trove of assets. Not completely ruining things became the bar for success.
Then, when Colangelo slimed his way out of town, it was like when you’re lifting weights or holding a yoga pose and realize you’ve been unnecessarily holding your breath. Better yet, it was like leaving the city for the country, breathing in fresh mountain air, and realizing you’ve been inhaling pollution all your life.
Even in his last act, Bryan Colangelo couldn’t go out with honor, opting to completely throw his wife under the bus (we saw right through it, Bryan). Now, the Sixers have Elton Brand at the helm, who isn’t Sam Hinkie, and whose experience in the role is essentially a tabula rasa, but he’s by all accounts a great guy, and a literal Process Sixer.
Moving forward, I no longer have to worry about every Sixers win giving Bryan Colangelo a hint of satisfaction. You know he thought, “yeah, I’m the guy who turned this thing around.” That idea always left a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. The Colangelo era was a stain on the corner of my Sixers fandom, and the event that OxiClean-ed that stain away makes for my favorite Sixers moment of the year.
Andrew Patton (@anpatt7) - Markelle Fultz dunks on DeAndre’ Bembry
October 29, 2018
My favorite Sixers moment of the year (and more specifically this season) was this Markelle Fultz dunk against the Hawks:
In order for that to make any sense at all, it might help to know that I have about 8-10 years experience in coaching strength and conditioning in collegiate athletics. Player development was a huge part of my responsibilities, and after a major injury, I was often the first non-medical person athletes were handed to in order to rehab them back into game condition. Once the physical damage had more or less been healed, the final hurdle for returning to play was often the mental confidence to not only stay healthy, but to once again dominate.
While we know that since this play, the Fultz saga has taken a few twists and turns, it was still great to see someone recognize if even only for a second, that they can (and should) yam on opponents and yell in their faces. I like seeing kids (and yes, he’s still a kid) succeed after setbacks, even with the knowledge that it hasn’t worked out perfectly since then.
What were your favorite Sixers moments during 2018? Let us know in the comments.