On March 27th, 2012 Liberty Baller’s own Michael Levin joined Spike Eskin on his 11pm hour show to talk Sixers basketball. Unbeknownst to them the Sixers were 3 weeks away from a shocking first round upset over the Chicago Bulls in the wake of Derrick Rose tearing his ACL, but Levin was already looking way past that. He wanted to blow it up. He expressed the frustrations shared by a large swath of Sixers fans, saying “when you want to win a championship you have to start at 0. They may as well lose every game there’s no sense in being mediocre, in the NBA you can’t be any worse than mediocre.” Fast foward through 6 years, 1 process, a 10 win season, 2 number 1 picks, 3 and a half red shirt rookies, a Croatian forward inexplicably never coming over and now a 17 game win streak and a 1-0 first round lead, and Michael Levin and Spike Eskin were, well, incredibly right.
For any loyal listener of the Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast, what immediately stands out about the Eskin/Levin duo is the lighthearted rapport and seamless chemistry the two have operated with in spite of years in which the Sixers lost an overwhelming percentage of their games. Levin best described their relationship on the show, telling me “Spike plans everything and I sort of chime in and derail what he’s trying to do.” The Rights to Ricky Sanchez has had its hand in just about every moment of process fervor you’ve heard of from the national media, and so much of it has been driven by the shows listeners. As Eskin told me “the 2017 lottery party t-shirts was a listener idea, the Hinkie retirement banner was a listener idea, Mike and I have our names on the podcast but it is truly an effort from everyone involved.” For his part, Levin feels that the fanbase around the podcast grew out of the community of readers and commenters here at Liberty Ballers, remarking that that group of fans “translated to twitter and then translated to the podcast.”
Looking back at how things have unfolded since the first time Eskin and Levin teamed up to talk Sixers, it all seems a little unbelievable. Two guys began their on air Sixers conversations around the hope of blowing it up, tanking, and building it all back up. After years of mediocrity, that seemed like an ambitious pipe-dream. They then watched as Sam Hinkie executed a plan so in line with Levin’s remarks in 2012 you’d think he was listening.“It was almost like he grew out of our minds, we predated Hinkie and wanting what he brought to us” Mike told me. Spike added “There are moments when it feels surreal that it really worked like we said it would.”
Along the way they operated as a safe haven for loyal Hinkie disciples, and passionate process trusters who faced a continuous onslaught of casual fans and national media takes telling them how crazy they were. That outside criticism is exactly what morphed the Rights to Ricky Sanchez listeners into such a unique group, cultivating an ‘us against the world’ mentality, as Spike told me “I think the general idea though is a strength in numbers and unity that most people who went through the last five years together as fans, and as fans that were often times mocked.” If it seems like listeners of ‘the Ricky’ are in on one big inside joke, its because they kind of are. Things like putting #LickFace in your twitter bio, or casually reminding people that ‘Hinkie died for our sins’ are incredibly common in this unique community.
For their part, Spike Eskin and Michael Levin created a podcast that had a significant impact on the way that a lot of Sixers fans viewed their favorite team and the rebuild that has gotten them to the current 17 game winning streak. They’ve thrown lottery parties, held live pods, raised banners and helped an absurd amount of listeners get engaged. Next month they’ll be hosting a wedding live on the pod, in a spirit of ridiculousness that wouldn’t surprise anyone who has listened to them these past several years.
I asked the two hosts about their fondest memories of the process and the Rights to Ricky Sanches podcast over the past several years. Their favorite moment of the pod was a shared one, as they told me that TJ McConnell appearing on a special live episode where Spike said McConnell “was greeted like he was one of the Beatles in their peak,” was the best thing they’d been apart of. In terms of the best things that happened on the court, Spike cited TJ McConnell’s buzzer beater against the Knicks last January, part of what Levin described as “until this season, the best month of my life.” as well as moments like the first time Embiid took a shot in a regular season game. After you’ve been the host of a weekly Sixers podcast for a 10-72 season, you start to appreciate the little things. For Mike, the last few years have altered his “championship or bust” approach as a basketball fan. “I think i have a respect for culture more” he told me. “in the sense that i was thinking Brett Browns job was to keep the locker room together keep the trains moving, but how he managed to do that while also instilling a sense of togetherness.. and really just a unity level is a huge testament to Brett and something I appreciate about this team.”
But what impact has the podcast, and the process it consistently trumpeted, had on them? “I think it changed the way I view life overall.” said Eskin, “I think it’s a good lesson in patience and doing things the right way and the obstacles that will likely come as a result of both of those things. What is right and best is not always the easiest path. Ultimate success does not come without time and hard work and is usually not a ton of fun, and the rewards come at the end. The reward though is always in the path to victory, not victory itself. Success is fleeting but the process (small P) is forever.”
Levin mentioned that he’s “very proud” of the people he started with at Liberty Ballers years back “it’s cool to see the people that we were sort of this renegade bunch with sort of take over the media landscape.” He was reflective on the impact that both the podcast and the process have had, and recalled the time he called former Liberty Ballers staff writer Shamus Clancy to tell him he would be writing for the site, and how cool it is seeing the other side with him all these years later. In that story Levin unknowingly and indirectly revealed the secret behind the success of the podcast. Sharing the success of the process with the people you stuck through it with has been the greatest joy for many Sixers fans. That Spike and Michael have not only captured that energy on the show, but shared it with their listeners has been their lasting achievement on the podcast.
“I don’t take this lightly,” Eskin told me. “It is truly an honor to be part of the last five years with these people and with Mike. It’s one of the strangest and most important things I’ve ever done in my life. I am eternally grateful to the people who listen and participate and to Mike for doing it with me. It has shown the power of community and a willingness of people to think differently. There are a lot of moments in the world today that I feel nervous and pessimistic about our future as humans on Earth, but as crazy as it sounds, the people who I’ve interacted with as a result of RTRS give me hope.”
It should be added that Levin acknowledged that the Rights to Ricky Sanchez is the only known Sixers podcast, saying “it’s crazy that nobody else has done it still.”
Levin is a screenwriter, currently working on the show Trial and Error for NBC, while Eskin is the program director for Sports Radio WIP. They operate the podcast in their free time, so naturally one would wonder how long they plan to continue making shows. Spike told me “We will do it as long as we enjoy doing it, and that’s exactly how long we’ll do it. We’ve always said that the final podcast will actually feature Ricky Sanchez, so if the pod pops up in your feed one day with him as the guest, you’ll know it’s over.” Michael added that “we talked the other day about, if they win the title cancel the show, cancel the NBA, shut it all down,” although he said this in a lighthearted way that suggested you shouldn’t count on Michael Levin turning down an opportunity to discuss how right he and others were on a weekly basis if the Sixers were to march to multiple NBA championships.
Now, both the Sixers and the Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast stand on the other side of years of criticism and detraction, riding the wave of this incredible 17 game win streak. Its a funny thing, vindication. For most people who love sports and talking about sports, being right is a phenomenal feeling that validates their view on the action. But being proven right, after years of defending an objectively intelligent plan in the face of condescending attacks, is like dunking on a seven-foot Howard Eskin embodiment of bad takes. “You never really talk about factions of a fanbase” said Levin, “this divided the fanbase in the sense of supporting the rebuild or totally tuning out and hating the team. And the fact that we are proven so, unanimously right, makes us feel like we’re apart of it.” For good measure, he added “It’s unreal, it’s the most satisfying feeling I can imagine in sports.” From endless mediocrity, to never losing. Welcome to the Rights to Ricky Sanchez victory tour.