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Sixers fans, Joel Embiid, and the spite of The Process

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Joel Embiid is the fuel to Sixers fans’ fire, as Philly is determined to let all bad Process takes burn.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Being a fan of the Sixers over the last six years has been a truly unique experience.

We’ve stuck by the team through terrible seasons, incessant roster instability, knee injuries, foot injuries, mysterious injuries, the decision to draft Jahlil Okafor, and the realization that out of all the people who love to argue on Twitter, our general manager was five of them.

We knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re finally seeing it. But our Sixers fandom is different than that of any other team. For us, it really is personal.

Philly fans are already prone to being spiteful. The feelings of sheer joy when the Eagles won the Super Bowl were unparalleled, but not even 24 hours went by before we clowned on everyone who made us mad that year.

We mocked the entitled Vikings fans who came into town acting tough and left crying like children. We trolled division rivals who made “no Super Bowls” jokes. We derided Tom Brady for being a cheating, pass-dropping, game-winning-drive-fumbling mouth kisser.

And at the parade, Jason Kelce went off on all the team’s doubters in a legendary speech. It resonated so well with fans because we really do feed off of making those who disrespect our teams eat dirt.

But “disrespect” doesn’t begin to describe what happened during The Process.

If we go back just a few years ago, nobody wanted to be the Sixers.

In 2014, Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel wrote a column headlined Thankfully, Magic didn’t mimic Sixers’ tank job. That’s crazy to think about. Even Magic fans were like “at least we’re not Sixers fans.” Ironically, the lead video of the piece shows Tobias Harris, who is now a star in Philly.

People went so far out of their way to be against the Sixers’ rebuild that they started backing other teams that were pretty clearly in worse shape.

Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report had arguably the most infamous tweet in Process history.

I checked the dictionary, and it turns out putting your faith in James Dolan properly orchestrating a rebuild is actually the listed definition of negligence.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight agreed with Bucher. In 2014, he wrote a piece examining the chance every NBA team wins a championship by 2019. In a tweet linking to the article, Silver said “The Knicks are at least better off than the 76ers, who have a 2% chance. Tanking doesn’t pay.” Nate is really good at predicting elections, but embarrassingly bad at predicting NBA outcomes.

People also started praising the Timberwolves for doing everything differently than the Sixers. It was such obvious garbage. They traded Thaddeus Young for a too-old-to-play Kevin Garnett, and instead of pointing out how stupid that was, everyone commended them for getting veterans to mentor their young players – rebuilding the right way, apparently.

It wasn’t just NBA teams. Kentucky alumnus Eric Bledsoe said publicly that his alma mater could beat the Sixers, and many people agreed with him. This was during the 2014-15 NBA season, when the Timberwolves and Knicks both finished with worse records than the Sixers. They weren’t incessantly compared to a college team, though.

Luckily, we were right. The Sixers’ rebuild went unquestionably better than the Magic, Knicks, and Timberwolves’ rebuilds did. All three are currently below .500 and likely to miss the playoffs. The Knicks have the NBA’s worst record. And for what it’s worth, I have Kentucky getting upset early in my bracket.

The writers at Deadspin were not only wrong about the Sixers, they were obnoxious about it. In 2014, Tom Ley wrote a piece titled The Philadelphia 76ers Are A Godless Abomination, in which is posited “Robert Covington is in Philly to help the Sixers lose.” In 2015, Albert Burneko wrote an article called The 76ers Are Run By A Ridiculous TED-Humping Moron.

And after all of Deadspin’s anti-tank grandstanding, their very own Dennis Young wrote a piece titled The Philadelphia 76ers Should Blow Up The Team And Not Worry About The Short-Term Consequences, following the Sixers winning 52 games and a playoff series behind two young stars last season.

The Sixers have even drawn the ire of owners of other NBA teams. Bucks owner Wes Edens said two years ago, “Guys in Philly want to talk about the process, I’d rather talk about the results.”

And even now, after The Process so clearly worked, NBA owners can’t admit that the Sixers got it right. Steve Ballmer owns the Clippers (the least successful organization in the history of the NBA). He recently told the Los Angeles Times he would never tank because he couldn’t give the fans “absolute crap” for six (6!) years like the Sixers did.

Wizards owner Ted Leonsis shared a similar sentiment, telling the Washington Post his team will never tank like the Sixers did for seven (7!) years. It should be noted that during The Process, the Sixers only won fewer than 28 games in three seasons, not six or seven.

These are only the critiques of The Process. Add the “Embiid can’t stay healthy” people, the “Dario is never coming over people”, the “Free Jah” people (I’m looking at you Isaiah Thomas, Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker, Jared Dudley, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Jahlil Okafor’s dad), and there are plenty of reasons for Sixers fans to be spiteful toward outsiders.

It’s not just that Philly fans hold grudges forever. We do, but that alone couldn’t fuel this five-year crusade against anyone who doubted if this experiment would work. No, this collective attitude can only exist at this level because one person of great stature bears the weight of it all on his massive shoulders. Joel Embiid embodies the spite of Sixers fans.

His superstar play is a constant reminder that he’s not just healthy, but thriving. He jokes on Twitter that Dario Saric is never coming over. He’s helped make Sam Hinkie a martyr. He literally calls himself “The Process.” And he’s led the Sixers to what will likely be the three seed in the East for the second straight season.

The debate over The Process is so bizarre. The critics are those who were unaffected, but say it wasn’t fair to the fans and players. But the purported victims are actually the biggest defenders. Sixers fans, along with Embiid, continue to show their support for The Process.

We know The Process worked. This current roster is the proof. But people around the league still don’t get it. Owners still make dumb comments, and Deadspin still writes dumb articles. Luckily, Joel Embiid now makes bigger headlines with both his words and his play.

When the Sixers went to Milwaukee on Sunday, “the results” were a Sixers win and a Joel Embiid 40-point masterpiece. Wednesday night, he backed up his words again with 37 points and 22 rebounds in the win over Boston. When it became clear LeBron James would sign with the Lakers and not the Sixers, Embiid tweeted this:

LeBron going to LA was so frustrating. It’s not that he didn’t come to Philly – it’s specifically that he signed with the Lakers. The Lakers. The team that rebuilt the same time the Sixers did, had a worse plan, and lost more games. But they got away with it because they lucked into LeBron wanting to live there.

I hold nothing against LeBron. He’s an amazing basketball player and person. But the Lakers landing him felt like a slap in the face to The Process, and Joel Embiid responded with the spite that a lot of us instinctively felt ourselves. I truly admire LeBron, but the Lakers are missing the playoffs this year, and I love watching them mess everything up.

So yeah, Sixers fandom is unique. What did the universe expect when it took a fanbase already looking for a reason to get mad, gave them a million things to get mad about, and handed them a star player who is just as mad about these things as the fans are?

The result has been a community that retweets bad Process takes that now look silly, hates players who won accolades that should have gone to Sixers, and wears T-shirts bearing the face of the team’s twice-removed general manager who made the rest of the NBA so upset.

Things like these, which started out as cultish inside jokes among the portion of the fan base that listens to the Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast, have become fully mainstream among Sixers fans.

Yes, it’s spiteful. It’s also awesome.