I stayed up on Friday night to watch Game 5 of the NBA Finals. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were trying their damndest to shut the door on the Miami Heat. The game was close — neither squad was ever able to truly pull away — and what was a really solid Finals game through its first 43 minutes elevated into a modern-day classic in the final five. As the slugfest drew near its end, I realized something within myself so dark and repugnant that I hesitate to even put it down in digital ink:
My god, I’m rooting for the Lakers.
How could this be? I’m from Philadelphia, a die-hard Philly sports fan, completely repelled by the gaudy glitz and glamour acquainted with the gold-and-white, frontrunning Los Angeles Lakers ethos. Rooting for LA is sacrilege where I come from. Baked into the most elemental parts of our sports brains and hearts is a psyche of under-doggedness completely antithetical to whatever it is that makes Lakers fans what they are. We rooted for AI, not Kobe; Matt Stairs, not Jonathan Broxton; a Flyers player, not an LA Hockey Team player (not sure).
So what exactly was it that caused such a blasphemous rooting interest?
It was Jimmy Butler.
In the guts of an NBA Finals game, it was Butler who went toe-to-toe with LeBron James, matching him shot-for-shot. He spun with reckless abandon toward the basket, careening into larger defenders, dead-set on getting to the free throw line to keep the Heat in it.
So I sat there, silently begging the Lakers to end this series. Each shot Butler made, each clutch rebound he grabbed, and pinpoint pass to an open shooter he threw, served not only as a boon to Miami’s win probability, but as another, more painful referendum on the Philadelphia 76ers franchise, from top to bottom.
I just wanted it to stop. Butler is gone. He’s in Miami, the perfect place for him — his skillset, his mentality, all of it. The Sixers had him and for one reason or another, they let him slip away.
As you all know now, Butler led the Heat to victory on Friday night in 47 minutes and with another wonderful Finals performance.
Jimmy Butler's last four games have been :— Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) October 10, 2020
✅ G2: 25 PTS, 8 REB, 13 AST
✅ G3: 40 PTS, 11 REB, 13 AST
✅ G4: 22 PTS, 10 REB, 9 AST
✅ G5: 35 PTS, 12 REB, 11 AST
He's the second player in NBA Finals history to average at least 30p/10r/10a over a four-game span (LeBron James). pic.twitter.com/TlmjI3wFfi
I scrolled through Twitter and read the absolute barrage of jokes and deserved jabs at the Sixers’ expense, all of which rang painfully true.
Game 5 clearly took a lot out of Butler and the Heat team that he carried far beyond its most hopeful preseason predictions, as he finished last night’s Game 6 with only 12 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in 45 minutes.
This Sixers franchise is snakebitten. I’m not exactly sure where it started, but how much more evidence do we need before we all agree and acknowledge that the universe is dead-set on punishing this team over and over again?
The first step to solving a problem is admitting there is one.
Now, where does the team go from here? How can it possibly regain some positive juju to right the ship?
Here are three steps that might help:
1. Perform an exorcism on the front office
I can’t help but notice that ever since Sixers Managing Partner Josh Harris, NBA league Commissioner Adam Silver, and the rest of the league’s majority owners colluded in an effort to insert multiple Colangelos into the 76ers franchise, and thus, usurp the power of then-General Manager Sam Hinkie, things have gone comically wrong for the team from a player personnel perspective. Bad trades, awful contracts, disastrous draft picks — you name it, it’s happened.
It has been a steady decrescendo of aptitude in the team’s decision-making. Many members of Bryan Colangelo’s staff remain with the team, thus cursing them to suffer for the errs of their own ineptitude. The proverbial blood on their hands makes it karmically impossible for the team to truly achieve championship success. These men (namely Scott O’Neil, Ned Cohen and Alex Rucker) are pernicious growths on the franchise that need to be removed posthaste. Elton Brand seems destined to retain his General Manager position with the team, and reports say that he is out interviewing candidates to work beneath him:
A Sixers front office update. The team has begun interviewing candidates to serve in an executive role under GM Elton Brand, according to league sources.— Yaron Weitzman (@YaronWeitzman) October 7, 2020
This is a step in the right direction. Recently, Keith Pompey reported for the Philly Inquirer that Rucker and Cohen are likely to remain with the organization, but in a different department completely stripped of influence on the team’s decision-making. Again, I’m not sure exactly what these men have done that makes them completely unfireable, but, fine.
I’ll believe it when I see it.
2. Do some good deeds
It can’t hurt! If the leaders of the team want to earn some goodwill from the Universe, committing some time and money philanthropically may help. They should be willing to try anything at this point. Markelle Fultz forgot how to shoot, Zhaire Smith almost died from eating a sesame seed. We’re not dealing with normal basketball stuff here, there is something cosmic at play.
So Josh Harris: get out there and work for Habitat for Humanity. Teach for America. Build a playground, volunteer at the polls in November. Stop lending millions of dollars to Jared Kushner or Donald Trump, or anyone else who stringently opposes the morals and values and missions of the players who actually earn you all those millions of dollars in basketball.
3. Halt efforts to build a stadium funded by taxpayer dollars
We at Liberty Ballers have covered the Sixers ownership group’s effort to build a new stadium rather extensively in recent months. The initial effort was to use the unclaimed area at Penn’s Landing to erect the new stadium, partially funded by tax dollars of Philadelphia residents through the state’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone program. The city jilted Harris and Blitzer on their offer, but stay vigilant. They’re reportedly looking into other neighborhoods to build the stadium on the public dime, which would thus nearly double the value of the franchise in the group’s eventual re-sale.
It’s almost a little too ‘on the nose,’ even for these owners. Who are they getting advice from, Mr. Potter?
One way to regain some good karma would be to stop making a clear public effort to pilfer money from the pockets of the fans who fill up the current stadium, just so the owners can turn their billions into more billions.
Godspeed, Sixers. The only place to go is up.