Being a Philadelphia sports fan is a particularly fraught experience that is often equal parts redemptive and tortuous, at once. No professional sports tag team works to enthrall and then disappoint fans in the same city like the 76ers and the Eagles. Currently, both teams are run with questionable aptitude at best. The Sixers are helmed by Elton Brand, a man who recently admitted to having no idea what he was doing when he was initially appointed general manager. For the Eagles, Howie Roseman has far too often relied on older players — older players on second tours of duty with the team, sometimes — to keep the organization in contention. This reliance on elder statesmen has left the Eagles with an injury report more crowded than a non-COVID K-lot at the Linc on gameday.
While we’re on the subject, some quick Eagles takes:
- I totally believe in Carson Wentz. He still has too many bouts of inaccuracy and recklessness, but he has the talent and moxie to lead this team to great heights.
- Nate Gerry is so bad that he looks like he’s shaving points. Least favorite Eagle in a long time.
- I don’t care if DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery get healthy this season — the wide receiver snaps should go to Travis Fulgham, Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward Jr. and John Hightower when all are available.
- Lane Johnson should be forced to rest his ailing ankle this Sunday against Dallas so that he gets two consecutive weeks of rest (this and the upcoming bye).
- The Eagles are going to win this stupid division and a home playoff game.
For me, in between throwing Al Horford in the trade machine and canvassing NFL free agency for able-bodied right guards, it’s fun to think about parallels between the players on both rosters. So here are 10 current and former Sixers and Eagles with stylistic or narrative similarities:
Joel Embiid | Carson Wentz
Embiid and Wentz are both young leaders of franchises with championship aspirations. Both have now endured nonlinear paths of production after experiencing immense professional success initially. Both have been labeled “injury prone,” and both have withstood immense criticism in recent months.
Ben Simmons | Miles Sanders
The tricky part of this comparison is that Simmons is worlds more divisive in both local and national discourse than Sanders. The parallels are twofold: 1) Simmons and Sanders are both dynamic playmakers with game-breaking speed and athleticism; and 2) Both players play in a way that’s a bit antithetical to the natural progression of their position in their respective sport. Simmons is a ball-handling point forward who won’t shoot; Sanders is a hugely important cog to an offense within a sport that devalues the running back position more every year.
Al Horford | Byron Maxwell
This one is a much more seamless comparison. Both Horford and Maxwell were signed to big-money contracts with the hope that they would quell a longstanding positional problem. Unfortunately, rather immediately, Horford proved to be an untenable fit next to Simmons and Embiid and not nearly as impactful a backup center to justify his contract. Maxwell, no longer buoyed by the ecosystem of the Legion of Boom Seahawks, was torn to shreds as the Eagles’ number-one cornerback. The prediction here is that, like Maxwell, Horford will be jettisoned to another team only one year after coming to Philly.
Tobias Harris | Rodney McLeod
While McLeod doesn’t sport the mammoth contract that Harris does, there are a few parallels between these two. One is that they are both good — not great — players, who are by all accounts excellent forces in the locker room. Also, this year, they both were forced into a more front-facing leadership position with the team due to the departure of key teammates in the most recent offseason. The Sixers, of course, let Jimmy Butler go to Miami, while the Eagles cut ties with safety Malcolm Jenkins, who wound up in New Orleans.
Josh Richardson | Nickell Robey-Coleman
Both Josh Richardson and Nickell Robey-Coleman came to Philadelphia this year with a hard-nosed, solid defensive reputation. Both players went on to be completely overextended by their respective teams due to either poor roster construction or surrounding injuries. Richardson was the only guard in the Sixers’ opening-day starting lineup, and could never provide the necessary offense to fill that particular role, thus his defense was harder to appreciate for fans. Robey-Coleman was thought of as a top-five inside corner throughout his career with the LA Rams. Now on the Eagles — a team flooded with corners on the inside, but lacking on the outside since Avonte Maddox suffered an injury — NRC has been forced to start on the outside for the Eagles and has been exposed as a result.
Shake Milton | Travis Fulgham
Both Milton and Fulgham took their respective fanbases by complete surprise when pressed into action. Without both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, Milton lit up the contender LA Clippers on their floor, totaling 39 points in a close loss. Fulgham was elevated from the practice squad a few weeks ago due to the glut of injuries at the wide receiver position. His signature performance (so far) also came in a loss, when he caught 10 passes for 152 yards in a close game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. So far, both guys have displayed consistency beyond their years that has fans penciling them into the teams’ long-term futures.
Markelle Fultz | Nelson Agholor
I won’t spend too much time here — I don’t want to awake any evil spirits in your nightmares — but the comparison is rather simple: Fultz and Agholor were both high picks who could not live up to their expectations in Philly due in some part to mental blocks that made it difficult for Fultz to shoot and Agholor to catch. On a personal level, my first-ever piece for Liberty Ballers was about these two, as I somehow drew a completely optimistic comparison between them, following that time when Fultz hit a wide open 3-pointer in the preseason. I am not a smart person.
(It should be noted that Agholor’s career in Philly was not a total disappointment, as he was a large part of the Eagles team that won a Super Bowl in 2017.)
JJ Redick | Patrick Robinson
Redick and Robinson both came to Philadelphia as veterans on short-term contracts and the other side of 30, who their teams could plug right in to play important roles on ascending teams. Redick shot the lights out with the Sixers in his two seasons, and formed an unmatched partnership with Joel Embiid in the process. Robinson played like one of the best slot corners in the league during his fateful season with the Birds. Also, when leaving Philadelphia in free agency, both Redick and Robinson signed in New Orleans. The key difference, of course, is that Robinson’s brief tenure in South Philly was punctuated with the Eagles’ first Super Bowl in franchise history, while Redick’s Sixers never made it past the second round in the playoffs.
Jahlil Okafor | Danny Watkins
Woof. Both these guys were high picks who had truly awful careers in Philadelphia that seemed doomed from the very start. Okafor was a throwback center who was completely ill-equipped to a be productive player in the modern NBA. Watkins was a firefighter who hated playing football. Both men found their way out of Philly after two seasons (Okafor was traded midway through his third).
Iverson and Dawkins both had scintillating, singular careers that left indelible marks on the franchises forevermore. Both men played with the heart and passion that people are usually referencing when they speak about “Philly tough” players. Iverson and Dawkins are nearly universally beloved by both the fans who were lucky enough to watch them live, and the fans who were handed down the myths of their legendary careers and have had to resort to YouTube deep-dives to try to capture some of the feeling of what it was like to cheer for them in the moment. Despite never winning a championship here, Iverson and Dawkins each defined an era of their team in Philadelphia.