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This Season on NBA’s ‘Hard[wood] Knocks’: Philadelphia 76ers

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Filling the void for an NBA docuseries.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Philadelphia 76ers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night, I finished watching Amazon’s All Or Nothing, an eight-episode docuseries that, this season, gave viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the 2019 Philadelphia Eagles. Much like HBO’s popular Hard Knocks, the network’s camera crew was granted unprecedented access within the locker room, sidelines, and inside players’ homes. Amazon’s version was not without its warts — for instance, it was rather sanitized, shedding no new light on the anonymous leaker within the Eagles locker room or the reason why DeSean Jackson was day-to-day for half of the season.

But I loved it.

I could watch Brandon Graham talk trash to opposing offensive linemen all day. Dallas Goedert and Avonte Maddox having an indoor Nerf gun shootout? Sign me up. Even when they’re devoid of any particularly revelatory insight, these shows almost always shed light on the lives of the players who wear the jerseys, and highlight some underplayed storylines. And when the cameras actually do catch something significant? Oh man. Chad (then) Johnson being arrested and cut from the Dolphins in 2012, Rex Ryan’s profanity-laden 2010 speech, or the time Antonio Cromartie tried his damndest to name all of his children —they’re all rather compelling moments to watch that would go unseen if not for the camera crew.

It begs the question: how does the NBA not have a facsimile of these shows currently in production? There was the now-defunct NBA TV show The Association, but that hasn’t been in operation since 2016. For a league that is so very online and focused on promotion, it feels like a no-brainer for the furtherance of the popularity of an already uber-dramatic sport.

The league wouldn’t even need to gain the cooperation of one of the marquis teams for their version of this show to be successful and watchable. The format of these shows would make the Chicago Bulls must-see-TV. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but reality shows and documentary series have never been more popular. People will watch them no matter the subject.

I’ve never had much interest in cheerleading, but I finished Cheer on Netflix in a day’s time. I’m from neither Florida nor Alabama, and yet Floribama Shore is the religious text to which I now abide. Last week, Nilsa got arrested for indecent exposure (SPOILER), and I stayed up all night hoping she’d be released in time to make it to Codi’s parents’ cookout. My girlfriend and I began watching the show on a lark, I believe, but by now, we treat it like an academic pursuit.

And murder documentaries? Don’t get me started. If somebody kills somebody else and they make a docuseries about it, I’m watching. Hold all my calls. No questions asked. The point is, people love these kinds of shows, and the fact that in the year of our lord 2020 there is a dearth in this particular realm is a miscarriage of justice.

So, let’s imagine the Sixers were the team appointed to be chronicled for this type of series. A team as weird and polarizing as Philly would drive viewership through the roof. Given the fervor with which I consumed the team’s five-minute video of Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks chatting in an Uber pool, a weekly, hour-long series would be endlessly watchable. If this series had taken place last year amidst the Markelle Fultz Mystery™, it would’ve had Super Bowl-like ratings. Here are some guesses as to who/what would stand out if the series was filmed this year.

Al Horford Would Garner 90 Seconds of Total Screen Time

And even that seems high. There would be a vignette outlining the veteran’s move from Boston to Philly and his decade-long career, before he cedes screen time to the team’s more boisterous characters.

Anna Horford Would Be in Every Episode

Unlike her brother, Anna Horford has a huge personality and is super entertaining. She’s very opinionated, and has made no commitment to abandon her allegiance to Boston ever since Al signed with the Sixers. Horford’s recent benching didn’t seem to sit well with his sister:

There’s no question that she’d make for great TV. Getting her constant commentary on camera after each game would be gold.

Norvel Pelle Would Be Beloved

He’s often overlooked, but the Sixers’ third-string center seems to have a wonderfully fun-loving disposition. He played well enough in spot minutes this season to force the team’s hand and eventually convert his two-way deal into a two-year NBA contract. Pelle truly appears to be enjoying every minute of his NBA experience.

Shows like Hard Knocks and All or Nothing always seem to mine for lesser-known players to uncover compelling characters for television, and Norvel Pelle certainly seems to fit that description.

Josh Richardson’s DJ Career Would Take Off

The Sixers’ starting shooting guard is another player who seems destined to stand out on our hypothetical show. Richardson is a hard working, versatile cog on a championship contender. Prior to the season, head coach Brett Brown deemed J-Rich the team’s “mortar,” and that assertion never seemed more apt than when the guard recently organized a players-only meeting during a rough stretch. He’s also a man of many talents, and this show would be an opportunity for Richardson to showcase his DJ skills on a national stage.

The Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons Dynamic Would Be Picked Apart

People love dissecting the relationship between Embiid and Simmons, given the dissonance between their playing styles and personalities. This series would give viewers the chance to overanalyze every high five or awkward silence between the two. Joel is sitting with Shayok at lunch, he must hate Ben. Ben just high-fived Korkmaz, but fist-bumped Joel...what gives? This would grow tiresome by Episode 2.

The Legend of Joel Embiid Would Grow Exponentially

The Sixers center is a walking soundbite. He has a propensity to not only spin yarns of questionable veracity about his upbringing, but also talk trash to opponents with impunity. For years, reporters have alluded to Embiid’s dismemberment of bigs and assistant coaches in practice. Does he just terrorize poor Roy Hibbert every day? Given his injury history, what kind of medical attention and preparation goes into getting Jo on the court? Does he still drink Shirley Temples? (Editor’s Note: He does not.) What kind of frustration is he willing to reveal in the locker room? For someone as media savvy as Embiid, I’m sure he would be cognizant of the benefits of coming off as well as possible in this showcase, which could only breed positive results in the team.

Sixers or not, the NBA needs to get with the times and adopt this format once and for all. Adam Silver can Venmo me my royalties when the time comes.