Before self-identifying as a Philadelphia 76ers diehard, I am a nerd at my core. In my heart of hearts, that’s what I am before anything else.
I draw parallels between everything with either comic books, Dungeons and Dragons, or both, somehow. I’ve had a hard time trying to identify what character or what book perfectly sums up this Sixers season. Then, it hit me as I was watching “The Dark Knight Rises” — the third in the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy — the other night.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s the broad strokes. Gotham City is on the rebound after Batman took the blame for killing Harvey Dent/Two-Face in “The Dark Knight”. No one has seen the Caped Crusader in months, and Bruce Wayne is some rich recluse with ratty facial hair.
The main antagonist in this movie is the villain Bane — probably the most physically imposing character in the Batman universe. (I respect Killer Croc, but Bane would beat his ass in a fight.)
Anyway, “The Dark Knight Rises” was written and directed by Nolan, and that particular series had some of the best writing in a comic book-based movie. When you hear some of the things said by Bane (played by a jacked-up Tom Hardy), they send cold shivers down your spine.
It finally hit me as I was watching. Bane! Bane is the perfect parallel for this Sixers season. For example, the start of the season was a little confusing after the Sixers gave Tobias Harris $180 million dollars (not too confusing) and Al Horford $97 million guaranteed (wildly confusing then, and moreso now).
Bane: It doesn’t matter who we are … what matters is our plan.
Bane says that before taking over an airplane with CIA agents and special forces guys and then sends said aircraft plunging to the earth.
When it comes to the Sixers’ plan in the offseason, it kinda made sense at the time, right? Jimmy Butler was off to Miami in a sign-and-trade with the Heat. If everything was true and the Sixers were unwilling to give Butler the fifth year in a deal, Harris was the option.
It made sense. Harris’s catch and shoot ability (1.078 points per possession in catch and shoot situations via Synergy Sports) made the contract palpable. Was it an overpay in hindsight? Probably. My argument is always “who else were the Sixers going to give that money to”?
The $97 million guaranteed ($109 million total) given to Horford was more of a head-scratcher. At the time, Horford was seen as “Joel Embiid Insurance”. Embiid had a penchant for getting hurt or needing time off, so Horford was a decent option so that the Sixers weren’t so damn awful with Embiid off the floor.
It was also a small bonus that Horford wouldn’t be on the Boston Celtics to terrorize and neutralize Embiid defensively. The Horford signing leads me to my next Bane quote.
Bane: Do you feel in Charge?
Daggett: I paid you a small fortune.
Bane: And this gives you power over me?
Part of “The Dark Knight Rises” centered around a man named Roland Daggett trying to cheat the Gotham Stock Exchange with Bane in order to stage a hostile takeover of Wayne Enterprises. His character in this movie is way different from Daggett in Batman: The Animated Series where Daggett had his own company. (Shout out to Clayface for taking him down.)
Daggett paid Bane “a small fortune” for his help in doing this, so Daggett felt he held the upper hand. Naturally, a man like Bane doesn’t see it that way. (Spoiler alert.) Bane kills him.
Horford was shoehorned into the starting lineup, and the returns weren’t positive. Ben Simmons faced clogged lanes due to Horford AND Embiid being in the paint. This forced Embiid to set up more at the 3-point line, which is where you don’t want him to be setting up AT FIRST.
When it was brought to head coach Brett Brown’s attention that Horford would be better served coming off the bench, it was met with resistance. Was the Sixers front office (Josh Harris, etc.) convinced they had to play Horford because of the “small fortune” they paid Horford?
When fans and media types hinted at a similar situation, was the Sixers front office listening then? I don’t want to get all “woe is the fan” on everyone, but if the general consensus is that Horford helps more coming off the bench, maybe you should listen.
Perhaps in this notion, the fans are the ones handing out “small fortunes” to ownership. That being said, we may FEEL like we should have some power, when in actuality, the power we have is kinda limited.
Bane: Home! Where I learned the meaning of despair … as will you.
This quote is two-fold. After Bane beat the brakes, brake pads, and brake lining off Batman in their first encounter, Bane took the Bat to his first home — his prison that’s hundreds of meters underground featuring an opening where a little sunlight comes in. Think of a well if you’ve never seen the movie.
The Wells Fargo Center hasn’t been a place to learn the meaning of despair for the Sixers (so to speak, since they have the NBA’s best home record at 28-2). The despair comes in when the team goes on the road, where they are 9-21.
There is no logical explanation to these numbers:
- Home: 28-2, 112.5 PPG, 102.4 Opp. PPG, 48.5 FG%, 44.1 Opp. FG%
- Road: 9-21, 104.9 PPG, 110.7 Opp. PPG, 44.2% FG%, 47.2 Opp. FG%
Those splits are almost as asinine as the on/off splits last year with Embiid on and off the floor. That’s where despair comes in. After every home win, you’re left with such hope and promise, but when the Sixers go on the road, that hope is replaced with dread.
Bane: Oh, yes! I was wondering what would break first … Your spirit [pulls Batman up with both hands and then breaks his back with knee]! OR YOUR BODY!
This is probably one of my favorite lines in comic book cinema — even if that’s a bit of a short list. How Bane just lifts Batman up and splits him in half is crazy to me.
Make no mistake. The spirit of the Sixers fan has been severely broken this year — especially recently. Ben Simmons is now injured with a pinched nerve in his back, and Joel Embiid has begun nursing an injured shoulder.
A wounded Simmons AND Embiid doesn’t inspire confidence in the average Sixers fan come playoff time. In a conference where I, personally, wouldn’t pick the Sixers in a seven-game series against Milwaukee, Boston, Toronto, or even perhaps the cowardly Miami Heat (#zoneisforcowards), why would I look forward to April and May basketball?
Could the Sixers catch fire around late March with everyone coming back and (relatively) healthy? Absolutely. Would I put hard-earned Benjamins on it? Eh, that’s where it gets dicey.
Bane: Calm down, Doctor. Now is not the time for fear. That comes later!
Circling back to the scene with the airplane and the mass ass-beating of CIA agents, Bane said this to Doctor Leonid Pavel — the reason he was on the plane to begin with. Bane faked his capture to kidnap the doctor. Upon grabbing the doc, the villain exited.
What comes later is something no one should be looking forward to. All season long, we’ve had to hear national media folks (looking at you Bill Simmons and Ryen Russillo) try to separate Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Such conversation will continue no matter how the rest of the season pans out. The only thing that will prevent such insanity is if the Sixers win the NBA Championship — something that is pretty unlikely. A first-round exit would be the worst case scenario.
Continued talk of breaking up our two All-Stars? Happening.
Likely firing of head coach Brett Brown? Oh, yeah, you can book that.
No matter how bad we all think it is now, it will only stand to get that much worse this offseason. Some think the time for fear is now AND in the future, but aren’t we just playing with house money at this point? Not one NBA analyst (local or otherwise) is picking the Sixers to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals. Maybe that’s a good thing.
It could also be that I’m so jaded at this point that I’m looking for any sliver of hope.
Bane: So, as I terrorize Gotham, I will feed its people hope to poison their souls. I will let them believe they can survive so that you can watch them clamoring over each other to “stay in the sun.” We will destroy Gotham and then, when it is done and Gotham is ashes, then you have my permission to die.
When Bane banished Batman to his old prison, that is what Bane told him before he left him to stew in his failure.
Even when the season is over, the Sixers will continue to feed its fanbase hope for the future. Why wouldn’t they, right? Two All-Stars, (likely) a new head coach with a different system. A fresh start and deleting a crappy season from the minds of the collective consciousness.
We’ll come back, though.
We all know what kind of potential this team has — even as Milwaukee or Boston gets better, and the impending arrival of Kevin Durant in Brooklyn makes things even more complicated. All of us still want that NBA Championship parade down Broad Street, and we’ll die before giving up that hope.
My fear is that the Sixers front office will do more and more little things that leave this team in ashes. Then, we’ll just die because we have little to no faith anymore.
How does that get fixed? The most complicated answer is new ownership, but let’s face it. That’s not happening barring a miracle. For now, we have to live out this life with this team and continue to look up into the void of that dark well-like prison.