When you think about the Philadelphia 76ers, historically, a few names come to mind. Allen Iverson. Julius Erving. Wilt Chamberlain. When you think about the Philadelphia 76ers, recently, you’ll consider Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, maybe even Tobias Harris. But when you consider ‘Process’-era Sixers, very few names come to mind before you hit Tony Wroten.
For the uninitiated, Tony Wroten is from Seattle, Washington. In 2011, he played his freshman season for the Washington Huskies and was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. That following spring, he entered the NBA draft.
After a brief and uneventful start to his career with the Memphis Grizzlies, Philadelphia General Manager Sam Hinkie acquired Wroten in a summertime deal. Soon after he joined the Sixers, Wroten became a fan favorite among the burgeoning, at-first-underground movement of ‘Process’-era Sixers fans. With his infectious personality and undying effort on the court, Wroten became emblematic of the players on Hinkie’s teams: he was an unpolished, athletic player, dead-set on making a name for himself in the league. Wroten and his teammates would suit up for Sixers teams often undermanned against NBA competition, and Philadelphia didn’t win many games along the way.
A zoomed-out, present-day perspective may have you think that Sixers fans — even Hinkie fans, who full-throatedly endorsed the tanking efforts of ‘The Process’ — tuned out while the Sixers lost all those games. They took a few NBA fandom sabbaticals, and then peeked their heads up once Joel Embiid took the court. That perspective would be incorrect. Players like Tony Wroten endeared themselves to Sixers faithful during that time. As fans, we became less interested in the final score, and more interested in the players on the team.
Tony Wroten was always one of those players. He had some electrifying on-court moments, with his game-breaking isomotion and left-handed drive. He is the man possibly responsible for ‘Trust The Process.’ He was imperfect, but he was ours.
Love The 215 and will ALWAYS have love for Philly.My beautiful daughter was born and raised there therefore Philly is always apart of me— Tone Wroten (@TWroten_LOE) April 9, 2016
Last week, I caught up with Tony about his career with the Sixers, his overseas career since, and just why exactly he resonated so deeply with this sect of Philadelphia fans, and them with him.
Here is our conversation.
The first thing I want to know is just, how have you been doing with the quarantine and everything going on? How are you?
Honestly, man, I’ve been quarantining all my life. Like, I’m a big chill-at-home type of dude. [I] play video games. I can enjoy myself being at home all day. For that part, it’s been easy. But, you know, with everything going on in this world, how something can really shut down the entire world is just mind-blowing to me. So, I’m just spending time with my loved ones, the ones that I know that I care about and [who] care about me.
And you’re healthy, you’re safe? Your family’s all good?
So I figured I would just go through your career with some questions I have, and maybe at the end [ask] a couple random questions. To start off, you were drafted 25th overall by Memphis in 2012. What was draft night like for you?
Oh, man. Life-changing.
Where did you watch from?
We had rented out an entire, like, ballroom. And they had an upstairs and downstairs. And they had my family downstairs watching, and me and all my friends upstairs, but no one knew I was upstairs. My family [didn’t know]. So, as soon as they call my name, me and my friends just start going crazy, screaming. We came downstairs and no one knew I was [upstairs] so all my family started going crazy. It was life-changing, man. I had Jamal Crawford, Brandon Roy, Isaiah Thomas, Nate Robinson — all those guys were there.
Wow. As the draft went on, when [the draft gets] into the 20s, were you a little worried that you were gonna slip to the second round?
No, not at all. Which is crazy, because of a glitch in the TV. There was a glitch in the TV that had said my name being picked to the Grizzlies on the bottom of the screen. But it wasn’t the Grizzlies’ pick yet. So — this before my agent [had] even called me, all that.
So it was a mistake that you just happened to see it like that?
Right, I happened to see it across the bottom. And my agent had to call me, it was like the 21st pick or something. And it’s crazy because barely any of my friends saw it as well, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions and get hype over it. So, I got even more nervous because I see my name go to Memphis, and they’re about to come up. I didn’t know if it was a mistake or [if] it was real. So, as the 23rd, 24th pick is [happening], my agent calls me. And all my friends are going nuts. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget.
Then, in August of 2013, you get traded to Philadelphia. What was it like to be traded that early in your career?
That early — it was, like, mixed emotions. Because I had great mentors in Memphis. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen— they had took me under their wing. I was training behind Mike Conley, he was teaching me everything. So even though I wasn’t playing that much, because it was a playoff team and they’re trying to win championships … I continued to grow and continued to get better. So I didn’t want to leave them, but when I was talking to Coach [Brett] Brown from Philly and he told me [about] the opportunity, and playing right away, I loved it. It was a great opportunity.
Right. What was your opinion of the Sixers before you got to Philly? Did you know much about what they were currently getting ready to do?
No, not at all. Honestly, I’d never heard of Coach Brown before, I didn’t know nothing about no tanking. Even when I spoke to Coach Brown when I first got traded … he was just talking about: ‘we’re young and you’re gonna play early.’ And that’s all I could ask for as a young, 18-year-old kid. You know? So, I just wanted to play. And being one of the first guys of this whole ‘Process’ thing, this whole journey — especially seeing guys like Joel Embiid, how they turn out now — it’s great to see.
Yeah, I mean, that team was full of young players. So, then in training camp of 2013, you became close friends with some Sixers teammates, especially Michael Carter-Williams, Vander Blue, Khalif Wyatt — and you guys formed Team WHOP. Everybody loves Team WHOP. I believe it stood for ‘We Handle Our Problems.’ How did that start up?
Team Whop it's a movement check us new episode we a family http://t.co/dBEsRcQz21— Vander Blue III (@veezy_SQ) October 23, 2013
It’s just crazy because it happened so organically. You know? It wasn’t like forced, it didn’t come together like ‘oh, we gotta start something.’ It started in Spain in the preseason. We had a game in Spain and a game in [Manchester]. So we were all the young guys on the team, and being the rookies, we had to run errands and we had to do things rookies do. And as that’s unfolding, we just organically [became close] with each other. For example, we were in Spain and [Sixers guard] Jason Richardson asked us to find the best chicken. I’m like, ‘Where? We’re not from Spain!’ He says, ‘Just go do it. You better find it, you better have it back here.’ And so, he said that to Vander. Being in a different country, [Vander] didn’t wanna go by himself. So me, Michael Carter-Williams, Khalif, we all run the errands. And then one day led into the next day, and it got to the point where we were together every day. Guys like [Sixers guard] Evan Turner — he was like, ‘Dang, are y’all joined at the hip? If I see one, I’m gonna see all four of y’all. I never see y’all by yourself.’
Is there a Team WHOP group chat that currently exists? And do you still remember the handshake?
Oh, I’ll never, ever forget the handshake. (laughs) And especially the friendship … it’s just, you know, a great, great thing that we built. To the point where, even the other Sixers were trying to be from it. Evan Turner was the main guy. And still to this day, if I see any of them, we’ll still do the WHOP shake.
You became a fan favorite very quickly in Philly. Why do you think your game and your personality connected so much with Sixers fans?
Man, honestly: I love Philly. All of everything. The community, the city, the ‘nit and grit’. [Just] anybody can’t play in Philly. You gotta be hard-nosed, you gotta really be tough. And one thing I learned about Philly: even though we were losing, they don’t care. They still want you to play hard. They still want you to have some pride. Not caring if we’re not the best team. They still want you to have pride. And the way they took me in and loved me — I’ll forever be grateful. I love Philly. I still go to Philly to this day. I’m definitely gonna make it back to the NBA and it would be a dream come true if I could come back to Philly. I just love it so much.
People would be so hype if that happened. The big misconception about ‘The Process’ is that when the team was losing games, the fans weren’t interested. The fans were more interested than ever. The fans were so in on all the young guys who were playing hard [on a team with a plan].
Right, and that’s the thing that’s crazy. Because I used to bring my friends out to watch the games. And [they’d be like] ‘Man, I mean, you guys don’t have a great record but your fans are cheering as if y’all are making the playoffs.’ And that’s just Philly for you. That just shows you how tough it is and how much dedication they have for the [Sixers]. And the history, the Rocky steps, the Liberty Bell, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley — I could go on and on. It’s just a community that they built. And if you’re loved in Philly you’ll be loved in Philly forever. And that’s why I love Philly tremendously.
I’m going to go through a couple of your highlights with the Sixers and see if you have any specific memories that stand out. Your first career start was in November of 2013, and you had a triple-double in an overtime win against Houston. You [became] the first player to ever [record] a triple-double in his first start. What do you remember about that game?
(laughs) It’s crazy because — as you know — me and Michael (Carter-Williams) were super close. And, you know, sometimes when you have guys that are friends and that play the same position, it could be a bad thing and it could create some animosity. You know, ‘Why’s he playing in front of me?’ This and that. But it was never none of that. With Mike coming in, being drafted that high, I knew he was gonna be the starter. But I knew that I could still contribute without starting. And I say that because, when Mike got injured and I was starting, he was cheering for me just as much as I was cheering for him. It was all love. And being the point guard, the point guard is like a quarterback. It’s all on you. And going into that game, I just had the mindset like: I want to show the whole world and Philly who I am. It’s crazy because I’ll pull up to my mom’s house randomly, and she’ll be — you know, love her to death — but she’ll randomly say things like, ‘Son, you know you’re the first person ever to have a triple double in your first start?’ Cause I don’t even think about it. She’ll just say it so randomly. Like, dang. It’s a moment in history that can never be replaced … I was the first person to ever do it. That’s something that’ll be in history, something that I cherish.
Then, your career-high. You had a career-high 31 points in November of 2014 against the Bulls. Do you remember something about that night? What was it that got you so hot that game?
Actually, man, once I get comfortable, I know I’m a great basketball player. And I know I can be in the NBA, stick in the NBA. So once I become comfortable, that’s when things start feeling ten times easier. And I start to understand schemes, and watch film more, and I start to see how teams are about to play me. And in the NBA, it’s the best in the world … Jimmy Butler’s probably one of the hardest defenders — him and Jrue Holiday — two of the toughest players that’s ever guarded me. And to say I had my career-high on the Chicago Bulls when Jimmy Butler was guarding me, you know, that means something to me.
I mean, Jimmy Butler was on the Sixers for a little bit last year, and I can tell you without a doubt: you have remained more popular than him in Philly — when he was here, [after] he was here, the whole time.
I’m gonna give you a few quick hits. I’m just gonna name [some] people in the Sixers organization, you tell me what comes to mind about them. Spencer Hawes.
Got it out the mud.
Funniest guy I’ve ever met.
A real one.
Boston accent God.
Isn’t it great?
I love it.
And Sam Hinkie.
Quietest GM ever.
So, since then — since the Sixers — you’ve had a lot of experience playing professionally, both in the G-League and overseas. You’ve played in Estonia, Poland and Spain. What have you learned about yourself playing and living so far away from home? What has that been like?
Honestly, it’s crazy how much it helped me off and on the court. Because, off the court — me, personally — I always had my friends with me. [They] lived with me, came to the games all the time. You know what I’m saying? And this was the first time I was able to go by myself to a different country. Different culture, different food. The most important thing that helped me is [that] I was able to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You know? Getting out of my comfort zone, not being around family. Not having friends at [my] games, not eating what [I] normally eat. And once I mastered that, I was never out my comfort zone ever again. And on the court became easier. Because — Luka [Doncic] would tell you this, and I’m telling you this — overseas is harder than the NBA. When I say that, I don’t mean — obviously, NBA players are the best of the best. No one’s better than NBA players. But as far as defense, there’s no ‘3 in the key,’ you can post, you can stay in the key, you can run zone, it’s more of a team defense. NBA players — they’re too good to run zone. Whereas overseas, you have different rules — hitting the ball off the rim, it’s a lot of different things. And I think I realized that I just know, once I come back to the NBA, I’m gonna do ten times better than what I did when I was there. Because I’m in a different mindset and I’m a ten times better player. Like I said, I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable. So, whatever situation you find me in, I’m gonna fit in just right.
You’ve had a long professional career now — it’s obviously far from over. With the current Sixers, there’s always a lot of talk about how good the locker room chemistry is or isn’t. In your opinion, how important is team chemistry and everyone getting along? Do you think that affects the on-court results?
I think it does. Because when you build camaraderie, and you build a great relationship off the court, and you know your teammates, everything else becomes ten times easier. If there’s ever been hostility, or you’re not cool with that person, as soon as one thing goes bad on the court, it’s gonna flare up. Because, you know, it’s how you feel about the person. As soon as one negative thing happens — because it’s easy to act like you’re cool with everybody when things are going good. But, like my mom told me: ‘Get mad at your best friend or someone, and they’re gonna tell you how they really feel about you.’ At the end of the day this ain’t golf, and this ain’t tennis. One person can’t win [by himself].
For sure. I’m gonna get you out of here soon, I just have three questions about, like, life stuff. Are you good with that?
Yeah, it’s all good.
Alright. How did becoming a father change you?
Sheesh. It changed me tremendously. I was being dumb, I was being stupid, and I was making dumb, immature decisions. You know what I’m saying? And when I had a kid — I had my son — it wasn’t about me no more. I wasn’t doing it for just myself. There was no time to be selfish, thinking about me. I want my son and my daughter to be 10 times better than me, not just [when it comes to] basketball, just life in general. And, you know, me being 27 [now], I’m able to go through everything and feel trial and error. So I know the ‘do’s and don’ts’ for my son, I know ‘do’s and don’ts’ for my daughter. It just made me a better person. I want my son to have to work for nothing. I want my daughter to be spoiled and grow up with the best life ever, and [not go through] stuff that I had to go through.
I think that’s great. If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Oh, Step Brothers. Easy.
Great answer. Okay, last question: When is the hardest time you’ve ever laughed? (Credit to Pete Holmes’ You Made it Weird podcast for the question.)
The hardest? Man, I’m telling you, all you gotta do is just be around JoJo Embiid for ten minutes! And you’ll have the laugh of your life. ‘Cause I had so many — you know, I was there for the two years that Jo had to rehab. And one of them years, I was coming off ACL surgery, so we were working out together, every single day. So, you know Jo, most of the days you’re gonna get the happy, joking Jo. And other days you’re gonna get ‘don’t bother me.’ But when it’s fun and joking, man, he’s the greatest guy ever to be around. We played video games all the time, whatever he says is funny to me, man. I was there with him and [I’ve] seen the lows, and I’ve seen him have to go through the same injury two years in a row but still stay with it. I was there with him and I’ve seen it. Like, even now, it’s hard to work out every day when we don’t got games. He had to do it for two years. That just tells you right there. Most people wouldn’t have made it through that. That guy right there. I love that dude to death, man.
Thank you so much for talking to me, I really appreciate it. Is there anything else you want me to let people know?
Just let ‘em know I’ll be back in the NBA. Know that.
I can’t thank Tony enough for taking the time to talk to me. Keep up with him on Twitter @TWroten_LOE.
Tony, you’ve got thousands of fans in Philly cheering on your journey back to the league. See you soon. Trust The Process.