In what feels like a whirlwind of a time, I’m entering my fifth season covering the Philadelphia 76ers in some capacity. I’m not sure how that happened. I’m getting old. The scope has intensified in recent years, but dating back to Ben Simmons’ rookie campaign, I’ve maintained a close eye on this team and provided some sort of content, albeit sporadically at first.
As my depth and reach of coverage has expanded, I’m often inundated by questions of how exactly I stumbled upon this team to devote a sizable segment of my NBA efforts toward. I am not from Philadelphia or any surrounding areas. I do not have familial ties to the city. I was raised across the country in Portland, Oregon, a city with a team and one I grew up feverishly supporting (though have since grown apart from).
Not that I am exhausted or perturbed by these consistent inquiries, but I want to explain how I landed on the Sixers as the team to cover and detail the degree to which such a decision has permeated throughout various aspects of my life. I’m always happy to explain the backstory yet a one-stop source to refer people and provide more insight about myself feels like a worthwhile endeavor during the doldrums of the offseason.
I am not a Sixers fan, but writing and podcasting about them has opened many doors, both professionally and personally. There are feelings of gratitude and intimacy resonating from that decision and its subsequent results. Professionally, I wouldn’t be where I am today, a 23-year-old living independently covering the NBA full-time, without the doors unlocked, directly or otherwise, by that choice. Personally, I wouldn’t be where I am today, a 23-year-old managing depression and anxiety that were once overwhelmingly impairing, without the relationships forged through life on the Sixers beat.
Anyhow, I’m spoiling the conclusion before unveiling the plot. Nearly 300 words in and nobody has more clarity on my background. Let’s change that.
When I was a freshman in college, my dorm had a small common room with a TV and a couch that I inhabited to unwind on a fall afternoon and enjoy some hoops. The 2016-17 NBA season was only a day old. Wednesday, per usual, was one of ESPN’s days to broadcast nationally televised games. The Sixers, headlined by Joel Embiid’s debut, were facing the Oklahoma City Thunder. I was intrigued, wanting to gauge the buzz surrounding Embiid after two years of injury struggles that delayed the start of his career.
I’d long been a basketball fan, dating back to the time my parents first bought tickets to a Portland Trail Blazers game when I was six. I was so invigorated with enthusiasm that I scooped up my basketball and raced outside to shoot hoops. From there, I was a mainstay at the courts during recess all throughout my youth. From the time I was 8 until the end of college, I played some form of organized basketball every year. So, yeah, of course 18-year-old me was going to procrastinate on homework and watch Embiid (I think I made the right move).
And then, with one bucket and the successive theatrics, I was hooked.
Someone of that stature moving that gracefully and drilling a pull-up jumper before relishing in it with the crowd? Expeditiously, I was all in as an ardent proponent of Embiid’s game. I’m sure it clouds some of my analysis, though I try my best to remain objective when discussing him. I probably fail in some regards. Better to be transparent about that bias, I suppose.
From thereon, I tracked Embiid’s progress as closely as possible. I didn’t catch every game because I was not privy to League Pass or alternative streaming methods. Being on the West Coast, 4 PM start times complicated matters. But I caught enough film to still be enthralled with everything the big fella brought.
Parallel to my budding appreciation for Embiid, I joined Gonzaga’s school newspaper, The Gonzaga Bulletin, in January of my freshman year and kick-started my career as a sportswriter. I wrote about everything: track, basketball, tennis, baseball, soccer, all of it. Anything my editors pitched, I eagerly tackled. The ability to convey someone’s story and shine a light on it captivated me. By the time the spring semester ended, I had been hired as a sports editor for the upcoming fall.
But then, the year concluded. I ventured back home and writing opportunities via the newspaper largely dissipated. That wouldn’t suffice. I wanted to keep honing my craft. After quitting cross-country and track following high school, I found myself aimless as a first-semester freshman with no passion project to organize my daily routines. Writing changed that, and I felt building upon it was both necessary and rewarding.
I knew I liked basketball, so I scoured the web for basketball blogging opportunities. Eventually, I discovered Fansided, which presented me with a list of NBA team sites to join as a contributor. Among them was the Sixers, who were set to add two No. 1 picks (Markelle Fultz and rookie Ben Simmons) into the fold alongside Embiid. The choice was easy.
All summer, I churned out articles about the Sixers. I discussed the merits of trading for Paul George. I analyzed Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s Summer League stint. I thought Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz would become a preeminent NBA rivalry. Most of my articles probably look foolish. Please don’t read them. Or do. Just cut me some slack. I was 19.
Most importantly, though, my editors always encouraged the staff to promote their work on Twitter. I heeded their advice and dusted off the Twitter account I’d scarcely used since 2014 to begin sharing my articles. Slowly, I built a small following and wiggled my way into the Sixers Twitter community.
When the school year began, I had less time to devote to The Sixer Sense, but I still lorded a careful eye over the team’s happenings. I remember marveling at Simmons’ 18-10-5-2-1 debut against the Washington Wizards from the confines of my small, cozy apartment couch and 30-inch TV. I remember the narrow loss to a loaded Houston Rockets squad on the back of an Eric Gordon buzzer-beating 3 from the left corner. I remember the triple-overtime loss to the Thunder — and the overtime win three days earlier against the Minnesota Timberwolves (Embiid’s passing was phenomenal that game, by the way).
Although I did not produce as much written work about the team, I continued to tweet out thoughts and further ingrained myself into the NBA Twitter community. I joined DefPen as an editor, a site that reached out through a Twitter friend. In the spring, I picked up my first paid gig for ClutchPoints, another opportunity borne from Twitter. Shortly after the school year ended, Kevin F. Love reached out on the behalf of Liberty Ballers and offered me a spot on the staff. Minus a six-month sabbatical last year, I’ve been here over three years now.
During the summer of 2018, I fully immersed myself in Sixers content for Liberty Ballers and carried it through the school year. At the same time, I embraced NBA Draft scouting and saw my Twitter profile grow exponentially because of that. By the time fall rolled around, I’d gone from roughly 500 followers in May to 3,000 in October. As a logical result, I cast a wider net with my work. Midway through the fall, The Athletic’s Derek Bodner, who’d read some of my Liberty Ballers stuff, contacted me and asked if I wanted to provide some Sixers coverage for the site on a freelance basis.
The majority of my life as a freelancer follows a similar pattern. Somebody reaches out because they’ve read my work elsewhere and found my email on Twitter. Maybe, a professional connection I’ve enacted via Twitter recommends me to someone else. All of it, in some capacity, relates back to the silly, little bird website. It’s mind-boggling. I don’t really understand how Twitter changed my life like this, but I am overjoyed that it did.
I feel eternally grateful for everyone who’s played a part, whether it’s friends, editors, readers, colleagues, whoever. For a long while, covering the NBA full-time seemed like a fantasy. It still does at times, to be honest. I know some of the reason I’m here is because I’m good at my job and I work incredibly hard. That is chiefly secondary to all the kindness, graciousness, trust and confidence people have extended in me for nearly half a decade now.
Even more secondary to any professional matters are the best friends I’ve forged through Twitter. I’ve stumbled upon a group of Sixers-based friends (Sixers-based is a loose definition) who carry pure hearts and similar values to me. They’ve been some of my closest friends for years now, but never was their care and love for me affirmed more than this spring.
I was struggling. Depression and anxiety were kicking my ass. Unemployment frustrated and discouraged me. Ten months into post-grad life and hundreds of unsuccessful job applications later, I was still trying to piece it together as a freelancer. Moving back in with my parents after four years of autonomy alongside my best friends was taking its toll. Some important relationships in my life were strained. I felt rudderless and confused. Covering the NBA grew laborious. Late wakeup calls turned into daylong stretches in bed. I didn’t have much of an appetite. It was the most miserable portion of my life.
None of this is to garner sympathy. I had, and have, it much better than the majority of people. I am privileged to benefit from a stable support system. I recognize all of this. I’m merely laying out the circumstances to contextualize what my friends helped me navigate.
They talked through these struggles with me. They tried to offer outlets to distract me from my mental battles. They encouraged me to eat. They let me vent. In a broad sense, they conveyed unceasing love and care. They helped me come to terms with who I am and embrace self-love. If you’re reading this and think you played any role in helping me, you did. Far more than you know. And if you’re skeptical but think that maybe you helped, you did. Far more than you know.
Months later, I’ve never felt more self-assured and closer with my intimate relationships. I have my own apartment. I am still seeking one full-time job (hire me!), but my freelancing portfolio has reached a point where I can support myself. I am still managing depression and anxiety. There are waves of anxiousness and depression I continue to swim through — this time, with greater success. Therapy helps considerably (being able to afford it is another example of the privilege I acknowledge is not realistic for many).
Yet I would not have reached any of these points without my best friends introduced to me through Sixers and NBA Twitter. They’re the most kind-hearted, delightful people I’ve ever encountered. Along with my family and closest friends outside of Twitter, they’re the foremost reason I stand here today, confident in myself, my relationships and my professional outlook. And all of it stems from that one fall day, in 2016, when I watched Joel Embiid drill a pull-up jumper and twirl his finger in celebration.