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Sixers should embrace the villainy

The phrase “no one likes us, we don’t care” comes to mind.

Philadelphia 76ers v New York Knicks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

On Feb. 8, 2018, Jason Kelce gave perhaps the greatest championship parade speech of all time following the Eagles’ first Super Bowl victory.

After a “Stone Cold” Steve Austin-style airing of grievances, Kelce recited a chant that originated on the soccer pitch and was adopted by the Philadelphia Union.

The crux of the chant: No one likes us, we don’t care.

If anyone can appreciate that, it’s avid soccer fan and renowned troll Joel Embiid.

The Embiid-James Harden duo looked like a buzzsaw over the weekend during wins in Minnesota and New York. They’ve been dominant when on the floor together — and are pissing off the NBA world in the process.

We all made jokes about the length of games with the league’s two foremost fouled players teaming up. And you figured opposing fan bases, who typically don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings about Embiid and Harden anyway, would get super salty about the amount of free throws that were taken.

It was inevitable.

But it only took two games.

Two games.

On Sunday against the Knicks, Embiid and Harden combined to take 37 free throws. Embiid himself took 27. That’s tied for seventh-most in a game over the last decade, and the most for a Sixer since Ben Simmons famously took 29 attempts against the Wizards in objectively the worst basketball game ever played back in 2017.

The vitriol was palpable. Fans of opposing teams literally tweeting that the Sixers’ superstar duo is “ruining the game.”

Ruining the game.

This type of venom is just delicious.

Embiid, the Sixers and the fans have NOTHING to apologize for here.

The biggest reason being that Embiid and Harden get fouled a lot simply because they’re bigger, stronger and more talented than the vast majority of their opponents. Is it a surprise that Mitchell Robinson, a player that’s averaged 6.4 fouls per 100 possessions during his career, and Jericho Sims, a rookie that’s played just 20 games while averaging 5.9 fouls per 100 possessions, both fouled out trying to guard the odds-on MVP favorite?

Go back and watch the game. The vast majority of the foul calls were warranted. Even the plays where Embiid and Harden are “grifting.” The ability to draw fouls is an actual NBA skill. You’re looking at two players that have perfected said skill thanks to their superior physical abilities. They put defenses in positions where the only choices are let them score or commit a foul.

“When you put a lot of pressure on that, it makes the game easy for everybody else, because now they have a decision to make,” Embiid said to reporters in New York postgame Sunday. “You keep fouling or you just give up easy baskets. And for us, I think we play better when the game kind of slows down. You give the ball to James at the top of the key and me and him, that two-man game. You give the ball to Tyrese and we play that two-man game instead of going fast. I think we are at our best when the game slows down. So you get to the free throw line and that makes us set up our defense, and we’re also at our best when we’re playing half-court defense.”

Beyond that, after all this fan base has been through — Embiid’s early injuries, Collargate, Markelle Fultz forgetting how to shoot, Simmons refusing to shoot, losing Jimmy Butler, signing Al Horford — they deserve for a little luck to be on their side. Preferential treatment has been well-earned, not given.

“I don’t care what people say,” Harden said Sunday about his erroneous reputation as a “ball hog.” “Honestly, I really don’t care at all what people say. I know how skilled (I am) and the work that I put in to be one of the best basketball players. Nothing was given to me. I wasn’t one of the best basketball players growing up. I had to work every single day to be in the position that I’m in today, so there’s nothing that somebody can tell me about my game. I put the work in, I go out there and produce, and I try to be the best teammate that I can be every single night. Simple as that.”

I had to grind like that to shine like this.

Embiid’s years of trolling and shit-talking haven’t exactly endeared him to most NBA fans. Nor has Harden’s style of play or the fact that he’s been on three teams in 14 months.

Oh well.

The Sixers should just embrace the villainy. Let the other fans cry about it while Sixers fans soak up their delicious, salty tears.

This is a team that has a legitimate shot at a title, much like Kelce and the Eagles back in 2018. It’s not hard to imagine Embiid, also an avid wrestling fan, harkening Shawn Michaels on the art museum steps with some figurative sweet chin music during a similar rant to Kelce’s.

As long as Embiid and Harden continue to play at this level, whining over free throws be damned, they’ll have the last maniacal laugh.

*Quotes courtesy of the NBA Content Network.