I’ll never forget rock bottom. It was December 2015.
We were 1-20, playing the Spurs at Wells Fargo.
I wish I could tell you those guys had Duncan, and Parker, and Manu, and Aldridge, and Kawhi — that they had their whole crew together that night….. it would make this easier. But I can’t even do that. Tim, Manu, Kawhi: all out. So it was our full squad against Aldridge, Parker and their bench.
They beat us by 51.
I remember this one play so vividly. They’d just gone up over 40…. and I was out there stewing. I’m thinking, like — Alright. 40?? No. F*ck that. Let’s have some pride. And the winner in me kicks in, you know? That guy who’s won all his life, and grinded his way to the league, and isn’t just going to take a loss like that sitting down. So, yeah, I get the ball and I’m thinking — This is it. Here’s your turning point, Sixers fans. I’m going to take this one myself.
I bring it up past half-court, make a little move to get some space…… and I let it fly.
Oh, man. It was just, like, NOPE. The whole arena started booing — our own fans. And it’s funny but I remember not even being fazed. I’m pretty sure I even gave the crowd one of those nods, you know? Just sort of saying, Yep. No….. that’s about right. Keep those boos coming. We really are pathetic.
We really were pathetic.
And I know that’s not much of a story…. or at least not a very exciting one, anyway. But I wanted to start with it because it helps me make this one, specific point — a point that’s really important to me. Which is: I think a lot of people misunderstand The Process.
I think a lot of people, they hear about The Process, or read about it, or see an opinion about it or whatever, and they get some idea in their head that we did this almost, like, special version of losing. That we had this supposed “master plan” of ours, you know? And that we became almost smug about our losing, in a weird way.
It’s there in the slogan, right? “Trust the Process” — we believed that to our core. But honestly, to us, it didn’t mean anything fancy at all. I think to us it just meant, like, stay the course, man. Or be resilient. But then at the same time……. it always felt like, to these people on the outside, “trust the process” meant this whole other thing. To them it meant — O.K., you know that meme, I think it’s the Roll Safe guy, where it’s dude pointing at his head, and he’s smiling?? And then there’s a caption, something ridiculous — but the joke is how he’s always thinking a step ahead? It’s like that. All these people….. I think they kind of decided we were the Roll Safe dude: tapping our heads after every loss, and smiling as if we knew something they didn’t.
“Can’t take an L, if taking an L is part of the plan……”
(Players’ Tribune, can you guys drop that meme right here?)
And look, I’m not trying to play dumb. I get that The Process was based on something very real. And I get that NBA front offices have to do a lot of long-term planning, and have to plan a little differently to stay ahead. I get those things.
But here’s what I don’t think everyone else gets: Losing sucks, man.
It just…….. sucks.
There’s no cool way to lose. There’s no fun way to lose. The team with the most points at the end — they’re the winners. And the other team? I mean………. they can give you all the slogans in the world. They can call it a plan, a process, whatever.
There’s no cool way to lose. There’s no fun way to lose.
But if you didn’t win — then trust me: you’re just f*cking losers.
And that’s my biggest thing, you know, when it comes to talking about what we’ve built here in Philly. Yes, there was a plan. Yes, it worked. And yes, everyone involved with it deserves a lot of credit. But it was also no guarantee — and that’s because of the thing that everyone discussing The Process always forgets: the human element.
And I just wanted to write this, I guess, as one of the few Sixers who was here for “rock bottom,” and who’s still here now…… and really say for the record that The Process — it was never about process, to me.
It was always about people.
It was about people like Coach Brown.
Man, I don’t think a lot of people really even know Coach Brown that well…….. which I guess is how he’d rather have it. But I’ll tell you this one thing about Coach — one thing he did that was genius. He started this……. I don’t even know what you’d call it. A rotation or something? Where every now and then, one of us will get up in front of the team and give this presentation on some topic that we find interesting. It’s like one of those class projects you’d give in middle school……. but with NBA dudes. So for me, I’m a coffee addict — everyone on the team knows it. And I gave my presentation on coffee. Just, like, the history of it, and some interesting facts about it. Like, for example: Did you know that “decaf” doesn’t mean caffeine free?! O.K., fine — mine’s kind of boring. Bad example.
But then some of them are really good, I swear. Like, Ben, he did a great one on Australia, where he’s from, and just telling us about all of the wildlife they have down there, all of these poisonous snakes and insects they have — man, it’s crazy exotic. (I think we all decided to pass on Australia for our next vacation, though. Not trying to see a bunch of dingoes or wombats or killer snakes up close, you know what I mean?)
Oh yeah and then J.J. did one on how [SPOILER ALERT] we might be living in a simulation??? WTF. It was unreal. And of course J.J. is the smartest dude any of us know — so by the end of it you’re just like, Holy sh*t, he might be right. Like how do you explain that we’ve never run into aliens?? We’re hanging around with all these millions of stars…. millions of solar systems…. and we’ve never crossed up with an alien even one time?? So this theory goes, maybe it’s because an alien is running our simulation. Also Jonah did a dope talk on how evil robots are going to take over the world. That one kind of freaked me out, too.
Bottom line: This is a group of guys who are extremely close. We genuinely like each other, and we ride for each other through thick and thin. And to me? That all starts with Coach.
It was about people like The Process himself.
With Joel, I think people see a certain side of him on TV or on Twitter or wherever. They see the trash talk, the swagger. They see the Phantom mask. They see this crazy-tall, crazy-agile big man lighting guys up for 35, then dragging them on IG postgame. And it’s just like……. O.K., come on. That can’t be for real. Is that for real??
I’ll tell you a quick story. It’s last season, and I’m out with a shoulder injury……. and I’m feeling pretty low about it. Just one of those things, you know? It sucks to not be helping the team. But on this particular night, Joel’s out too, with his eye. So I get a quick text from him, inviting me over to watch the game. It’s just classic Joel — he’s one of these guys who prides himself on being, like, a legit-legit friend. (Not as normal around the league as you might think.)
But then here’s what sets Joel apart even more. After that text? There’s a follow-up.
“Yo — bring your wife, too.”
We ended up having the greatest night.
And by “we ended up having the greatest night,” do I mean, “I had a nice, relaxing evening watching the game on Joel’s huge projector screen, while Joel and my lovely wife FOUGHT ALMOST TO THE DEATH over a board game??” Yeah, that’s what I mean.
I think the last words spoken before we left his apartment were Joel — with my wife standing there, just fuming — yelling out, “Nah, you lost. You lost fair and square. Fair AND square. Ask around. I’ve never lost. NEVAAAA.”
So, yeah — Joel’s for real.
It was about people like A.I.
Actually I’m really glad that Allen wrote his article here, before I did, because he touched on something in there that I think isn’t exactly common knowledge, but should be — which is that, even to this day, that dude lives and breathes Sixers. You wouldn’t know it, really, because I think he tries to stay out of the spotlight as best he can, to let our current group shine. But it couldn’t be more true.
Here’s an A.I. story that I’ll never forget.
It’s my rookie year, our record is terrible, and we’re playing at home. And you have to understand…. I’m barely on the team at this point. Like, barely — or at least that’s what it feels like. It’s the worst team in the league, and I’m an undrafted free agent turned rookie backup. You get the idea. So anyway, yeah, it’s warm-ups that night, and as I’m stretching out, doing whatever — I make eye contact with A.I. The Answer is on the floor, and he’s talking with some of the guys. I’m a little starstruck, to be honest, so I don’t approach him or anything. But then when he gets done with his conversation, it’s so wild…. he actually comes my way. Literally asks me how I’m doing, like he knows me. Like he’s been watching me. Tells me to keep working hard, keep doing my thing. And then he puts his arm around me, I swear to God — like he’s talking to me one Sixers point guard to another, and no one else should hear us.
And he says, “Hey, man. Hey. We’re gonna be alright.”
And then last but not least…… it was about people like our fans.
I don’t know what else can even be said at this point about Sixers fans. They’re patient, they’re loyal, they’re passionate, they’re absolutely 100% insane…. they’re everything, man. From the guys at Ricky Sanchez, to the 80-year-olds with lifetime season tickets, to everyone in between, I’m telling you — they’re just this awesome collection of people, and they love their city, and they love our team.
We love them back.
When we traded for Jimmy, a lot of experts went out of their way to say The Process was over. And that’s cool of them, I guess.
But they were six months late.
The Process ended last season, in the locker room, after our elimination game against Boston.
Not a lot of people realized it — because the perception after that game, and after that series, was that we’d done ourselves proud. We’d won a playoff series against a good Miami team, and then we’d given the Celtics, one of the best teams in the league, a competitive run for five games. Nice little result for a group that was losing by 51 to the Spurs only two years ago, right??
Wrong. No way, man. F*ck that. We were DISGUSTED with ourselves after that Boston series ended. Disgusted. There was no locker room speech, no comforting words, no we can build on this vibes. The media wanted that from us, I think, but I’m telling you — that just wasn’t how we felt, on our end. For us it was pure disgust. We’d won 16 in a row to close out the regular season. We had the entire city behind us. #FreeMeek was happening — finally, for real. Everything we’d been working for, those last few seasons…….. it wasn’t “right around the corner” or whatever. It was right there. We had it.
And that’s how I knew The Process was over.
Because the purpose of The Process, all along, was to build a championship-caliber team. And I don’t care what anyone else thinks — or whose timeline anyone else is on. That team we had last year??? It was championship-caliber. Straight up. It was, when we walked into Boston…… and it was, when we walked out. The Cavs, the Rockets, the Warriors — I’m not going to say those guys didn’t want to see us….. but I’ll say this: We were a matchup nightmare for a lot of great teams last year. Trust me.
If we’d made it any further, we were going to be a problem.
So where does that leave us this year? Man, I don’t know. I don’t want to sound cocky……. but I like this team a lot.
We’ve got three of the 10-to-15 best players in the league, in Joel and Ben and Jimmy — I firmly believe that. And they’re only getting better, and better at playing with each other. We’ve got one of the most underrated players in the league in J.J. (I’m not sure why people talk about our Big 3, when it’s a Big 4.) We’ve got a bunch of young, hungry, talented role players. We’ve got a great head coach, with a great staff behind him.
And we have the best fans in the world.
But almost as important as all that, almost as important as who we are — it’s where we’ve been. We’ve been through it, man. All those bad years? We’ve been through them together. And you’re seeing that, now, I think, in what kind of group we’ve become on the other side.
We’ve been through it, man. All those bad years? We’ve been through them together.
So when I say this team is “championship or bust,” you know, please don’t take it as arrogance. I know how many great teams there are in this league, and I know that no matter how talented we are, or how hard we play, or how strong our chemistry is — the odds are stacked against us.
But I also know this: “championship or bust” — it’s just a fancy way of saying “win or lose.”
We’ve done plenty of one.
And we’re getting pretty damn good at the other.