An Ode to the Process

I’ve always been a Sixers fan. Growing up, I watched the Eagles more religiously, but I’ve always felt a connection to the sport of basketball and the team that represents the sport in Philadelphia. I remember game 7 of the 2011 playoffs against Chicago. We were the 8 seed, and until Derek Rose tore his ACL, the 76ers were an afterthought in those playoffs. We won though, and eventually lost to Boston in 7 in the next series. That was my first real taste of what a winning basketball team would mean to me, and I’ve thought about a team that could reach the finals ever since.

Fast forward to 2014 after my high school graduation. 10 of my closest friends from the neighborhood and high school and I moved into a shore house in Wildwood for the summer for the phenomenon known as Senior Summer. I have a lot of memories from those three months that will live with me forever, most of which I shouldn’t share on any public site, but one that stands out is the 2014 draft. We watched it in our small, cramped “house,” on a TV the size of a MacBook Air’s screen. I was all-in on getting Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker originally, as were most of my housemates, but quickly sold myself on Joel Embiid once the injury occurred and it seemed as if he would fall to us at the third pick.

We watched that draft and dreamt of what kind of player Joel Embiid would be, especially since we already had Nerlens Noel. Dario Saric was picked and then traded to us soon after, which led to most of us being fairly bummed out that yet again we wouldn’t see our rookies to start the following season. After countless hours of YouTube research though, I found myself in awe of the potential of a lineup that held Embiid and Noel in the front court. I also dreamt of Saric as the small forward a la Tony Kukoc, which was a fool’s dream but a dream I had nonetheless. The quirky foreigner won me over from his highlights, and for what felt like an eternity I couldn’t wait to watch him play in red, white, and blue. Basically, that was the first draft, despite them being what I thought was a year away, that I really believed we would eventually build a winner that could go further than the team that pushed Chicago and Boston to 7 games.

Then I moved into college at Philadelphia University. Now, I wasn’t far from home, but I preferred to stay at school in my dorm and live inside of my own head and confined space. I discovered a podcast soon after I moved in by the name of The Rights to Ricky Sanchez. Surely you’ve heard of it by now, but back then it was revolutionary to me. Two gentlemen who found what Sam Hinkie was doing as the right way to build a true contender. Not because it was genius or against the grain, but simply because being mediocre wasn’t enough. That in order to give the team a chance – and I mean a real chance – at a Finals, we had to go through something unprecedented, and at the end of crawling through mud and dog crap, we would come out as one of the NBA teams who actually stood a chance at hoisting the trophy at the end of the season.

Fast forward another year, and at this point I haven’t missed a Sixers game since I moved into college. I’ve upgraded from my dorm to an apartment style living space with a respectable sized TV. I’m scouring Twitter in the hours before the game when I see that a “Robert Covington” would be in the lineup for that night’s affair. “Who the hell is Robert Covington?” was my immediate thought. It sounded nothing like an NBA player’s name, and I could only assume he would be a Sixer for a short period of time. Nevertheless, Cov stayed around for longer than that, and became one of my favorite Sixers in the process. People had a hard time seeing it on a bad team, but if you watched him enough, you just knew that, surrounded by an actually good team, he would be an incredible role player. The shot was always there, albeit in streaky spurts, and the defense improved month after month. A full fledged three and D player was his potential, and after finally being surrounded by a good team, he reached it. That was also the year that Sam Hinkie later was let go by ownership, and Bryan Colangelo stepped in as GM.

Coincidentally (maybe not) that coincided with a low point for me. To be honest, I had a few during the Process years, ruts where I was unable to get out of bed and felt lost. Through all those times I had one thing to look forward to and to dream about, and it was the 76ers. The Process, and the aforementioned podcast, literally got me through college and a stretch of my life where I was confused and unsure of myself and what I wanted to do. I’m still unsure of myself and what I want to do, although I like to think I handle it a little better now. The Process, for me and I’m sure countless others, was more than just the 76ers rebuilding. It was hope. The dream of getting to the light at the end of the tunnel, and the success that would come after, became as much an outlook for my life as it was for the Sixers.

This is why, despite getting another superstar on Saturday, this whole thing is really hard due to the fact that we lost Robert Covington and Dario Saric. We watched Covington, who started off as a back to the basket traditional power forward in college, grow to be an elite defender and knockdown shooter in the NBA. We waited for years for Dario Saric to finally come over, and when he finally did, he lived up to all of our expectations (except him playing SF…but that might have just been foolish by me). We are, and will be, emotionally attached to those players. They were “our guys,” and they were damn good ones at that.

Someone, somewhere, at some time, said something along the lines of “you only know it’s the good days when they’re over.” I may have butchered that quote, but you get the gist. We dreamed about the days that the labors of the Process would come to fruition, but I for one never actually gave much thought as to what it would realistically be like once we got there because I was so caught up in the journey. Well, we’re here. We have Brett Brown, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Markelle Fultz, and a team that now has its foot on the gas in an attempt to contend for hopefully years to come. When the end of that tunnel is reached, some things must be let go in order to get to where you want to be, and in the Sixers’ case, letting go of two Process legends for Jimmy Butler gives us a chance at getting there – which is what all of this was about in the first place. It’s necessary, but it doesn’t make it any less difficult.

In the movie Moneyball, Billy Bean says, “It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball,” and baseball could easily be replaced with sports. Maybe we’ve romanticized the Process too much, and maybe it’s not a microcosm of my life or anyone else’s as I suggested earlier, but the truth is without romanticism and emotion we might as well be dead, right? The 76ers, the Process, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric allowed us to dream, and when we eventually win an NBA title, those memories will stack up right against it.