This was the Fly the Process night in Minnesota. 300-500 Sixers fans organized by the Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast (said the name) flew to Minnesota together to stand in the nosebleed section of Target Arena and cheer for the Sixers and oddly, also key members of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But for one night at least, Jonah Bolden was the Bellringer. Bolden thoroughly outplayed Karl Anthony Towns in a matchup that few expected. Brett Brown pulled a counter move that few saw coming that and Jonah executed it to perfection in a win. The key for everything in this game really came down to Jonah’s discipline defensively and staying on the court for 31 minutes. He mirrored KAT all night long in a well calculated move by Brett Brown.
When talking to Brett Brown about pushing the pace against a Timberwolves team who was on the second night of a back to back, Brett Said “Jonah is a flier and can help us achieve that” but “No matter who we have we would focus on trying to play with some level of pace”
Brett Brown is matching Jonah Bolden with KAT and Boban with Dieng.— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) March 31, 2019
KAT got off the bench an appeared to be taking his warmup off and Jonah immediately jumped up as well.
Jonah Bolden truly stepped up to a huge challenge.— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) March 31, 2019
19/8/3 on 7-10 shooting
Ben Simmons was in complete command even beyond what the stat line of 20/11/9 would suggest. pic.twitter.com/YoWDKMY3Jc
Prodigal Sons of Liberty
From a Philadelphia perspective the night was all about feel good emotions towards former players. From a Minnesota fans perspective it was entirely the opposite. Jimmy Butler was very loudly booed by the home crowd every time he touched the ball. And it was quite obviously affecting his approach to the game.
Butler was just 4-17 from the floor for 12 points but did manage to grab 13 rebounds and 5 assists. It was obviously a statement game for Butler but the statement he made was more subtract the Hero from Hero ball.
But the night really was about more than the game. It was about the mass of fans from Philadelphia invading the upper reaches of an arena in Minneapolis for a late season game against a western conference opponent that had little or no relevance to playoff seeding. Somehow the game meant everything and also very little.
It was about Spike and Mike and Robert Covington and Stella. Stella and her dad traveled on the same flight as the “Fly the Process” group but were not technically with the group. I first noticed her while boarding the plane in a hoodie that read “Allergic to Failure”. This is one of Covington’s personal motto’s so it was immediately apparent that she was a hardcore fan. As the game neared its start I saw Stella and her dad Arif near courtside. Stella was wearing a Timberwolves Covington jersey and it was her dream to meet him. It was a highlight for me personally to be able to capture the moment they spent together after the game.
The arena was loud with Timberwolves fans. This was not a place that lacked energy like a game in D.C. or Atlanta or Orlando may have. But in the quiet moments when the Wolves had possession and there was no cause for cheering or booing from the home crowd, you could hear, very loudly, a corner of the upper deck erupt in very esoteric and Process specific chants.
Of course there were the thunderous DARIO, DARIO! chants.
But there were also “We WANT FROSTIES” whenever a Timberwolves player stepped to the free throw line. This caused much confusion among the home crowd and even in the press section on the far corner of the court “TRUST THE PROCESS” was heard multiple times.
The crowd was loud, but respectful. No Eagles chants, or FOLES… No reminder of 38-7. Just good natured obscure chanting lead by the Spike Eskin.
The Culture of the Ricky
And let’s face it, a culture has been created. I don’t mean in a fleeting corporate double speak way. I mean in a very real sense, Spike Eskin and Mike Levin have tapped into something weird and counterintuitive and created an environment that is unique even within the Philadelphia sports landscape.
A city of passions that prides itself on its parochial and pressurized persona, Philadelphia can often wade into toxicity in its fervor. Spike and Mike since essentially the Andrew Bynam debacle have zagged when most casual observers and media zigged. They embraced the “Good is the Enemy of the Great” philosophy even before Sam Hinkie was hired to create the so called “Process” (A term they also essentially popularized)
This small but ever increasing corner of the internet culture dove into the minutiae of second round pick swaps and optionality. They did it with self deprecating and fully self aware humor and lavished in the near absurdity but also definitely probably rightness of it all. And they did it with a gentility and ease that is too often lacking in modern sports media culture.
And this night was a perfect example of that. A crowd traveled 1000 miles to a cold and unwelcoming situation and instead of being antagonistic they were joyful. Instead of venom they cheered for players ON BOTH TEAMS.
It was confusing for the Minnesota fans who are still quite burned by the “GO BIRDS” mentality of Eagles fans from 2018. In fact, there was a pre-game performance of dance that really captured the spirit of joy that the night really held for most involved.
Homie and Rock
The Joy was felt by Covington and Dario. The conditions created by Spike and phansofphilly.com had a deep impact for Saric and Robert who have struggled with health and performance since the trade to Minnesota. You can see how they feel about this crowd here.