Mar 01 2014

I Have a Confession…

I need to confess something, something that has been weighing on my mind for more than a year. Maybe it was the utter demolishing the Milwaukee Bucks threw down on the Sixers on Monday, or maybe I just finally need to clear my head.

You see, I’ve compromised my beliefs. I can even give you the damn day I sold out: Thursday, June 27, 2013. The night of the 2013 NBA draft. The day the Sixers stopped trying to win.

Look, I am an avid reader of Henry Abbott, Howard Beck, Zach Lowe, Tom Haberstroh and all the Sloan Conference-smart bloggers and journalists out there covering the NBA. I think our own Tom Sunnergren is one of the best writers in the game right now.

But I have to say this. I’m against tanking.

In fact, I agree with all the clichéd arguments against tanking. I think it’s a horrendous slap in the face to fans who pay good money to attend games. I think it erodes our competitive spirit. I think it undermines everything sports stands for.

Remember Evan Turner’s buzzer beater against Boston? I was thrilled he hit that shot. I jumped up out of my leather chair and (gasp) CHEERED! I yelled “Hell yeah, Evan!” and gave a fist pump with a huge smile on my face. You know what else I did? You’re gonna love this one. I went on my iPad and checked the Eastern Conference standings, just to see if the Sixers made up a game for the eighth and final playoff spot. I am dead serious.

But that same night, I failed myself. Eric Goldwein, Tom, and I made our first Google Hangout after the Evan Turner game, and I pretended I was upset. I wondered aloud if the Sixers had already won too many games.

I went on Twitter, and like the weak man that I am, went along with the Evan Turner bashing. I made every snarky Twitter comment I could think of. I retweeted Tom’s (still hilarious) tweet right after the game-winner.

My first Sixers game was November 1, 1996. Allen Iverson’s first game. My dad gave me a six-game weekend season ticket package for my birthday. I was in fifth grade and I was hooked. I was hooked on Rex Walters looking like my classmates. I was hooked on Michael Cage’s flattop, and Derrick Coleman’s sheer joy in eating himself out of the NBA. I was even lucky enough to attend the crossover game.

The crossover on Michael Jordan was a clear window into Allen Iverson’s future in the NBA. Smaller, weaker, outgunned and outmanned, A.I. was still going to come after your very best with his own very best. Overconfidence in its finest form. He didn’t know any better.

The Sixers finished that season 22-60 and life was fucking good. You know why? Because I didn’t know any better.

Now I’m 28, and we all know too damn much. We know everything about the salary cap and why tanking is, perhaps, the best route Sam Hinkie can take to turn this team into a contender. We know Evan Turner isn’t as good as his points per game would indicate. We know second-round picks are more than throwaways — that collecting assets is essential to building a winner.

Tom’s right. The pundits are right. More wins equals less lottery balls, and the greater likelihood the Sixers miss out on the next great superstar. The team is better off with losses. It’s that easy. But if it’s just that simple, why has it felt way more complicated?

I’ll be at tonight’s game against the Wizards with my dad. We’ll watch Iverson’s #3 jersey rise into the rafters and we’ll reminisce about the six-foot guard from Georgetown—his crossover on the best there ever was. We’ll shake our heads and say we never had it any better. We’ll be cheering for the the home team, knowing that a win will hurt our chances of reliving another championship run.

Go Sixers.

  • Charles Baron

    I haven’t agreed with an article on tanking more ever. When I think of why I like basketball so much, its because the Sixers run to the finals in ’01 was so damn magical in my mind. That year ended with a brutal 4-1 thrashing to one of the best teams ever, and in my little 11 year old mind, it was the best thing ever. Joe Jurevicius is still running across the middle of the field, but AI will be stepping over Tyronn Lue for all of eternity. The Phillies finally winning Philadelphia a championship may have been long overdue, but my personal pro sports highlights are 1) Sixers finals run, 2) 4th and 26, 3) World Fucking Champs. Winning may be the overall goal, but there are few things more depressing than the Sixers/Celtics game I was at about a month ago, when the stadium wasn’t even half full, and a handful of upper level sections had single digits fans in them. I’m with you – I don’t really have the fortitude for this tanking nonsense. I’ll take a team I can root for over a black hole in my memory.

  • robbybonfire23

    Thank you, Anthony, and you may be speaking for more of us out here than you know.

    What are some prime examples of teams or individuals either deliberately losing, or not trying their best to win? It is key members of the “Black Sox” of 1919, besmirching World Series integrity for under the table money. It is college basketball’s point-shaving scandals, of the 50’s and 60’s. It is at least two NBA referees slanting point spread outcomes, in more recent times. It is football teams, like the Baltimore Colts of 1958, disdaining a chip-shot FG attempt to win it all, to focus on scoring the winning TD to cover the point spread, at the (unnecessary) risk of turning the ball over and losing everything. It is information coming to light than an NFL owner bet one million dollars on his team to LOSE the Super Bowl point spread wager. (See SB lll, 1969), with advance information as to the outcome of that colossal “upset.” (Source: “Interference,” Dan E. Moldea, author, published by Wm. Morrow & Co., New York)

    It is boxing scandals from insider “fixes,” to judges rendering corrupt scorecard verdicts. It is Olympics corruption, such as figure skating “fixes,” and the horror of the Russians be given as many chances to replay the final seconds as they needed to defeat the U.S.A. for the basketball gold, over 40 years ago.

    And it is the current plague on the NBA’s house, called “tanking.” Yes, it is stealing a trusting public’s money at the turnstiles. Yes, it is lottery-eligible teams populating their rosters with misfits who should be bagging groceries for a living. And what is worse, the NBA’s new Commissioner does not seem to be concerned or in any hurry to rectify this cancerous blight infecting its own house.

    What is needed are ~incentives~ for teams to try their best to win at all times, rather than the outlandish bestowal of draft day rewards to a collection of hapless franchises for faking their way through an entire season. This is as creative a challenge as we who support this brand of entertainment with so much of our valuable time, money, and emotion, can possibly accept. One thing is for certain, there must be a better way to run a professional sports conglomerate than the sumptuous rewarding of egregious dishonesty and betrayal of the public trust.