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.
Of fucking course
— Tom Sunnergren (@tsunnergren) January 30, 2014
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.