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Sep 20 2013

Friday 5: The Most Polarizing 76ers

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a weekly series wherein we’ll take a look at five things of consequence to the 76ers. People like lists, right?

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The thing that most fascinates about Donovan McNabb’s relationship with Philadelphia isn’t just the degree of polarization he inspired in the Eagles’ fan base, but the extent to which he polarized opinion within individual fans. The facts of his 11 year tenure don’t lend themselves to firm, clear conclusion: to think hard about the quarterback who (probably) didn’t vomit in the Super Bowl is to be at war with yourself.

For the near entirety of his time in Philadelphia, he was barraged by criticisms that were at turns withering and bizarre: the draft day boos (imagine if, immediately after getting hired to begin a prestigious new job, an auditorium full of your firm’s most loyal customers spontaneously started shouting insults at you), the racial non-sequiturs (Rush Limbaugh’s bloviating; the strange “Donovan is too insecure to run” essay by the president of Philadelphia’s NAACP that—given its authorship—likely stung even worse), the blame for championship game failures, the free-floating ire that preceded and followed TO’s departure.

He was treated terribly. And he was impossible to sympathize with.  

He came off as petulant, thin-skinned, and immature; quick to deflect blame, slow to understand the psyche of the city he played in. Coaches and players whispered about his suspect conditioning while he bragged in interviews about his intense offseason workouts in Arizona. Love, it’s been said, is the sine qua non of leadership: truly great leaders are, more than anything, loved by those they lead.  No one loved Donovan. He was a deeply unlikeable man who was disliked for reasons that were completely unfair. He was hated for all the wrong reasons.

His performance on the field clarifies exactly nothing. In an era in which instant success at the quarterback position was still a rarity, he was the MVP runner-up in his first full season as a starter. And yet he was washed up at 34 and out of football at 36, an age when many modern quarterbacks are still firmly in their primes. He was a famously, and maddeningly, inaccurate passer who had, for a time, the lowest career interception percentage in NFL history. He was widely thought to be essential to the success of the Eagles’ offense, but he floundered on his own in Washington and Minnesota while Philadelphia hardly missed a beat with A.J. Feeley, Koy Detmer, and Jeff Garcia quarterbacking in his stead.

He was the best quarterback in team history and he wasn’t nearly good enough.

So in honor of last night’s strange, tonally disjointed, quintessentially Mcnabbian jersey retirement ceremony, below is a list of the five most polarizing, cognitive-dissonance inspiring 76ers of all-time. Feel free to disagree in the comments. Or praise me. Or talk about Breaking Bad. Your call, really.

5. Charles Barkley

Pros: he’s incredibly charismatic, was a plausible candidate for Governor of Alabama, is one of the greatest rebounders of all-time, accumulated the 14th most win shares in NBA history (177.21), and is probably the best player who never got a ring. Cons: he never got a ring, once attempted to spit on a fan and hit a child, and was briefly a plausible candidate for Governor of Alabama. Chuck is a mixed bag.

4. Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt was, statistically, the most dominant player who ever put on a uniform; a fact that was not lost on him. At the end of his career, he often hampered his team’s chances of victory by selfishly avoiding fouls in the interest of extending his record streak of never once fouling out of a professional basketball game. He was not a team player. That said, those numbers: in ’61-62, Wilt averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds. He also claims to have slept with 100,000 women—which is impossible, but impressive for the sheer bravado of the lie.  

3. Tyrone Hill

Hill was a stout defender, a great teammate, and an integral component to the 2001 Eastern Conference champs. He also looked like this.

2. Doug Collins

Doug Collins was a terrible personnel man who steadfastly refused to consider modern analytics and forced his players to run a rigid, atavistic, and deeply stupid offensive system. He set the franchise back years. He was also an elite defensive coach who dragged a very average 2011-12 team to within one win of the conference finals. His legacy is complicated.

1.       Allen Iverson

I don’t have the energy to get into it right now.

  • Hk

    I don’t get why Doug gets so much hate for his offense. Sure it was bad, but I blame it more on the lack of talent. The team ended up taking too many mid range jumpers because a lack of athleticism on the perimeter and inconsistent shooters. If you listen to inside tracks, Doug stressed running more on offense and avoiding midrange shots, but the team couldn’t make any threes, and we only had two skilled finishers.

    • egoldwein

      A team with players he hand-picked, knowing their athletic/shooting limitations.

      That said, I’m not sure last year’s personnel was capable of much more offensively either.

  • Hk

    BTW I do think that the Collins firing was a good thing

  • Sean Watts

    Wow, this article was misguided, and that’s being charitable. Taking random shots that are nothing more than just empty wind in most cases. McNabb is tough to sympathize with because he’s ‘thin-skinned’? That’s complete and utter drivel. When you have shock-jocks taking the one of the happiest days of a young athlete’s life and using it to express their ill-informed opinion in a disgusting manner and another blowhard is using your race as a national platform and you have idiots questioning your toughness for allegedly vomiting(which is a complete misrepresentation of Fraley’s quote) when the drive in question finished with a TD pass, after having already been a guy who literally played on a broken leg, I’ve been shocked he held his tongue as much as he did. And the team ‘hardly missed a beat’ huh? Remind of how many Conference title games and playoff games those luminaries won for the Eagles?

    I should’ve known better after reading your McNabb spin but Wilt?

    Wilt won a title as MVP and you malign him for staying out of foul trouble while playing 45 mins a game? So having a 7 foot big challenge the shot as opposed to just randomly fouling the guy is great strategy? A player who willingly played whatever role his coach asked him, despite his individual brilliance, is not a team player? A center who functioned as the primary playmaker, scorer and rebounder on one of the best teams ever is not a team player? Yeah, this is my last visit to this Sixers blog. If I want opinions this bad, I’ll listen to Sportstalk, thanks.

    • egoldwein

      Sean:
      I think that you, Tom, and I all agree that McNabb took a ton of undeserved bullshit from media/fans during his Philly tenure.

      Saying that he came off as thin-skinned/petulant (to Philadelphia fans), seems pretty accurate, too. That’s how he was perceived – to Philadelphia – whether or not it was reality. Certainly, he didn’t come off as thick-skinned.

      I’m on your side that the “hardly missed a beat” assessment, specifically with Feeley and Detmer, is incorrect.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, hope it’s not your last trip to the site!