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?
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.