Patience can be tough. Ask people to be patient and there’s often an implication that, at some point, when they’re done being patient, there will be some sort of payoff. A reward for waiting. Sixers fans have done a lot of waiting these last few years. There haven’t been many rewards.
Maybe that’s why some who agreed to Trust the Process were disappointed and even angry when Sixers’ ownership ushered the Colangelos in through a side door while pushing Sam Hinkie toward the exit. Maybe that’s part of why they bought the billboard — as a reminder to the organization that they were asked to wait, and they did so willingly, but they weren’t so thrilled with certain unexpected developments while they were in the holding pattern.
Even with Hinkie gone (but not forgotten), Tuesday night’s NBA lottery represented promise for all that patience. Thousands of people convened at Xfinity Live to watch the proceedings at the behest of Spike Eskin and Mike Levin, hosts of the popular Sixers podcast The Rights To Ricky Sanchez. (Available on iTunes and other locations where podcasts exist. Probably.) They have been perhaps the most strident pro-Process supporters — two unhinged (but charming!) fans that convinced a whole bunch of other unhinged (but charming!) fans to follow them on what has already been a very long journey.
Before the lottery results were revealed, Tuesday evening felt like the RTRS and Liberty Ballers gang had reached something of a precipice. There was a lot of excitement, but there was also nervous energy. Considering the attendant anxiety, it went about as well as it could have without the Lakers pick conveying. The Sixers got the first overall selection in next month’s draft. All that waiting. All that patience. Finally, a reward. It was possibly the happiest mob of Philly fans since the 2008 World Series.
If that seems silly to you — a bunch of people jumping and cheering and smiling because some ping-pong balls bounced the right way — perhaps it is. But the reaction was also genuine. There’s a sentiment that it’s time to for the pro-Process people to let Hinkie go, and perhaps they will, but it’s hard to imagine them abandoning the movement. Hinkie was the patron saint of The Process, but in his absence, his disciples continue to spread the gospel. Pivoting away from the NBA’s mediocre middle appeals to them. Hoarding draft picks and cap space and maximizing lottery odds makes sense. They chuckle at people who still use the word “analytics” like some earnest slur.
Above all, The Process is an academic pursuit. There’s logic in the approach. Getting the first overall pick wasn’t just a win for the Sixers, it was a type of validation for everyone who advocated on behalf of The Process. They understood and embraced the odds, and the odds finally worked in their favor. Trumpeting The Process and believing in its core fundamentals probably won’t stop simply because its creator and avatar has been replaced with another front office executive. And besides, the pro-Process crowd finally got the long-awaited payoff. They got the reward. So, yeah, they literally jumped for joy over it. After getting knocked as geeks and blind-loyalists by anti-Process truthers, who could blame them for celebrating?
There have been some dark days for the Sixers and the fans, but there’s reason to be excited moving forward. Even the most vocal opposition forces would have to concede that Bryan Colangelo has quite a bit to work with: Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Robert Covington, possibly Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, more cap space than almost every team in the league, a host of future picks, and for the first time in two decades, the first overall selection in the upcoming NBA draft. That’s about as good as it gets for a team that — despite its desperation to transition into whatever the next phase represents — is still in a rebuild.
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But back to Tuesday night. When it was over and the masses filed out of Xfinity Live, a friend mentioned how remarkable the evening had been. He was mostly there to marvel at the scene. He’s not a hardcore Sixers fan. He doesn’t own a diamond-encrusted TTP ring. But he appreciated the turnout and the energy. Mostly, he said it was cool to be around so many happy people. He thought they deserved it. They did. It was a long wait.