My unusual path with the Philadelphia 76ers fanbase

Joel Embiid | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Joel Embiid | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /

How a Boston native going to school in Memphis became entangled with the Philadelphia 76ers.

“ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE,” shouted Kevin Garnett towards the rafters of TD Garden as the Boston Celtics captured their first NBA championship since Larry Bird was spearheading the team.

The fifth-grade version of me celebrated like I won my own personal championship. The adults in the area spent the night with beer and dancing. I just let out some high-pitched screams in my raggedy Ray Allen t-shirt.

Two years later I found myself high up in the bleachers as the Celtics and Lakers battled for what should have been round three if Kevin Garnett had not gotten hurt in the 2009 playoffs, ultimately preventing the Celtics from making a run to defend their crown.

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Game 4 it was. My cousin and my brother spent large chunks of their paychecks to attend this game. I just asked my mother for an early birthday present.

The TD Garden chants directed to both Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom are not repeatable for online publication. But it was the first time I was in the middle of a hostile crowd while old enough to understand, unlike the time I was eight years old at Fenway Park and a drunken Red Sox fan threatened to fight me because of my Yankees hat. I have no recollection of that moment but my dad swears it happened.

Two years later, LeBron James happened. The 2012 Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. The Heat won the first two games in what looked like a quick job done by the second-year version of the Big 3. The Celtics won the next three games and it looked like the 2011 Finals all over again, just a round earlier.

But we know what happened in Games 6 and 7. LeBron James crushed dreams throughout New England.

This rant is for a reason. When LeBron James took over, I unexpectedly was void of feeling disappointment. No sadness for me. It brought me to a realization of something that had either recently developed or had always been true. I do not know if it was the former or the ladder.

It was at this moment I learned the truth. I was no Celtics fan. Not an ounce of green in my blood. Maybe my celebration four years prior was because I felt like I was supposed to do it. I was supposed to applaud.

That is the backstory behind this.

Fast forward several years.

As someone who has avoided adhering to any particular fanbase, I claimed myself as just a fan of NBA basketball. I loved the league as a whole. I went through phases of obsessions with Carmelo Anthony and John Wall. I think the reason I did that was because I loved the players who were not receiving the same affection as other players.

To this day I will argue two things. Carmelo Anthony is one of the 10 or 15 greatest offensive wizards of all-time. Second, speaking of wizards, John Wall’s 2016-2017 season was one of the most electrifying individual seasons I had seen from a point guard. Despite the next two seasons proving me crazy wrong, I thought he had entered the top-10 player list.

In the middle of the 2016 playoffs after the Cavaliers made quick work of the Atlanta Hawks, I became a LeBron James fan. I decided I would rather enjoy greatness while it was happening as opposed to being a hater like many. Because I did not have a team, and the other two players I obsessed over vanished into irrelevancy, I put my emotional stock into LeBron.

I rode with him during the epic comeback against the Warriors, and the next two Finals as well where he was unfairly outmatched, thanks to Kevin Durant hopping on the bandwagon of a 73-win team. I do not care how great he is, he joined a juggernaut. We can argue about his legacy on a different day.

Then came the 2018-19 NBA season.

light. Must Read. The Sixers lost Game 7. Embrace the pain.

I was in my first year at the University of Memphis. Not my first year of college, but my first year as a Tiger. I was finally building my foundation as an aspiring sportswriter. One day out of the blue, I visited while my Precision Language teacher ranted about reflexive verbs. I applied for The Sixer Sense as more of a shot in the dark then it was a genuine move, and then I tuned back into the lecture.

Several days later, site co-expert Christopher Kline reached out to me and told me I would be added to the contributor team. I made my online profile and was brought on to the group on the Slack app.

Way to go, Matt. You did something pretty cool. You get to cover an NBA team (a legitimately good one too) and showcase your work.

Everyone else on this site, at least most of them, have been die-hard Sixers fans since the day they took their first steps.

At the very least, they all have some sort of ties to Philadelphia. I do not. I have never been to the state of Pennsylvania and aside from my one Boston-born friend who is an Eagles fan because of Madden, I do not have any relations towards the city.

Yes, my fellow writers, I did not enter this site as a Sixers fan. Sue me.

However, things quickly changed. I started paying close attention to the team. I mean, I had to. I was here to do real work. I came to further my progression. I caught every game I could on television and followed closely on social media and when I was unable to watch.

The Slack app was always on fire during the games and it was contagious. I wanted in on the fire. As a resident of suburban Boston and having been to numerous playoff games at Boston or Foxboro venues, I know how to be an emotionally-invested, energetic fan. I guess it might be weird that I looked towards another city for the enthusiasm when I come from city who already has a reputation of extreme fans.

Anyways, I caught on to the Sixers instantly. I immediately gravitated towards all of it, including Brett Brown’s familiar accent. Half my family sounds like that.

I remember being excited to write game reviews. It was like, heck yeah. I am the one responsible for talking about this game. I am the one with the power of grading the Sixers and telling our readers what to take from it.

Then we bring Twitter into the equation. Live tweeting games and following Sixers-related accounts made me feel like I was in on whatever the scoop was. Like I was close to the organization and the players. I have never seen a fanbase so devoted to their team. Emotional investment is an understatement. It is like life or death for some of these guys. That is not a complaint.

Contagious. I loved the energy. I fell hard for the passion.

The playoffs only enhanced these feelings. When Jared Dudley called Ben Simmons average, I was quick to chat with some of the fellow contributors and put the man on blast. I felt genuine anger and rage because an opponent publicly insulted one of our players. One guy is a journeyman spot-up shooter and the other guy is a former first overall draft pick.

I used the Slack app to let out my frustrations, highlighted by descriptive insults that Dudley will never see.

I am also quick to blast the Sixers when they disappoint. If anyone wants to dig up my game review of Game 1 vs. the Nets, have at it. I bashed all of them for that utterly disappointing display of basketball. I think that is key into being a fan.

Love the team but address their shortcomings.

A few days after, I did a podcast with contributors Jack Duffy, AJ Iezzi, and Joe DiProsperos. I had done one podcast before. Just one in my entire life. I remember myself speaking too softly and having too many pauses while articulating my thoughts. This time, I was able to remain relaxed. It was just some guys talking hoops. Except it was recorded and posted online.

Once again, I found myself riled up about Sixers topics. Jared Dudley’s comments, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, and other things that I do not remember off the top of my head.

It felt different than my days as a Celtics “fan.” Maybe it has something to do with me being older, more confident as speaker, and more intelligent. I like to think it was more because I had a genuine connection to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Once they closed out the Nets, I felt a burst of joy. Their success was my success. Their achievements were my achievements.

They were on their way to a date with the heavily-favored Toronto Raptors. Game 1 was disastrous. I had spent most of that Saturday traveling from Memphis back to Boston. I was too wiped out from traveling to pay too much attention to that particular game. I am glad about that one. It was one to forget.

Games 2 and 3 shocked me as well as much of the NBA world. The Sixers had a 2-1 lead in the series!

I began overreacting and overdramatizing. I was starting to talk about how they can beat the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. That is what happens when you become invested with a team. You get carried away easily.

I am not going to sit here and recap what happened over the next four games. Except the iconic shot by Kawhi Leonard in the fourth quarter of Game 7.

For one night, he snatched my heart. I watched my hopes bounce off the rim four times, then fall through the hoop. The Sixers had several leads in the game and the Raptors played poorly outside of Leonard.

I thought they were going to do it. I waited all day for it. Work was a drag and I tried taking a nap afterward to pass time for it. It was not all for nothing, though. If the Sixers lost like they did in Game 1, then it would have been all for nothing. Despite the Sixers’ dream-crushing loss, it was still one of the most exciting games I have seen in recent memory.

Once again, there is the Slack app. It was raging. It was almost overwhelming. The raw emotions and reactions. The hot takes. The shock and despair.

I was expecting to feel relief after the game ended. Like the emotional roller coaster I had been riding for five months finally ended and I could return to regular life.

Nope. I gave myself a night of sleep to recover and then I began thinking about next season. My thoughts quickly shifted to Ben Simmons developing a jumper. I pondered if Joel Embiid can ever remain reliable and healthy. And I was ready to come to the defense of Brett Brown. Thank god the Sixers announced his return or else I would have found myself in harsh arguments with random trolls on Twitter.

More. Top 30 players in franchise history. light

That brings us to today.

I have a hard time calling myself a fan of any team. I have never told someone “I am a Sixers fan.” It gives me a weird feeling, for whatever reason. Not because of the Sixers, but because I am adhering to one team.

I say that as I reminisce at the amount of engagement I had with this team. The litany of emotional experiences I had over the course of the season. I remember cheering like a fool when I read the initial headline of the Tobias Harris acquisition. I was not on the staff yet when the Sixers got Jimmy Butler but for my roommate’s sake, maybe that is a good thing.

The Sixers brought my joy and disappointment together. I did not get them separately. I found myself truly invested with one NBA team, something I had not experienced before unless you count my facade Celtics devotion back in my adolescent years.

I was a part of something larger than myself and I have my fellow contributors to thank for it. Even my Celtics fans at home do not feel as strong about the team. They just check the end result of games and move on with their day.

The Sixer Sense is different. These guys demonstrate everything there is to love about sports.

Happiness, frustration, excitement, deflation. I would not have it any other way.

I will never understand the fans who want consistency. I want consistency in the team results, but it is no fun if the roller coaster is not there. You would not enjoy a movie if you felt the same feeling throughout. Why would it be different for sports?

Again, I try to evaluate this situation. Unless one of my friends transfers to a Philadelphia-based college and graduates, the likelihood of me traveling to the city any time soon is slim. The likelihood of me meeting one of the other contributors in person is not something I would bet on, although it would be pretty darn cool.

I can still live in Sixers Nation through Twitter and the Slack app, though. I did it for this season and I can do it for the next.

I think it all boils down to one thing. Over two thousand words later, I can sum this up in one point.

I spent this season riding and dying for the Sixers. It was a painfully joyful experience and I wish other fanbases were half as passionate.

A 22-year old suburban Boston dude is not supposed to invest in Sixers Nation, but I am far from a conformist.

2019 NBA Mock Draft 5.0. dark. Next

So take it however you want, but I loved what I did. And once you finish reading this, I will probably be somewhere talking about Jimmy Butler re-signing with the Sixers to do one thing… run it back.