As the buzzer sounded for the final game of the Sixers-Heat series, the 76ers fans watch their team win their first playoff series since 2001 when Allen Iverson took them to the Finals. The 76ers beat the Heat 4 games to 1. The series looked close after the 76ers lost to the Heat by 10 in Game 2 despite winning by 27 in Game 1. However, the game-changer, Joel Embiid returned for Game 3 scoring 23 points to help the team achieve 20-point victory. The team played a rough Game 4 but pulled out a 4-point victory despite 26 turnovers and trailing by 4 going into the 4th Quarter. Game 5 was in the books before it started. Philadelphia native and city icon, Meek Mill, was released from jail that day and driven directly to the stadium for the game. If not already motivated to win the game to advance to the next round, the 76ers were definitely now ready. Many 76er and Eagles’ players have made visits to Meek Mill in jail for inspiration and now the 76ers only had to look over at the crowd to get this inspiration. The 76ers won comfortably by 13 led by Embiid’s 19 point double-double and JJ Redick’s 27 points. The 76ers looked like the best team in the East after Game 5. The team looks very likely to win the East with Cleveland’s struggles, Toronto’s inconsistency, and Boston’s lack of depth. This special 76ers team looks like the best team in the East with the Embiid-Simmons duo leading the charge surrounded by an amazing supporting cast filled with veteran players and young talent. However, the path to get to this point was a long, rocky road filled with disappointments, criticisms, doubt, and a lot of failure. The journey started a long 6 seasons ago in 2013.
Coming off of the 2013-14 Season, the 76ers finished 19-63. They had a top-20 pick for the 9th year in a row. Sam Hinkie, the new General Manager of the team, looked to pull the team out of their two straight losing seasons including a total of 111 losses. Hinkie turned to the draft after trading a bulk of their current players. Hinkie drafted Joel Embiid with the 3rd pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Embiid came out of an impressive freshman season at Kansas University, where he averaged 11 points, 8 rebounds, and almost 3 blocks in 23 minutes. However, Embiid, a week before the draft, underwent surgery on his right foot. The injury caused the fans to highly criticize Hinkie for drafting him. Hinkie later acquired Dario Saric, who wouldn’t join the team until the 2016-17 season, which was also criticized. They also signed Robert Covington during the next season, who was an undrafted free agent. Little did 76ers fan know that those three players would be their starters in three long years. However, those next three seasons would be tough and would account for more than 180 losses.
Joel Embiid stayed injured for the next two years and looked like all hope was lost for the former top-3 pick. The man who picked Embiid, Sam Hinkie, was also out the door. After starting the 2015-16 season 1-21, Hinkie resigned due to serious criticism and the continuing failures of the team. The team finished 10-72 that season and they held the first pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. The team drafted college superstar Ben Simmons after his eye-capturing freshman year. Simmons averaged 19 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals. Simmons was referred to as a young and upcoming LeBron type player. He showcased some of his skills in the Summer League games. However, he injured his foot just a month before the season started and was later ruled out for the entire season. The team and city’s hope for a successful season was fading, if not already gone. The team was filled with a number of draft busts and players who weren’t wanted by anyone. The 76ers were regarded as the joke team in the league and after Embiid and Simmons’ injury they looked cursed.
Later that offseason, a video surfaced showing Embiid practicing drills. The video showed Embiid’s impressive size and athleticism. Hope was slowly filtering its way into the 76ers. Finally after two seasons of injuries, it looked like Joel would make his long-awaited debut. On October 26, 2016, Joel Embiid started his in his first NBA Game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He scored 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Although the team lost by six, Philly fans were excited of what was to come for the upcoming 2016-17 season. Joel Embiid won the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for October, November, December, and January. He captured career highs of 33 points and 14 rebounds. He was also nominated to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge Game and Taco Bell Skills Challenge during Allstar Weekend, but never got the chance to participate in those events. On February 11, it was revealed that Embiid tore his meniscus and two weeks later was ruled out for the rest of the year. Despite only playing 31 games, he was still nominated for All-Rookie’s 1st Team and was still in contention for Rookie of the Year. Doubt started after his surgery in March that he might never play again and the 76ers started losing hope again.
Embiid had taken the NBA by storm despite only playing 31 games. He won over Philadelphia’s fan base to become their star player. He also became a superstar on social media by creating a, very popular and lasting, phrase: Trust the Process. That phrase later became the motto for the entire team and took the internet by storm. Embiid had gained national spotlight, not only for his injuries, but now for his outstanding play and his social media antics.
Despite Embiid’s success, the team finished 28-54 and for the fourth year in a row they had a top-3 pick in the draft. The 76ers then traded up for the fist pick in the draft and selected the highly sought after Markelle Fultz. Fultz averaged 23 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block in his one-year stint at the University of Washington. Fultz looked like the best player in the draft and Philadelphia was excited to pair him with Embiid and Simmons. In his debut, he scored 10 points coming off the bench. However, he shot the ball 33% which was uncommon for him. It was later announced that Fultz suffered a mysterious shoulder injury that ended up keeping him out until March 28.
At the same time as the Fultz drama, Simmons joined Embiid for the season opener for the 2017-18 season. Simmons and Embiid both scored 18 points, but still failed to win the game. Simmons ended up getting a triple double in his third game and Embiid continued his reign of terror on the NBA where he left off the last season. He also captured career-highs of 46 points and 7 blocks, and showed the league he can be one of the best big men. The team walked into the Allstar break with a 30-25 record after winning five straight games to be over .500 for the first time since 2011. Embiid and Simmons were both invited to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge Game and both participated. Embiid also participated in the Skills Challenge and was voted to be a starter for the Allstar Game. Embiid became Philly’s first Allstar player since Allen Iverson in 2009. Embiid would finish the season averaging 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks and would be in consideration for the All-NBA 1st Team. The 76ers hit a hot streak after the Allstar break with a record of 22-5, including a winning streak of 16 to end the season.
Fultz returned March 28th and inconveniently injured Embiid after accidentally hitting him in the face. Embiid would require surgery and miss the final three weeks of the season, including some playoff games. However, by then, Simmons blossomed into a leader and very good player averaging 16 points, 8 rebounds, 8 blocks, 2 steals, and 1 block per game. The rest of the team’s supporting cast, including veteran guard JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli, Ersan Illyasova, Amir Johnson, TJ McConnell, and Dario Saric, helped carry the team and build chemistry together. This mixed cast of veteran and young role players helped get the team the 3rd seed in the East over Cleveland and end the season on a 16-game win streak.
One of the driving forces behind the scenes of this miraculous season was Head Coach Brett Brown. Brown was one the coaches to fall from the great Greg Popovich tree. Brown became the Philadelphia head coaching job after the 2012-13 season. He inherited a rebuilding team and the organization stayed loyal to him throughout the tough years that lead their playoff birth in 2018. Even in the middle of the 2015-16 season, when the team was 1-22, the organization still offered him an extension on his contract. The organization trusted in Brown’s ability to develop youth and trusted him to turn the team around. It has taken Brown five years to have a winning record with the team, but he has been able to endure all the criticism and pressures of being a coach of a losing team. Now, Brown gets to enjoy the perks of being a winning coach. Brett Brown has done a great job at keeping his players and other coaches to keep giving effort and to not give up. He has continued to preach the style of Popovich, which includes ball movement and team chemistry, which has been very obvious and successful for the 2017-18 season.
It has been a long road for Philly fans and even the 76ers organization as a whole. The team reflects the city’s toughness and resilience. They never gave up and kept looking forward when no hope was visible. The city stayed true to their team despite the injuries, losses, and the nationwide criticisms. They always kept Trusting the Process. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons reward the city for their loyalty. The duo stands strong and as one of the best young duos in the NBA. The two stars, future superstars, look to have success for many years to come with the strong supporting cast they have. The team might not win an NBA Championship this year or even win the East, but they certainly will be a contender for the years to come. Fultz has the potential to blossom into the star they want him to be and Philadelphia has the opportunity to draft another lottery player in the 2018 Draft. The future is bright for the city of Philadelphia and the team will only get better and better in the future.