How do you KNOW you’re in Philadelphia? Some may have a keen ear for the dialect. Others seem to gravitate towards the impressive monuments and historical artifacts. Many follow their stomach’s instincts to the bright illuminating lights of Geno’s or Pat’s. If you have been to the City of Brotherly Love, there is an essence present that is unavoidable and indescribable. Philadelphia has an identity.
For almost a decade, the Philadelphia 76ers didn’t.
The mini identity crisis that plagued the Sixers franchise after Allen Iverson departed for the first time in 2006 was something unforeseen; after all, a legitimate argument could be made that our Sixers are one of the top 5 storied franchises in the history of the Association. Think about it: the Sixers have witnessed Wilt Chamberlain (whose unusual stature was an identity in itself) end Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics’ legendary title run in the late 60’s. The Sixers have gazed with amazement as Julius Erving and his circus of high-flyers dissected their competition en route to an eventual 1983 championship. The Sixers have groomed a 6-foot-6 forward hailing from Auburn University named Charles Barkley and turned him into one of the most electric power forwards in NBA history. The Sixers have changed the social outlook of today’s NBA by drafting the “pound for pound greatest” player to ever lace up in an NBA season, Allen Iverson. These players, including several other Sixers who garnered the attention of many, gave the Sixers a unique identity that almost always kept them “on the map” year after year (winning helped as well).
So if Allen Iverson truly is the current caboose of this Sixers identity train and there are no successors following in his footsteps a solid 10 years after his prime, our minds may wander towards us thinking: what happened?
Where has the seemingly always-present identity of the Philadelphia 76ers gone?
Before I go any further, it is important to differentiate between a good player and a player who helps form the identity of a franchise. Since Iverson’s departure in 2006, Sixers fans have seen a handful of solid, young talent suit up: a few even borderline All-Stars. The first experiment was with Andre Iguodala, or shall I say 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. Although Iguodala was originally seen as the link connecting the Iverson era to the future of Philly basketball, it never panned out. Whether it was the question in shooting ability, the belief that he needs to have a star caliber teammate in order to thrive (see Stephen Curry), or the demeanor that comes off as quite reserved, Iggy never was able to become the next polarizing figure of the Sixers. Andrew Bynum was a “gutter ball” (ba-dum-tiss). Jrue Holiday was the beginning of the Sam Hinkie experiment, and a few Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner trades later the Sixers bottomed out their team and, again, were left with no identity since the corn rows rocked Broad Street.
Then came last Thursday.
For those who don’t know, the Sixers held a much anticipated uniform unveiling party at the Wells Fargo Center. It was rumored the apparel was to incorporate the designs of several of the Sixers uniforms from years past. When the film was dropped and the jerseys were in plain sight, everything made sense. Basing these designs off of the past was no mistake. The Sixers know they have a storied history that includes several identities that flowed from era to era, decade to decade. A modernized twist on the uniforms also shows that the Sixers know they have their own future and will need to find their own unique style.
This is more than just a jersey design however. This is about two approximate 7-footers in Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid of whose talents have the potential of fitting together comparable to the likes of David Robinson and Tim Duncan. This is about long, athletic, defensive-minded players who are willing to play hard and wear down opponents. This is about a coaching staff willing to devote countless hours into scouting players and analyzing numbers in order to dream up the perfect roster. This is about a team that has found an identity.
No AI no longer means no ID.