- For the first time in a long time, the 76ers are relevant again. But just because the darkest days of Sam Hinkie's Process are behind us, doesn't mean I plan on shutting about him anytime soon. Let me explain.
I was born in 1987 into a household of Sixers fans. My dad took me to my first game to see Moses Malone play at the Spectrum, and we had season tickets through Iverson’s best years—including every playoff game on their run to the 2001 Finals. One year my friends went trick-or-treating on Halloween and I stayed home to watch Philly blow out the Knicks on opening night.
My sense of childlike wonder may have faded through the years, but I don’t think I have ever been more invested in the 76ers than I am right now. Sam Hinkie is no longer running the team, but he remains the reason why.
I have always believed in the importance of analytics in sports. I don't know when exactly I found the gospel of shot charts, True Shooting Percentage and points per possession, but I know that when Sam Hinkie sat down for his introductory press conference on May 14, 2013, he was speaking my language.
I declared myself all-in on Day 1, and now I’m… well, what’s a little bit more than all-in?
The most difficult part of being a pro-Hinkie, Process-trusting Sixers fan over the last four seasons hasn’t been the losing. We’ve mostly kept ourselves entertained through the string of 19-18-10-28-win seasons.
And honestly, it hasn’t even been the constant ridicule—both sides assumed this sense of intellectual superiority. The worst of the anti-Hinkie takes weren’t the ones that simply ripped the Process—they were the ones that were just so smug about it.
The national media members and fans of other teams telling local fans how we should feel. The way the Sixers became a scapegoat for the inherent issues with the lottery after more than half the teams in the league engaged in some form of tanking over the years. The people wondering how the fans could ever forgive them, insinuating that people wouldn't even come back once the team was good.
Hinkie’s resignation letter became the ultimate Rorschach test for his era in Philly. I read his manifesto and thought it was one of the most well-articulated vision statements on leadership and strategic planning I’ve ever come across. Others latched onto one misattributed quote and dismissed the whole document for its innate Hinkie-ness, everything about him that they already decided not to like.
That letter came out 18 months ago now, but it feels like a lifetime. Since then the Sixers have won the lottery, drafted Ben Simmons, endured another season of losing, cashed in on a pick swap from the trade where Hinkie fleeced Vlade Divac, used those assets to trade for Markelle Fultz and signed Embiid to a mammoth five-year extension.
The tide is now starting to turn. Many onlookers remain skeptical about Embiid’s injury history, his new deal, Fultz’s shooting form and more. But the Sixers are now rightfully seen as an up-and-coming likely playoff team in the East. Sam Hinkie is finally starting to get more credit for the core he built. Belatedly. Begrudgingly. So why can’t I shut up about him?
Hinkie staked his intellectual reputation on The Process, and by defending him so vigorously I have staked my own on it too. I’m invested in large part because I risk looking very stupid. I have a trail of tweets, blog posts, emails, and conversations that stretch from here to the moon, in a time when everyone keeps all the receipts. My very ideology, the way my brain catalogs the world around me into thoughts and feelings, has been called into question by too many people to count.
Why do I still subscribe to Hinkie’s Process? The same reason I chose to on Day 1. We live in a world where 22-25 teams in any given season know they have zero chance of winning a championship. So I have always been content taking on a strategy aimed at becoming one of those 5-8 that actually do.
Sam Hinkie initiated The Process because he wasn't content building a team with the ceiling of the 2013-2017 Raptors. The same could be said of the Wizards, Jazz, Pacers, Bulls, Hawks, Grizzlies or others.
It finally seems clear to a much higher percentage of people that The Process has given the Sixers a better chance of jumping into that select group of teams than if they’d stayed on a more conservative path by building around their pre-Hinkie core. Little wins are piling up, from Dario Saric garnering Rookie of the Year love, to actual accomplished NBA free agent J.J. Redick choosing the Sixers, to the respect paid by the league’s national TV schedule.
But as much as Hinkie and his disciples want to talk about a process, many people out there still live in an outcomes based world. They keep pointing to the win-loss record and the unproven young players as they clutch their “I’ll believe it when I see it” pearls tightly.
It’s a strange juxtaposition: I sit here thinking we've already been proven right—look how much potential the Sixers have on this roster!—while others wait to point and laugh that we'll soon be proven wrong once again.
I went to the season opener last year and wrote about the atmosphere. I wrote about how the fan base was fractured in a unique way, and how Joel Embiid’s regular season debut felt like a Process trusters convention. That feeling stuck around for much of last season. Egged on by Embiid himself, Sixers fans chanted “Trust The Process” in arenas home and away all season. It’s hard to know how many of those fans were with Hinkie all along, how many have recently seen the light and how many just got carried away by a screaming mob.
And that’s OK. The Sixers look like they are going to be both fun (now) and good (soon). And all the local fans, even the ones who took a few years off, have a right to come back and love their team. Especially because there are outsiders who said they never would.
But with the Sixers on the eve of the next step, entering 2017-2018 with playoff expectations, there is an extremely vocal group of people out there like me. We were all in from Day 1, now feeling slightly territorial like the original fans of the band from before they got big. And we will always remember the hot takes, the dismissiveness and the lectures about how we don’t understand how basketball works.
It will not be smooth sailing from here to a Sixers championship. The Sixers will face new types of adversity. They will have setbacks. There will be new types of backlash, as happens with any team that starts winning or raises its profile.
But the payoff is coming. There will be a relevant basketball team in Philadelphia. They might make it to the Promised Land, or they might not. But I truly believe, deep down in my heart of hearts, that this has all been worth it. And I have never wavered from that feeling. Even if Embiid gets hurt again, Fultz is a bust and the Sixers are forced to burn things back down to the ground, this grand experiment has been worth it. A smart man looked at the landscape of the NBA, determined a strategic plan to get to the very top and asked us to trust him while he executed it. It has a better chance of paying off than the plan of the regime he inherited. We know this.
So as the Sixers enter a season with actual expectations, even as we turn more and more pages of the calendar since Hinkie’s tenure with the team, I won't stop talking about that man and The Process that got us here. I have too much invested.