I haven’t had the time or inclination to blog much lately, but the Philadelphia 76ers inspired me to take a crack at sports journalism. The other night the 76ers pulled off a stunning upset over the two time defending champion Miami Heat. Conventional wisdom says the Sixers should tank this season to secure a high draft pick for the rebuild. But the young players apparently didn’t get the memo. They appeared to be well coach by rookie NBA head coach Brett Brown, who was obviously trying to conceal his emotion and not act as shocked as we were (the shot of him shaking his water bottle and running up and down the sideline gave up the ghost). The kids came out swinging, and punched a tired, D-Wade-less Heat team square in the mouth, running off 19 unanswered points to start the game. I don’t care that the Heat were tired, this is the NBA, back to backs are reality. And if you choose to try the Spurs approach of nursing your stars, hungry teams will smell blood in the water. Michael Carter-Williams had one of the best rookie debuts in the history of the league, coming 3 rebounds and only 1 steal away from a QUADRUPLE double. Almost more impressive was his lone turnover. He probably needs to gain 15 pounds of muscle, and his jump shot may not always fall so easily night in and night out without a lot more gym hours logged, but MCW made every Sixers fan who doubted the Jrue Holliday trade breathe a sigh of relief.
A story almost as important is Evan Turner looking like an NBA player for a full game. He had a couple of bad turnovers but 26 points and some solid defense on King James was huge. Spencer Hawes also had a good game but I don’t believe in him. Will the Sixers lose a ton of games this season? I hope so. Their other first round pick, Nerlens Noel, is not going to sniff the court this season, and there simply isn’t enough talent elsewhere on the roster to suggest that the Sixers can truly compete for 81 more games. But the youth gave us a glimmer of hope on the night of Allen Iverson’s official retirement, one of the only nights the Wells Fargo Center will sell out all season. It’s more like watching your 401k grow than cashing in chips at the casino, but hopefully the ping pong balls bounce their way and they can add a lottery win and a free agent our two this offseason. Maybe King James will have another show… “I’m moving my talents to South Broad Street.” Maybe not as unlikely as it sounds. But while the future is uncertain, it’s nice to know there may be one, unlike during the Andre Iguodala/Doug Collins era, which defined mediocrity in the NBA if you were confused about it before. I can’t say I predicted this victory—though I had a good feeling—but I can’t say enough about the tone this sets for the franchise moving forward. There will likely be many nights with a half empty arena, lopsided losses, and a long losing streak or two (or three…). There will probably even be double digit turnover games for the rookie point guard. But after each one of those cold, dark winter nights, both the team and the fans can remember how dazzling he was, and how successful they were playing as a team on opening night, and all of us can dream about a future where scrappy contenders become champions.