The Sixers’ Losing Streak Will End Someday

The 76ers are experiencing some rather intense growing pains. And that will make their first win — whenever it might come — especially sweet.

Philadelphia 76ers' Nerlens Noel, left, holds his head after scrambling for a ball against Houston Rockets' Trevor Ariza, right, in the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 14, 2014, in Houston. The Rockets won 88-87.(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Philadelphia 76ers’ Nerlens Noel, left, holds his head after scrambling for a ball against Houston Rockets’ Trevor Ariza, right, in the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 14, 2014, in Houston. The Rockets won 88-87.(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

The Sixers didn’t play last night, which was a blessing. They’ll play again tonight, which isn’t. In case you haven’t heard, the team is off to a brutal 0-and-13 start. One of those was a one-point loss, but a lot of the rest haven’t even been close. The team’s been blown away by the Pacers, the Heat, the Raptors, the Mavs, the Spurs and the Suns. Among others. The stands are so empty during this losing streak that if you bring a box of macaroni-and-cheese to tonight’s game, you get two free tickets to another game. Supposedly, this is to benefit Philabundance. In reality, it’s to get some butts in seats for a change.

It’s hard to watch this team. They all seem like nice, hardworking young men. But clearly, they’re not used to losing like this. Who is? They come from winning programs. They’ve been the best on the court all their lives. No wonder tempers flare at times. Notoriously, while being chewed out by coach Brett Brown for not getting back on defense against the Spurs the other night, last year’s Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams, gestured at the scoreboard — a nod to the futility he feels. His team’s the butt of jokes. The New York Times says the players are so obscure, they need their first names, not just their last names, on their jerseys.

What do you say in the locker room, night after night, when you’re the coach of a team as bad as this?

I was cleaning the house in preparation for Thanksgiving guests this weekend. While dusting my daughter Marcy’s room, I came across a trophy she got in eighth grade for basketball. Her middle-school team went undefeated that year. I’m pretty sure that was the only winning season either of my kids ever had in school. And they played a lot of sports. Marcy played high-school field hockey, basketball and lacrosse; son Jake did football, basketball, and track and field. Their dad and I spent a lot of afternoons and evenings sitting on hard metal stands, watching loss after loss.

Some seasons, we thought it might have been the coach. Most seasons, it was the talent — a combination of demographics and the luck of the draw (or parents moving to greener pastures?). Our kids went to a small public high school in a town that’s surrounded by larger, richer districts. The year before we moved here, the boys’ basketball team won the state title. But it’s been mighty slim pickings ever since.

I went to Central Bucks East High School back in the ’70s, when crosstown rival C.B. West was such a powerhouse. Every Thanksgiving Day, we drove into Doylestown and got our butts kicked at West’s stadium, hard. It’s been 20 years now since East and West met on Thanksgiving; their rivalry fell victim to West’s prowess and perennial post-season playoff scheduling. This year, they didn’t meet at all. Just before they were to face off for homecoming, West had its season abruptly canceled due to a hazing scandal.

Winning can breed arrogance. My kids never had to worry about that.

By the end of high school, Marcy had dropped out of everything but field hockey. She was unnerved, I think, by the intensity with which her coaches and some parents (ahem, me) approached games. She didn’t care all that much who won, and didn’t see why we did. Jake’s still playing football, though, at a little D-3 school in New York state. We drove up to see the final game of his season last weekend. They lost. They only won two games out of 10. We were there for both of them, though, and oh, they were sweet.

Maybe that’s what you say if you’re Brett Brown: “This isn’t going to last forever.” The young Sixers will win, someday, and it will be all the more wondrous for being so rare. I used to care a lot more about winning and losing than I do now. It’s not so much that all these losing seasons have worn me down. It’s more that I learned — slowly, painfully, led by my kids — to look at more than the scoreboard at the end of the game. To take whatever I can — whether it’s a win, or just that for once it didn’t rain. “That was a terrific tackle you had on that drive at the start of the fourth quarter,” I said to Jake over dinner after his last game.

“Thanks! Did you see that pass John made for the touchdown? And Mike’s interception?”

Yes. Yes, I did. I saw that and so much more.


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