An article the other day ranked the NFL’s most-tortured fan bases. Not surprisingly, the Cleveland Browns took first.
A similar poll of the NBA would be even simpler. No fans in pro sports suffer as much as Sixers loyalists. The team will end 2015-16 with a declining record for the fifth straight season. That ignominious feat has occurred just twice since 1990, once by the Sacramento Kings and the other time . . . by the post-Barkley, pre-Iverson Sixers.
The “Trust the Process Army” clings to the hope that this thing turns like a boomerang. Their fingers are crossed that Joel Embiid finally heals, that Dario Saric finds his passport, that a real point guard turns up. A few trades, a lucky break or two and Sam Hinkie gets his statue erected right next to Wilt and Dr. J at the sports complex.
Of course, the key to that entire plan is winning the draft lottery. All these years of playing for Ping-Pong balls ought to pay off with at least one No. 1 pick. And what better year to show up last in the standings (thus first in the lottery odds at 25 percent) than this one, when LSU freshman Ben Simmons is prepped to come out?
Simmons is a 6-foot-10 point guard (he’ll probably shift positions in the NBA) with incredible court vision and rebounding ability. He is considered that once-a-decade talent capable of turning around a franchise. He’ll only improve as he matures. And to the local Tank-a-Palooza flag-carriers (just to clarify, I am not among them), he alone would justify the five seasons of hell they’ve endured.
But wait. Just as those starved and patient loyalists stand to get their reward, here comes the NCAA trying to bollix the whole thing. As John Smallwood reported in the Daily News last week, college sports’ governing authority is going to give players attending this year’s draft combine in May a 10-day grace period to pull out and retain their college eligibility. It’s a well-intentioned idea, designed to help any kid who comes to realize he might not be selected in the draft.
But that 10-day period overlaps with the May 17 lottery. And that give Simmons the leverage to pull out if he doesn’t like the team that wins rights to the first pick.
Would he snub the Sixers? Who knows? But we do know the franchise’s (read: Hinkie’s) reputation is poor among players and agents. Kristaps Porzingis’s agent did everything he could to shield the budding star from Hinkie at the last draft. And Jahlil Okafor’s reaction to getting picked here last June was the facial expression of someone who swallowed sour milk laced with lemon.
It wouldn’t be fair to local fans if Simmons opts for another year of college over wearing that cool “PHILA” jersey. But given how much this fan base has suffered over the decades, it wouldn’t be a shocker either.