Philadelphia has seen enough sports success in the past four months to last a decade.
To start it off, the Eagles won their first Super Bowl in February and turned the entire city into a madhouse. Then, the Villanova men’s basketball team secured its second national championship in three years earlier this month and kept the party alive. Now, the Flyers are playing in the NHL playoffs again after missing the cut last season.
But perhaps the most impressive Philadelphia sports success story this year is the remarkable reversal of fortune for the Philadelphia 76ers.
It seems like yesterday that fans in Wells Fargo Center replaced their red, white and blue jerseys with brown bags over their heads, hiding from the third-worst regular season performance in NBA history. In the three seasons before this year’s 52-win outburst, the 76ers were utterly horrible, losing 190 of 246 total games.
Cue rookie sensation Ben Simmons, seven-foot monster Joel Embiid and their mighty “Trust the Process” campaign. After sitting out his true-rookie season last year due to a foot injury, Simmons took charge of a floundering franchise and led it to the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Embiid has been crucial to the 76ers’ success as well, averaging a double-double with 22.9 points and 11 rebounds per game this season. But on March 28, Embiid suffered a facial fracture and missed the latter half of a 16-game winning streak the 76ers rode into the postseason.
In those eight games without Embiid, Simmons shined like a seasoned superstar. He recorded two of his season-total 12 triple-double performances, including a 27-point, 15-rebound and 13-assist outing against the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 6.
Simmons played in his first ever playoff game on Saturday night and remained unshaken by the atmosphere. The 76ers pounded the Miami Heat 130-103 behind Simmons’ 17 points and 14 assists.
More impressive than his flashy numbers across the stat sheet — resemblant of point guard greats such as Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson — is Simmons’ unfaltering maturity and leadership at 21 years old.
With Embiid injured, the next youngest starter is three years Simmons’ senior. But still, Simmons is the designated playmaker and the man always in control. Compared to the oddities of 2017 No. 1 draft pick Markelle Fultz’s rookie year and the quiet debut of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lonzo Ball, Simmons’ confidence is in the clouds.
Philadelphia looks better than it has since the days of Allen Iverson at the turn of the century, making the Eastern Conference much more interesting than Lebron James’ personal playground.
Don’t be surprised if Simmons and the Sixers make quick work of the first two rounds of competition and threaten to send James home before the Finals for the first time in almost a decade.