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'The Process' And The 76ers


In the 1989 movie "Major League," a baseball owner in Cleveland brought together a group of players that she hoped would lose a lot.


JAMES GAMMON: (As Lou Brown) She thought we'd be bad enough to finish dead last, knocking attendance down to the point where she could move the team to Miami and get rid of all of us for better personnel.

MARTIN: There are some echoes of that in the story of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers. Their general manager concocted a plan - lose, get amazing draft picks and build a champion. Sam Hinkie hatched the plan in 2013. Then he got fired. But this season, as the team advances in the playoffs, his plan may finally pay off. John Gonzalez, a sportswriter for The Ringer and a Sixers fan, talked to David Greene about what's known in Philly as The Process.

JOHN GONZALEZ: The Process was, let's take the pieces that we have that are maybe average or slightly above average, and get rid of those.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Get rid of, like, good players?

GONZALEZ: Good players. Players that could make you relevant in the NBA, that could get you into the playoffs but probably not win a championship. Let's get rid of those players and spin them into other players or draft picks that could become potentially superstar players so that you could get into a really, like, rarified air in the NBA. There's only a few teams in the NBA right now that can really challenge for championships, and that's where you want to be. So in order to do that, you're going to have to be really bad first.

GREENE: Because the way the NBA works, the really bad teams get the higher draft picks. So you do that for a number of years and the goal would be, we'll build talent.

GONZALEZ: Build talent.

GREENE: Fans were wearing paper bags on their heads to games. I mean, that has to be hard for owners to see.

GONZALEZ: You could buy an entire row of tickets at the Sixers game - and one fan did - for a dollar.

GREENE: An entire row?

GONZALEZ: An entire row in the arena, at the upper reaches of the Wells Fargo Center, for a dollar.

GREENE: So this was a plan that the owners had to really stick with through hard times, and they just couldn't quite do it.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. I mean, this is a plan that if you were going to do it you had to be committed all the way. And I think once they started getting pressure about how bad they were and there were, you know, other general managers saying what an abomination it was and how it ran counter to the tenants of sports and trying to win. And then, you know, they decided, OK, well, maybe this isn't for us, and maybe we should go in a different direction because it's hard.

GREENE: You mentioned some see this kind of plan, losing intentionally to rebuild, as an abomination. I mean, I think about the movie "Major League" in baseball. Totally separate situation. That was an owner trying to lose so she could move the team. This was trying to lose for long-term success, but still intentionally losing in sports just, it makes you cringe a little bit, doesn't it?

GONZALEZ: I suppose it does. And for me as a Philadelphian and as somebody who had covered those teams pre-Sam Hinkie, when Sam Hinkie came in, from an intellectual standpoint, it made sense to me. OK. Let's not try to be in the middle. Let's try to be really good. And to be really good, first we're going to have to endure some pain.

GREENE: Not bad days in Philly. I mean, Villanova, Eagles Super Bowl and now the Sixers. I mean, looking great. This must feel good to be a Philly fan.

GONZALEZ: It's weird. It's strange.

GREENE: (Laughter).

GONZALEZ: And I know that this is my Philadelphia showing right now. They won the Super Bowl. I didn't expect it. Villanova won. Good for them.

GREENE: They won March Madness, the championship basketball.

GONZALEZ: It's amazing. And the Sixers now look like they're set up not just for right now but for a long run for the future. And it's hard to process as a Philadelphian because forever you expected things to go wrong. And now everything is going right, and I guess we're sort of adjusting to it.

GREENE: Good luck adjusting. John, thanks a lot.


MARTIN: David Greene talking with John Gonzalez of The Ringer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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