Hadley: 76ers hang by a thread
Greg Hadley | Thursday, December 4, 2014
Stop the presses everyone. The Philadelphia 76ers won a game.
Twenty teams played Wednesday night, and the 76ers generated the second-fewest points of any of them against the NBA’s second worst defense, the Minnesota Timberwolves. But that doesn’t matter, because they finally found a team that had no answer for the league’s worst offense.
With the win, Philadelphia moves to 1-17 on the season and avoids tying the worst start in NBA history. I’m pretty sure that a healthy portion of the 10,463 people in attendance at the Target Center in Minneapolis only showed up in the hope of being part of sports history. But the Sixers would just not be denied.
In all sincerity though, we should give the team credit for not giving up and slouching its way into the record books. When the playoffs are already laughably out of reach, when you’re playing in front of dwindling, unenthusiastic crowds, when team management is already looking ahead to next year, or maybe the year after that, it cannot be easy to give a full effort for 82 games.
But still, the 76ers missed out on history. They could have been the gold standard for atrocious, the paragon of pathetic, the epitome of awful. Decades down the road, grandparents would say, “Well, yes, they’re bad, but they’re nowhere near as bad as the 76ers used to be. Let me tell you … ” Instead, the 2014-2015 76ers will be lost in the sea of simply “bad” sports teams.
No, I’m not saying Philadelphia should have lost on purpose. All I’m saying is that, by winning, they lost out on sports immortality. As much as we celebrate the greats of the athletic world, we also don’t mind looking back at the all-time worst. Futility is one of the most enduring storylines in sports, and everyone likes to occasionally remember just how bad some teams can be.
Take for example the 2008 Detroit Lions, the only team in NFL history to go 0-16. Perhaps the defining moment of that season was the week six game against the Minnesota Vikings, when quarterback Dan Orlovsky took the snap in the first quarter and ran out of the back of the endzone untouched for a safety. Naturally, the Vikings won, 12-10. At a certain point, the level of incompetence becomes comical.
John McKay certainly understood that. During his time as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the franchise’s shambolic early years, he was asked about his team’s execution and replied, “I’m all for it.”
In 1979, several Kansas City Royals players invented a new term for incompetence when when they joked that Hall-of-Famer George Brett’s batting average was getting too close to that of Mario Mendoza, a light-hitting shortstop. The “Mendoza Line” has since become ingrained in baseball as the standard of weak hitting. It’s a clubhouse joke gone too far, maybe, but still a great way to describe a batter that just looks hopeless at the plate.
Or to return to basketball, there is a certain cruel irony in acknowledging that Michael Jordan, the greatest player of all time and the leader of the best team in NBA history, the 1995-1996 Bulls, was also the owner of the worst team in league annals, the 2011-2012 Charlotte Bobcats. While Jordan watched, the Bobcats stumbled and bumbled through a 23-game losing streak to a 7-59 record and a .106 winning percentage.
A lot of football fans know the score 222-0, the final result between Georgia Tech and Cumberland in 1916 and the most lopsided defeat in college history. Lest you feel too sorry for Cumberland, the story goes that Georgia Tech’s legendary coach John Heisman ran up the score to avenge a 22-0 beatdown the Bulldogs laid on the Engineers the previous spring in baseball. Heisman was also Georgia Tech’s baseball coach.
In general, good sports teams are fun to watch and bad ones are boring, but on occasion, squads can simply be so grossly inept that it’s fun to watch them go down in flames. If you don’t believe me, rewatch the infamous Mark Sanchez “butt fumble.” It’s stupid, and it’s kind of sad, but I don’t know a non-Jets fan that can help themselves from laughing.
So while I salute the 76ers for avoiding ignominy for now, I will still keep a close eye on them as the season goes on. After all, their winning percentage is only at .059. They’re not out of the trash heap of history just yet.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.