Last season, the Philadelphia 76ers lost 26 games in a row, tying them for the longest losing streak in NBA history. Their rookie point guard and the 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year — after a lone season with Syracuse — Michael Carter-Williams, was catatonic at all the losing as he revealed in the latest missive for the Derek-Jeter player-scribe startup, The Players Tribune.
First, Kevin Love sounded off on his summer of rumors, then Blake Griffin led us through the antebellum spirit of a Donald Sterling “White” party.
Now, MCW has penned the most recent Players Tribune piece about what it’s been like to play for a Sixers team where many fans think “Grown men” are “going to go out and purposely mail it in for a one-in-four shot at drafting somebody who might someday take their job?” As Carter-Williams pithily responds to that notion: “Nope.”
Phillys backcourt helmsman doesn’t shy away from the tanking controversy, even as his Sixers sit at 0-7 through the season’s first two weeks — the only winless team in the league. He has been out for those seven games with a shoulder injury, but he could return tonight against Dallas. That being said, he doesn’t take all the losing lying down, though he may be supine for all the Ellen he’s likely to be watching in yet another rebuilding Sixers campaign:
Every guy in the league deals with losing in his own way. Some come home, turn on the Xbox and try to get revenge on NBA 2K. The vets might watch a movie with the kids or jump in the hyperbaric chamber. The more progressive guys are turning to meditation and yoga.
I’m too impatient for that stuff. For me, it’s all about Ellen. I just think she’s awesome. So every weekday at 4 p.m., my stepfather and I pause the basketball talk, grab some snacks and watch The Ellen Degeneres Show. It might sound funny, but this is one of the ways I’m able to get away from the frustration of losing. Last winter, when we went on a near-historic losing streak, I was not a fun guy to be around.
Earlier this fall, Carter-Williams’ name came up after-the-fact in some possible draft-day trade scenarios that failed to materialize. What that story failed to mention was how hard he was working at the time to get back on the court:
I seriously live basketball and I don’t take it for granted that I made it to this level. This entire summer, I spent hours face down on the trainers’ table getting my shoulder stretched to regain full range of motion. Some of the stretches are excruciating even without an injury. When physical therapy was over, I’d sprint up and down hills with an altitude mask strapped to my face looking like Bane from Batman. Try doing 10 sets of hills with hardly any air. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. All that hill work was just so I could get back to the court as soon as humanly possible.
So please don’t tell me I’m on the Chillin’ List.
The Philly point guard also discusses about the media brouhaha stirred up when they were approaching a historic record for futility last season. They ended up beating Detroit in that 27th game, avoiding standalone infamy, and the same reporters so eager to ask about the losing streak, largely shuffled past the players when they actually won:
We knew it was going to be a circus when ESPN flew in Stephen A. Smith to Philadelphia for the 27th game against Detroit. In the locker room before shootaround, we got swarmed by reporters. You could barely move around the room. Somebody actually asked, “So how does it feel to be a part of the most losing team in NBA history?” Which was really funny because we hadn’t even played the game yet. Everybody just expected us to lose and set the record.
The media creates this narrative and repeats it over and over. That’s how Stephen A. Smith ends up in our locker room with a big smile on his face. I’m not picking on him. I know he’s playing a character. He knows he’s playing a character. But what happens when we break the streak by going out and beating Detroit that night? Now it’s another story. After the game, a lot of the reporters didn’t even stick around. The ones that did weren’t prepared. They didn’t ask us about the specifics of the game. They made up questions on the spot, like, “Uh, hey, you guys won … so how do you feel?”
We weren’t the story anymore. They were on to the next thing. Stephen A. didn’t really stick around. I guess he had a plane to catch. Believe me, I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure he doesn’t come back for the same reason.
The next time you think Sam Hinkie is trotting out a bunch of stiffs to lose as many games as possible so the team can pick a solid, cheap draft pick, remember this story from Michael Carter-Williams. The reigning rookie of the year might still have a lot of Ellen in his future, but please don’t talk to him about tanking. He’s out there busting his butt every night and so are most of his teammates. If you’re lucky enough to play in the NBA, you usually love the game and would never disrespect it by actively trying to lose.
Do you blame Sixers management, bad injury luck or the players for all the losing in Philly?
Follow Spencer on Twitter at @SpencerTyrel.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.