When the 20th anniversary of the 2016-17 season comes and we feel the need to commemorate the truly special moments of this most bizarre of NBA seasons, one that I will invariably go back to will be the 2:16-to-go mark of the first quarter of game No. 73 -- a game I happened to witness live in Brooklyn. I was watching the Sixers and Nets go through the motions of a largely meaningless late-March affair, when all of a sudden: Who the hell is that wearing No. 47? It seemed unfathomable, but there was only one logical explanation: Tiago Splitter was actually playing in a regular-season Sixers game.
It might be impossible to fully grasp the significance of this without going back through the last four seasons of Sixers history, which saw countless NBA luminaries -- Danny Granger, Earl Clark, Gerald Wallace, Ronny Turiaf, Keith Bogans, Travis Outlaw, Andrei Kirilenko and so very many more -- pass through Sixers lore without ever actually playing in a Philly regular-season game. They were cap filler, they were ballast, they were names changing dotted lines and nothing more. It seemed absolutely for sure that Tiago Splitter, injured and past his prime when traded from the Atlanta Hawks at the deadline in the second Ersan Ilyasova deal, would become a part of this richest of Process Legacies. Hell, even the fact that he wore No. 47 -- most famously donned by Kirilenko during his Utah days -- seemed to pay tribute to this lineage.
And yet, there he was on the court today: Tiago Splitter, the guy who played in two NBA finals with the San Antonio Spurs, the guy who was traded to the Hawks in a cap-clearing deal two summers ago and almost immediately vanished from NBA relevance, the guy who was ten games away from reaching free agency without ever having to notch a "PHI" line on his Basketball Reference page. And he played seven minutes for us, scoring four points on 1-2 shooting with three boards and a block. I will never forget a single second of it.
This was undoubtedly a corner-turning moment of some sort for the Philadelphia 76ers -- though the exact meaning of the occasion remains ambiguous. Maybe it means that the Sixers aren't so embarrassing a franchise anymore that we feel the need to do veterans the favor of not forcing them to put Philly service time on the resume. Maybe it means that the Sixers are no longer willing to write the months of March and April off as losing time, as they play the young guys and dream about next season. Maybe it means that Brett Brown was really, really worried about Shawn Long getting into early foul trouble last night. Whatever the meaning, it feels pivotal, and if Tiago Splitter never plays another second for the Sixers -- his legs may have fallen off from shock in the locker room over actually having been used, for all we know -- he's now a Process Truster for life.
Oh, and the Sixers won the game, 106-101 -- their 28th W, as many as they had the last two seasons combined. Sometimes these days, it's hard to even tell what team we're even watching.