76ers

Focus shifts from joy of Jimmy Butler to concern over Markelle Fultz

Focus shifts from joy of Jimmy Butler to concern over Markelle Fultz

CAMDEN, N.J. — Tuesday was supposed to be about Jimmy Butler and his introductory press conference at the Sixers' practice facility. 

There were donuts with Butler’s likeness on them and just about every team employee — save for the players and coaches — was in attendance.

But once the obligatory new jersey photo op concluded, the focus shifted to Markelle Fultz.

On Monday night, Fultz uncorked one of the oddest free throws in NBA history. After the game, he claimed the ball “slipped” out of his hands (see story), but there’s been a notable hitch in his shot from the line recently.

“It would have been concerning if he didn’t come back and shoot three more shots and look really fluid,” Brand said. “I was actually proud that he came back, hit a shot and did what he did out there after that, because he deals with a lot. He’s 20 years old. And like I said, very talented. It’s our role, my job, to get the best out of him.”

Of course, it wasn’t just Monday’s bizarre free-throw attempt that’s cause for concern. The Sixers traded for the rights to draft Fultz because they believed he was a perfect complement to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. They envisioned Fultz becoming the team’s third star.

Then over the weekend, in the midst of Fultz having an uneven second season, Brand pulled off arguably the biggest trade in franchise history since Moses Malone in 1982. He went star hunting instead of waiting on star development.

Brand was adamant that the trade was not an indictment of Fultz, rather an opportunity he wanted to jump at with the East improving. On a team that already had championship aspirations before the Butler trade, Fultz seems out of place. A 20-year-old guard trying to find his game doesn’t seem like a fit on a team with visions of the NBA Finals.

“I still think it’s the best place for him to develop because we love him and we care,” Brand said. “He’s with us, he’s a part of us. If he goes somewhere else, I don’t know what that looks like. For him to develop, it may be the best place for him still.”

Fultz insists the issues with his shot last season were the result of the scapular imbalance. This season, he believes it’s just a matter of his shot needing to get better with more reps. He’s denounced his (former?) trainer Drew Hanlen’s comments that he had the “yips.”

Watching Fultz through 15 games, the issues look like they’re in his head. As Brand alluded to, you’ll often see Fultz throw up an ugly jumper and then follow it up with a perfect stroke a play or two later. 

Butler has seen Fultz and knows the talent and effort are there. 

“I think that, from what I can tell, a lot of things are mental,” Butler said when asked about Fultz’s struggles. “In this league, I think 90 percent of it is mental. If you think you can do something you really can. I know how hard he works because I'm in L.A. and I know that he comes by there and trains. I know some of the people that know him and they tell me how great he wants to be. 

“As long as he's going hard and giving his all out every day, the guy has my respect. I just want him to go out there, play hard, be who he is, stick to his strengths and I know he's just going to thrive. He's going to be successful.”

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Al Horford makes a donation for coronavirus relief in Dominican Republic, regions where he's played in United States

Al Horford makes a donation for coronavirus relief in Dominican Republic, regions where he's played in United States

Al Horford has donated $500,000 to support coronavirus relief in the Dominican Republic, as well as in each region of the United States where he's played for a team, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

Horford’s father Tito was the first Dominican-born NBA player, and Al was born in the country. The family later moved to Michigan, where Horford attended Grand Ledge High School. He went to the University of Florida and has played for three NBA cities — Atlanta, Boston and Philadelphia. 

Several other members of the Sixers organization have also made charitable donations during the coronavirus pandemic. Joel Embiid has pledged to donate $500,000 to COV-19 medical relief efforts. Ben Simmons launched “The Philly Pledge,” an initiative which encourages donations to Philabundance and the PHL COVID-19 Fund that’s received support from a wide range of Philadelphia athletes, among them teammates Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, Norvel Pelle and Marial Shayok. 

Sixers managing partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer have made several donations related to coronavirus relief, including to Philabundance and to CHOP and Cooper Hospital.

Limited partner Michael Rubin aims to have his company Fanatics produce a million masks and gowns for hospital and emergency healthcare workers. 

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Sixers Home School: The night Allen Iverson crossed over Michael Jordan

Sixers Home School: The night Allen Iverson crossed over Michael Jordan

There's a lot of home schooling going on right now, so why not use some of this time to learn more about the history of your favorite teams? In this edition of Sixers Home School, we look back at the night Allen Iverson crossed over Michael Jordan.

In a vacuum, rookie Allen Iverson crossing over the legendary Michael Jordan on March 12, 1997, at what was then known as the CoreStates Center was impressive enough.

Putting it into context makes you understand just how big of a deal it was at the time.

The 21-year-old Iverson was having a strong rookie campaign after the Sixers drafted him No. 1 overall. He was still a month away from setting an NBA rookie record with five straight games of 40-plus points. He wasn’t sporting what would become his trademark cornrows — though he did rock them when he won MVP of the Schick Rookie Game. 

This night was when he began to really put a bow on what would turn into a Rookie of the Year season.

As for Jordan and the Bulls, they were ho humming their way to a 69-win season and their fifth title in seven years. Jordan was 33, and though his game had evolved, he was as dominant as ever. Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman provided all the help he would need.

But on this night, it wasn’t about the Bulls, who celebrated receiving their championship ring ceremony by trouncing the Sixers and shutting down Iverson earlier in the season.

This was about the kid from Hampton, Virginia. The six-foot guard from Georgetown that grew up idolizing His Airness, but also told a coach back in high school that he was good enough to take him. 

“I remember the first time I played against him,” Iverson said in his Hall of Fame speech. “I walked out on the court and I looked at him, and for the first time in my life a human being didn’t look real to me.”

Though the first time the two actually talked was not necessarily cordial.

“The first time I ever talked to him was that year playing in the Rookie Game,” Iverson said in an interview with Complex. “I’ll never forget it because he said, ‘What’s up, you little b----?’ I’ll never forget it.”

Whether the moment provided extra motivation or what, Iverson was at times the best player on the court — which, given who was on the court, is a hell of a statement.

Iverson would finish with a game-high 37 points and foul out in a four-point loss. No, the Sixers didn’t win that night, but the fact that Iverson nearly willed a team full of guys like Scott Williams, Mark Davis and Rex Chapman to a victory over that juggernaut was remarkable.

But over the course of time, nobody remembers — or really cares — who won that game. It was the moment A.I. crossed over M.J. It wasn’t quite a torch-passing moment as Jordan would go on to win another MVP and championship, but it was a clear indication that Philadelphia had drafted a star.

That highlight dominated every sportscast the following day and had Sixers fans' imaginations running wild.

The legend of Iverson only continued to grow from there as he became one Philadelphia’s most celebrated athletes and joined his idol in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

Years later, he spoke to Jordan about the moment he got him with his legendary crossover.

“I went to a Charlotte game and I was telling him how much he meant to me and how I rocked with him,” Iverson went on to say in the interview with Complex. “He was like, ‘Man, you don’t rock with me like that because you wouldn’t have crossed me like that.’”

For as much as Iverson had idolized Jordan, his desire to beat him and be the best outweighed that.

“I always knew that once I got to the league, I was going to try my move on the best,” Iverson said, “so he was just a victim that night.”

That night, a star was born and a legacy was just beginning.

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