NBA China Games are Sixers' latest chance to boost global recognition

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NBA China Games are Sixers' latest chance to boost global recognition

The Sixers had a lot of time on their hands during their flight to China.

Seriously, a lot.

“A short flight,” T.J. McConnell joked last month when asked about what he was looking forward to regarding the trip. “I think we leave on [Oct.] 1st and get there the 3rd, so I think we’re all excited for that.”

Joking aside, a plane ride from Philadelphia to Shanghai — as the Sixers get set to take part in the 2018 NBA China Games — spans at least a dozen hours and 7,404 miles. That’s plenty of time for reflection, such as how far this franchise has come in a short amount of time.

Just three years ago, the Sixers were preparing for what ended up being one of the worst seasons in NBA history. The 2015-16 squad was the black eye and bloody nose of “the process” as the team went 10-72.

Those days are in the rearview now and the Sixers have a trio of supremely talented, foreign-born players to thank. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric helped usher in a new era for the organization that not only put the league on notice but also increased the Sixers’ global visibility.

“We pride ourselves on the unique, international culture we have created here in Philadelphia,” Brett Brown said when the NBA China Games were announced. “It is something that we pay close attention to and it resonates throughout our roster, front office and staff. We are excited to bring our team to China in the fall and connect with the truly great fans of a basketball-rich country.”

China is just the latest stop on the Sixers’ quest for worldwide recognition as they take a roster that currently features six international players for two games against the Mavericks in Shanghai (Oct. 5) and Shenzhen (Oct. 8). 

Prior to this trip, the Sixers took part in last season’s annual regular-season game in London. And less than a week ago, the squad opened its preseason slate by hosting Australian professional team Melbourne United that even left Aussie reporters asking when the budding stars would pay the country a visit.

“For sure. I’ll have to talk to Ben, but for sure,” Embiid said of taking a trip to meet his fans in Australia. “I’ve always wanted to come.” 

From coming attraction to global must-see.

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Delaware Blue Coats' schedule highlighted by game at Wells Fargo Center, opening of 76ers Fieldhouse

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Delaware Blue Coats

Delaware Blue Coats' schedule highlighted by game at Wells Fargo Center, opening of 76ers Fieldhouse

The entire Delaware Blue Coats’ roster will get a taste of NBA life during the upcoming season.

The Blue Coats, the Sixers’ Gatorade League affiliate, announced their 2018-19 schedule on Monday and the home slate kicks off with a game at the Wells Fargo Center. After five consecutive road games to open the season, the Blue Coats will host the Canton Charge on Nov. 20 in South Philadelphia.

While that’s a huge deal, the G League club has an even bigger circle around Jan. 4. That’s when the Blue Coats will face the Grand Rapids Drive to open up the new 76ers Fieldhouse, a state-of-the-art, 2,500-seat arena in Wilmington. The 76ers Fieldhouse, which the franchise broke ground on earlier this summer, will also serve as a destination for youth basketball, soccer, volleyball, and other sports competitions and athletic training sessions in Delaware.

In between those two dates, the Blue Coats will also play three other home contests at their former stomping grounds — The Bob Carpenter Center — on the University of Delaware’s campus. The trio of games (Nov. 28, Dec. 3 and Dec. 10) will feature community-focused themes and fundraisers to benefit local Delaware groups.

The Blue Coats will be looking for all of the home cooking they can get in 2018-19 after posting just a 6-19 record at home last season en route to a 16-34 campaign.

For a look at the full schedule, click here.

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Future summers might be filled with international commitments for Sixers' players

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AP Images/USA Today Images/NBCSP

Future summers might be filled with international commitments for Sixers' players

The hard-fought battle finally paid off for Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson. 

After the NBA initially rejected Clarkson’s request to compete for the Philippines during the Asian Games, the league reversed course and allowed him — along with Houston’s Zhou Qi and Dallas’ Ding Yanyuhang — to take part in the event. Not only was Clarkson given permission to play, he was also chosen as the Philippines’ flag bearer for the opening ceremony.

“It was probably one of the happiest days I've had in my career, in my life,” Clarkson, whose mother has Filipino roots and has had his own passport for the country since age 12, said to reporters after the ceremony in Indonesia.

With six international players on the current roster, the Sixers could have multiple guys experience the feeling of representing a country on a world stage in the near future. Several of them make up the core of the up-and-coming group, which means the team will likely be holding its collective breath the entire time.

Dario Saric is no stranger to international competition. The forward has suited up for Croatia long before joining the Sixers and continues to do so. He logged big minutes for Croatia during the 2016 Olympics and, even earlier this summer, the 24-year-old played in a couple of contests for the country during the FIBA Basketball World Cup European Qualifiers.

Another Sixer in line to play for his national team is Ben Simmons. The Australian native has shared his desire to take the floor for the “Boomers” on several occasions, although the Rookie of the Year isn’t exactly sure of when that dream will come to fruition.

“I definitely want to represent Australia in the Olympics, in the future,” he said, via The Age, earlier this week at the Ben Simmons Basketball Camp in his home country.

That falls in line with the aspirations of fellow Aussie Jonah Bolden. The Sixers rookie hopes to carve out a spot for himself on an Australian roster sure to be filled with NBA talent.

“I was talking to someone today about how this could be one of the best Australian teams come 2020,” Bolden said to ESPN earlier this month.

“My goal right now is obviously Philly but no doubt I'm thinking about 2020 and then Olympics.”

The path to the Olympics is less clear for Sixers All-Star Joel Embiid. 

The center was born in Cameroon, a country that has never sent a men’s basketball team to the Olympics or the FIBA World Cup. Embiid could spearhead a push along with mentor and Clippers forward, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Toronto’s Pascal Siakam to help Cameroon reach the highest level of international hoops.

However, Embiid has options as he has been recruited for years by other NBA players such as France’s Nicolas Batum. That would require Embiid becoming a nationalized citizen of that country, which he hadn’t publicly entertained until this year.

“I think it’s an opportunity,” Embiid said earlier this year when the Sixers faced Boston in London, per Eurohoops.net, in response to a question from French RMC Sport. “You never know. I might play for the French national team but I might also play for Cameroon. I have a lot of relatives in France.”

And like relatives in any other family, the Sixers will watch proudly from afar and cheer. All the while, holding their breath and hoping each player returns home healthy.

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