Markelle Fultz

The 10 weirdest Sixers moments of the last 10 years

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The 10 weirdest Sixers moments of the last 10 years

Extended stretches of normalcy have escaped the Sixers in recent years.

With that in mind, we decided to rank the 10 weirdest Sixers moments of the last decade. As you’ll see, we took some liberties with the definition of “moment” to try to best capture all the weirdness.

10. The tank-off
The players on the court often gave near-maximum effort, but the Sixers weren’t trying to win games between the 2013-14 and 2015-16 seasons. The unvarnished term for this strategy is tanking, of course, and the Sixers’ opponent in the 2014-15 season finale attempted to one-up them in that department.

Since a Heat win might have led to Miami owing the Sixers its draft pick, Michael Beasley, Henry Walker, James Ennis and Tyler Johnson all played the full 48 minutes. Zoran Dragic was spelled for 7:41 by Udonis Haslem.

The Sixers used just seven players — Jerami Grant, Henry Sims, Glenn Robinson III, JaKarr Sampson and Robert Covington were the starters, for those curious — and had the injured Joel Embiid draw up a play. He patted Hollis Thompson on the shoulder, pointed at a whiteboard and gave instructions as Brett Brown watched. This happened before he’d played in an NBA game. 

The Heat won 105-101, and it didn’t even matter because of results elsewhere. 

9. Embiid’s mask saga 
The Sixers had won seven straight games, were playing excellent basketball and led the Knicks by nine points on March 28, 2017. Then Markelle Fultz, in just his sixth professional game, collided with Embiid’s face. 

Embed suffered a concussion and an orbital fracture that required surgery. His team kept winning and Embiid sat and waited for the all-clear from the Sixers’ medical staff until, minutes after the Heat’s victory in Game 2 of the first round, he let the world know through his Instagram story that he was “F---ing sick and tired of being babied.” 

The big man returned for Game 3 in Miami, wearing a fancy black mask and goggles for protection, but the device got lobbed in the air, chucked to the floor and stepped on at one point by Miami’s Justise Winslow. After scoring 23 points and grabbing seven rebounds in a Sixers win, Embiid then boasted to reporters about the quantity of masks the team had in its arsenal. There were apparently “about 50 of them” on hand, just in case.

8. The wet floor game 
The Sixers had to postpone a regular-season game originally scheduled for Nov. 30, 2016 against the Kings because of moisture on the Wells Fargo Center floor.

How wet was the court? The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey gave a good demonstration.

In September of 2018, the team had to postpone its Blue-White scrimmage meant to take place at The Palestra, again because of moisture issues. 

7. Bynum's ill-fated bowling 
Andrew Bynum’s knees prevented him from ever playing a game for the Sixers. Acquired in a much-hyped four-team, 12-player trade that indirectly ushered in the Process era, Bynum experienced a bowling-related setback in November of 2012. 

The activity of bowling — “three steps (and roll),” as Bynum described it to reporters — sounds innocuous enough, but it “kind of broke off cartilage and it made the bone bruise bigger,” he said. 

6. Wroten gets an apology from MJ
Sneakers sometimes just decide to stop working, for whatever reason. Tony Wroten experienced this misfortune on March 14, 2014, when the sole of his Nike Air Jordan 10 gave way as he drove to the rim.

“Are you saying that Tony Wroten has no sole?” Marc Zumoff improvised on the broadcast

At the time a 20-year-old guard on a team deep into a 26-game losing streak, Wroten received an apology from Michael Jordan for the incident. Wroten told reporters Jordan called his agent to pass along the message.

5. NBA season suspended 
Following a Sixers home game, members of the media who wish to hear from Brown and a few players typically gather, wait for the head coach to emerge and place their recorders down in front of him when he takes a seat at the podium. On March 11, Brown was joined by general manager Elton Brand, and no players were made available. Instead of discussing the Sixers’ win over the Pistons, the two briefly addressed the breaking news that the NBA had suspended its season because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

While it was an unprecedented moment, we have four ranked above it … 

4. Okafor’s off-court drama 
Despite averaging 17.5 points per game, Jahlil Okafor had a very difficult rookie season.

In a story for CSN Philly, John Gonzalez reported Okafor unsuccessfully attempted to use a fake ID in October of 2015. Other details of Gonzalez’s reporting are certainly worth including:

Okafor and an acquaintance got into a disagreement with two men parked in a car near the corner of 2nd and Walnut Streets when Okafor tried to punch the driver through the open driver’s side window, according to a witness. The passenger then exited the car and pointed a gun at Okafor and an acquaintance before U.S. Park Rangers arrived on the scene and chased the gunman off, per the witness and both reports. The gunman was not apprehended, and the driver fled in a black Camaro with red stripes.

Okafor that year was also cited for reckless driving and speeding — Pompey reported he was pulled over for driving 108 mph — and involved in a fight outside a Boston night club. 

3. The rookie curse 
Nerlens Noel sat out the 2013-14 season as he recovered from a torn ACL. Embiid missed his first two seasons because of a broken navicular bone. Okafor’s rookie season ended early because of a torn meniscus. Ben Simmons suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot during training camp and missed the 2016-17 season. A perplexing shoulder issue sidelined Fultz from late October through March. Zhaire Smith fractured his foot in August and later had a severe allergic reaction and serious medical complications that caused him to lose about 35 pounds. Matisse Thybulle only missed eight of the Sixers’ first 65 games, but his rookie year is in limbo because of a global pandemic.

It’s still hard to believe all of the above is true. 

2. Fultz’s shoulder and jump shot 
The official diagnoses for Fultz during his time in Philadelphia were scapular muscle imbalance and thoracic outlet syndrome.

Fultz played 33 regular-season games with the Sixers. During that time, he pump faked a free throw — the ball slipped out of his hands, he claimed — became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double and made four three-pointers in the regular season. 

The consternation about Fultz was ceaseless and pervasive. How did his foul shooting look in practice? What motivated the No. 1 pick to change the form that had allowed him to shoot 41.3 percent from three-point range in college? Why was his agent recommending outside medical consultations? Was fluid injected into his shoulder or drained from it

1. Burnergate 
The president of basketball operations for an NBA team was linked with burner Twitter accounts that defended his reputation, revealed confidential medical information and fantasized about “knock[ing] some sense in [Embiid’s] head” with a “medium-sized ladder.”

A story by Ben Detrick for The Ringer sparked an independent investigation by the Sixers that concluded Bryan Colangelo’s wife, Barbara Bottini, was responsible for “establishing and operating the accounts.” Colangelo resigned and brought some degree of resolution to a deeply bizarre scandal. 

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Markelle Fultz has big night against the Lakers

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Markelle Fultz has big night against the Lakers

There was a reason the Sixers traded up for the right to draft Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick.

Those skills were on full display Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

Fultz recorded his second career triple-double (21 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) in leading the Magic to a victory over LeBron James and the Lakers.

While the three-point shot still hasn’t quite come around for Fultz, he showed a lot of the same abilities he did during his brief time with the Sixers.

He’s good at creating his own shot.

He has nice touch around the rim.

He can change speeds and stop on a dime.

Fultz certainly had his issues here, but there’s no denying the 21-year-old is immensely gifted. While you could drive yourself crazy playing the "what if?" game, Fultz’s trade to Orlando could be what was best for everyone.

It’s also fair to point out that this hasn’t been the normal output for Fultz. Coming into the night, Fultz was averaging 11.5 points, 4.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds a game.

But if he continues to produce like he did Wednesday, it’ll make Magic GM John Hammond look like a genius.

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What if the Sixers had never traded up to draft Markelle Fultz?

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What if the Sixers had never traded up to draft Markelle Fultz?

The logistics of posing the question, “What if the Sixers had never traded up to draft Markelle Fultz?” are dizzying. There are various players to consider as possible Sixers (and that never would have been Sixers), and massive implications for future drafts. 

The non-basketball ripple effects are also extensive. We probably never would have learned as much as we did about scapular muscle imbalance or thoracic outlet syndrome, heard a player explain away a pump fake free throw as the ball slipping out of his hand, or scrutinized the form of practice foul shots in search of normalcy, irregularity or just something we could understand.

Let’s outline the basketball details first. For the sake of this exercise and so that we don’t get into the weeds more than is necessary, we’ll take Danny Ainge at his word that the Celtics would have selected Jayson Tatum regardless. In that case, it sounds like the Lakers would have grabbed Fultz — DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony reported Magic Johnson was “in love” with Fultz and was considering a trade to take him at No. 1. We’ll say that trade never happens, Tatum goes No. 1 and Fultz goes No. 2. 

The Sixers, then, would have had a few options, including Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, De’Aaron Fox and Jonathan Isaac. Ball possessed many of Fultz’s best qualities out of college — playmaking, length, defensive potential, a capable jump shot. If the Sixers were willing to take on the oversized personality of Ball’s father, LaVar, they would likely have ended up with the UCLA product in this hypothetical. 

Though LaVar Ball would surely have been disappointed he didn’t “speak into existence” his son being drafted by the Lakers, we imagine he would have warmed up to Philadelphia in time. One doesn’t have to strain too hard to picture him snapping smiling photos with fans, cheesesteak in hand, complaining that Brett Brown wasn’t putting enough trust in Lonzo and calling out Ben Simmons for turning down open jump shots.  

Like with Fultz, Ball’s unusual shooting mechanics would have been part of many conversations about the Sixers, in addition to his fit next to Simmons. It’s obviously impossible to know whether Ball — who in real life was dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans after two seasons in Los Angeles — would still be a Sixer if Bryan Colangelo had selected him. 

Of course, the Fultz trade never happening would also have had a major impact on the Sixers’ drafts over the next several years. They would have held the No. 14 overall pick via the Kings in 2019, which the Celtics used to take Romeo Langford. 

And, if Fultz began his career as a Laker, Jonathon Simmons would almost definitely never have worn a Sixers uniform. Matisse Thybulle might not have either, despite how determined the Sixers were to draft him. The No. 33 pick, acquired from the Magic in February's Fultz trade, was one of the assets the Sixers sent to Boston to secure Thybulle.

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Fultz became the youngest NBA player to record a triple-double, received huge cheers for making a three-point shot in a preseason game and threw down a few ferocious dunks in Philadelphia. All told, he played 33 regular-season games here.

He’s already played 31 with the Magic. Fultz has taken 52 threes this season and made 14, including two against the Sixers Friday night in Orlando. The process of attempting jump shots still doesn’t always look fluid or natural, but he’s trying on a regular basis, making some, and starting for the current No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. Whether or not Fultz ever reaches the potential that persuaded the Sixers to trade up and take him, he’s seemingly come out on the other side of a terribly perplexing stretch.

That odd tenure with the Sixers will be characterized by evaluations, agent-recommended consultations, deleted tweets and fleeting moments of order.

Much of the Fultz saga does not feel real. It’s a what-if that actually happened, and perhaps the weirdest story of a weird decade for the Sixers. 

We’ll never know what would have been if his jump shot didn’t deteriorate, or if Ball or Jackson or Fox had been Sixers instead.

However, we do know what happens when a fundamental skill eludes a No. 1 pick. We understand the prevailing uncertainty, the denials of “conspiracy,” and the sense, when it finally ends, that it was never meant to be. 

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