Keith Strudler: Trust The Process
The sexiest construct in NBA basketball right now isn’t what you’d think. It’s not a dunk, or a fast break, even something as essential as offense or defense. It’s not even a star player, like LeBron James or James Harden. The basketball buzz word of the moment is process. As in trust The Process.
That is the rally cry for the Philadelphia 76ers, the number three seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs who just eliminated the Miami Heat four games to one in the first round. That sets them up for a possible second round matchup with Boston, the East’s two seed who are simply hoping to get past Milwaukee without injured guard Kyrie Irving. By this transitive logic, it seems entirely possible that the 76ers could advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against top seeded Toronto or LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers, both of whom are struggling, with a legitimate shot to go the NBA Finals, where they’d likely be in something of a David vs Goliath scenario against either Golden State or Houston.
What makes all this so interesting is that for the better part of the last decade, the Philadelphia 76ers were a hybrid of laughing stock and HR experiment. Adhering religiously to gutting the team of legacy players and contracts, allowing the team to completely bottom out and stockpile young talent through the NBA draft, the 6ers have finally gone from punch line to trendy pick to win it all. This whole saga, known affectionately or perhaps ironically as The Process, was an experiment or case study in having to get much, much worse before you can possibly become a title contender in the NBA, where championships are won increasingly by collecting elite star talent. Like the cast of all-stars in Golden State, where one of several athletes could be an MVP candidate each year. So each of the past several years, Philly languished in the cellar -- they averaged under 18 wins a season for four years until last season’s ascent from the basement. Some call it tanking, essentially losing on purpose to get a better spot in the player draft. They call it a process. And now, with a full cast of hard earned number one draft picks playing all of the sudden like all-stars, the Philadelphia 76ers are poised to contend for a ring, even if that might take a couple more years.
I won’t go too deep into either the ethics or efficacy of The Process, for Philly or more generically the NBA. At the very least, you could argue a whole lot of NBA fans were swindled of their hard-earned cash when they paid to essentially watch a team built to lose intentionally. It’s kind of like if your home team was the Washington Generals, only the other team isn’t throwing buckets of confetti or pulling down the ref’s pants. Perhaps every seat sold in Philadelphia should have come with a disclaimer, something like, “while this seat entitles you to entry to an NBA basketball game, do not expect to see actual NBA players trying to win.” To be fair, Philly management was fairly transparent about their intentions, and the Philly fans I knew seemed to appreciate their honesty, if not the immediate results.
I suppose Philly fans and perhaps NBA fans in general will have to decide individually and collectively whether they crave occasional championships or consistently competitive games. For the time being, it seems increasingly difficult to have both.
Now if you will, imagine doing this outside of sports. Imagine if we all used The Process in our own personal and professional lives. For example, what if you told your boss you had to be bad at your job for a few years before you could be really good. Or how about if you told partner that you might miss four or five birthdays or Valentines so you could rally for an exceptional one down the road. Imagine if you tried to use The Process for everything in life. Simply get rid of the big fat middle and offer nothing but awfulness followed by occasional exceptionalism. It’s hard to imagine that being sustainable, since whether we like it or not, we largely operate in an ongoing landscape of mediocrity, where more often than not, we do what we need to do to get by. And apologies to all true believers of exceptionalism, American and otherwise.
So if you don’t like this commentary, just know that maybe six or seven weeks from now, I might have an amazing one. It’s simply part of The Process
This may not be sustainable in any normal workplace, nor functional romantic relationship. See, The Process as a construct assumes nothing is more important than winning, even with the cost of years of misery. That, my friends, is where sports is different than life. At least I hope so. Of course, don’t suggest that to Philadelphia 76ers fans right now. For them, there is nothing sexier than The Process.
Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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