As the NBA season prepares to tip-off, the usual suspects are the narrative. There’s the battle for Los Angeles as Kobe Bryant’s Lakers now have to share the city with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the other winged Clippers. The Brooklyn Celtics, er, Nets, have imported big but venerable talent from Boston (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett)–talent that’s decidedly no longer green in any sense. The Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls, the OKC Thunder–all championship caliber clubs–will cook, charge and roll, respectively. The Spurs will dig in. The Rockets will fire and the Pacers should cruise, most nights. And then there is the underclass, led–if that’s the right word–by the Philadelphia 76ers.
30 years ago this spring the Philly faithful danced in the streets as Dr. J and Moses Malone raised a trophy the perennial bridesmaid Sixers had long been promising. That was the last time the gleam hit the team. This year, Philadelphia is expected to perform so poorly that you could wager $10 to win $99,999, were they to bring home the championship. Or if you just wanted to double your money, you might chance that the Sixers will win a mere 17 of their 82 games. The outlook is so grim that the team’s media campaign includes the low expectations as the cornerstone of its promotion: “Together We Build” is the team’s 2013-14 slogan. Inspiring, right? There’s some value to losing in NBA, though. To encourage parity the league awards the best chance of the #1 draft pick the following year to its most horrible team. If all goes right then for the Sixers, they’ll be absolutely wretched and win a young, franchise center. (So the real rebuilding isn’t being done in the city of brotherly love but on a campus in the Big Ten or the ACC.) Still if the 76ers do manage to be the worst team in NBA history, they can do their historical brethren a favor and finally relieve another team of that long-held ignominy. Because the worst team in NBA history was also a team called the Philadelphia 76ers, in 1972-73.