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“This building is shaking right now!”
Earlier this week, Spike called for something better than Sixers January 2016 -- he meant 2017 -- and last night he got it, along with the rest of us. It was good that the Sixers were about to take a 2-1 semifinals series lead on the Toronto Raptors, a team that many (including myself) believed to be the better team going into the series. It was better that they were doing so in convincingly blown-out fashion, up 110-84 with 5:30 to go, Jonathan Simmons and Amir Johnson’s tummies rumbling in anticipation of the landfill minutes they were soon to feast on.
But it was best that it was Joel Embiid, our rock and our redeemer, pump-faking an increasingly feckless Marc Gasol beyond the arc, careening down the lane in search of a worthy challenger, and then finding none, hammering home points 109 and 110 with a windmill dunk. From there, a jubilant Jo pivoted instantly and instinctively to Airplane Mode, and when he ran out of runway, cupped his hand to his ear -- half in homage to the similarly overjoyed Allen Iverson, in the building and drunk in love, and half in tribute to the 20,000 Process Trusters in attendance, who certainly required no additional amplification to be properly heard.
It was a perfect moment -- the kind you’re probably lucky to get five of in a sports-watching lifetime. Nick Foles rolling right, with the ball on its way and an ocean of uncovered end zone in front of him? Brad Lidge dropping to his knees like Bernard Sumner in “Bizarre Love Triangle,” in preparation to receive the mightiest of Chooch hugs? I’m not gonna say this was better than those, but I will say that I felt it more deeply in my capillaries. As Mike would say, to properly understand that dunk, you gotta go all the way back to the man cheesing his ears off on the Sixers sideline and his 2006 trade to Denver, through Andrew Bynum’s fateful trip to Wynnewood Lanes, Spencer Hawes’ finger guns, Andrei Kirilenko’s conscientious objection, Jahlil Okafor’s bad night in Boston, Markelle Fultz’s eyes-closed free throws and 91’s censoring of the word b*tt. It was well over a decade of Sixers history that Embiid thundered through the net, and everyone watching knew it.
Speaking of “over a decade.” If you were watching the ESPN pre-game show before this one -- hopefully on mute -- you might’ve noticed a chiron indicating the debate topic at hand: “Did The Process Work?” Yes, before game three of an even playoff series between two of the East’s elite teams, a home game that most agreed was the biggest the Sixers have hosted since 2001, and the primary discussion was not of whether Embiid could finally have his breakout night, or what knock-knock jokes the Sixers could pepper Kawhi Leonard with during timeouts to try to get him off his game, or if Fred Van Vleet actually exists or is just a myth perpetuated by the Toronto media. Instead, it was of whether the whole thing was worth it. Still. In 2019, when we’re already further away from Sam Hinkie’s ousting than that moment was from his hiring. The whole thing.
It’s just never going to stop. We could be heading to Oracle Arena up 3-1 for a closeout Game Five against the Warriors, and Stan Van Gundy will still be tut-tutting the ethics of the 2013-14 Sixers winning 19 games when they probably could’ve won 26 if they’d really worked the margins. The parade could be halfway down Broad Street, and Marcus Hayes and Howard Eskin would show up as volunteer traffic cops to pause the revelry for long enough to lecture the fans in attendance about the essential value of veteran backup point guards. T.J. McConnell could be drowning in a monsoon of champagne while the team celebrates their championship threepeat, and Stephen A. Smith would interrupt to ask if he wanted to offer an overdue apology to the fans who were forced to suffer through the cruelty of Sam Hinkie’s 10-72 season. For some -- for many -- the legacy of the Process 76ers will always be asterisked by the unanswerable (actually very answer) question: “WAS IT WORTH IT THOOOOOOOO??”
But that Embiid dunk wasn’t for them. It was for those of us who lived willingly through those fallow years in the hopes -- in the certainty -- that it eventually would lead to times like this, rhymes like this. More specifically, it was for those of us who have lived through the Process Sixers’ extremely ignominious history of missed dunks: From Nerlens blowing his breakaway dunk in 2015 to Ben Simmons muffing one against the Celtics in the 2018 playoffs (and landing one back beyond half-court the next year) to the Shamet airball reverse and Joel himself missing a windmill against the Suns earlier this season, and Greg Monroe rimming a wide-open look just a minute and change earlier last night. JoJo’s authoritative flush validated all of ‘em, and proved that our checkered past does not define our triumphant present or beautiful future.
I don’t know if it’ll get better than this. Some might say that the Raps are already done in this series, but I’m not getting into victory formation just yet: They’re on the ropes, certainly, but a big adjustment or two and a resurgent Game Four and it’s a new series again. But even to take such a dominant foothold in this matchup, even to give us one performance to shake the Wells Fargo Center all night long, even to show us one moment of pure happiness like that Embiid rocker and ensuing reaction… I’ve already been saying it for years, but dayenu. The Process worked. The Process was worth it. Process uber alles. Process Process Process. Treat yourself to an extra biscotti at the coffee shop today, Lord Hinkmeister. Maybe even order a scone if you’re feeling particularly frisky, with a little Embiid shoulder-shimmy after each bite.