NBA Players Force a 76ers Mea Culpa

The 76ers apologized. They didn’t apologize for the product they have trotted out on the floor the past three years. It wasn’t an apology for the Process, the Sam Hinkie experiment to land the 76ers top NBA draft talent. It wasn’t their tanking scheme that made a mockery of the NBA as a whole- that was why they were sorry. No. The apology today was for their decision to yank the national anthem from Sevyn Streeter who was wearing a jersey they objected to. Once the incident went viral, once Sevyn said her heart was broken, and more importantly, once their own players were angry about it, and began tweeting the hashtag #wematter, the 76ers knew they were on shaky ground.

As these things go, it was a sincere apology. The 76ers dug a hole deep enough to fall in but they stopped digging. Why? “We Matter” is hardly something to get so upset about because…um…we do matter, don’t we? All of us.

It was clear that the 76ers didn’t think their behavior through, particularly the consequences as it affected their players, and players around the league. The 76ers had an instantaneous response to something benign. Whether the 76ers brass wanted to apologize or whether they felt forced is irrelevant. They did it.

“We are sorry that happened. After receiving feedback from our players, basketball operations staff and ownership group, we believe the wrong decision was made.”

By not allowing Sevyn her moment, the 76ers created a situation that could have taken a much more hostile route, one in which players were forced into action. Players may have colluded among themselves to do what the NBA fears more than anything. Make a statement that is greater than singing an anthem with the words “We Matter” on a shirt. How about everyone sits for the national anthem. Or no one comes out the locker room. Or, t-shirts with “We Matter” on them underneath warmups. Or “We Matter” written on their shoes. Or, no media questions answered. Just “We Matter” repeated by everyone. That may have been the NBA players 2016-17 slogan. The players may have taken  it very, very far.

The NBA is sensitive and is treading lightly here. NBA players have an up and close personal relationship with fans. Unlike football players, they don’t wear helmets. You see their faces. They are humanized by their presence on the court and their play. The last thing the NBA wants is rage against the machine: Go to Philadelphia and show solidarity for Sevyn and We Matter.

Who knows how that would have played out. It would have been an ugly moment the NBA and the 76ers could not get back all because they overreacted.

Ironically, at the same game in which Sevyn Streeter was denied, a Philly fan gave Russell Westbrook the double finger and he was ejected. So one the one hand a singer was rejected for words on a jersey and on the other hand a fan was ejected for his obvious show of bad manners. The fan, a physician, apologized and said he was upset because Westbook referred to his weight and he’s sensitive about it. Westbrook denied he said anything.

Why are we talking about the 76ers anyway? Joel Embiid is promising from what we have seen during one NBA game but he’s not worth all of this 76ers pub. The team isn’t going to win more than 20 games (again). There is no savior until they exile some of the dead weight and the young talent can play, learn, experience and take their lumps. Nerlens Noel is probably gone from Philly after this year. He’s in the last year of his deal.

But we’re talking about Philly because they overreacted and their players got a little bit worked up about it. The 76ers tried to explain. We have a no politics policy. We offered her another shirt. But to the players it sounded like more of the same. Cover up We Matter. Like we don’t matter. Like you don’t care about what happens to us. Like we are not equal. That seemed to be the consensus, what Justise Winslow and 76ers Jerami Grant tweeted, and what many NBA players felt.

And so the 76ers did what they had to do to stop the bleeding. They apologized. It’s over. They can concentrate on losing now. And Ben Simmons return in January.