Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Philadelphia 76ers won a basketball game.
It sounds simple enough, but by now everyone realizes that was a pretty arduous task.
They matched not just the NBA record for most consecutive losses with 26, but the mark also stands for all four major North American professional sports leagues.
So, on a lively Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Detroit Pistons became the footnote to history. Actually, they got the footprint of history stomped on their backsides because the Sixers not only snapped the funk, but obliterate it.
The 76ers, who lost by an average of 16 points during the run to futility, beat the Pistons by 25.
"I'm happy for the players and I'm happy for the fans," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "I'm real happy for the players and I'm real happy for the fans."
The Sixers are pathetic, no doubt, and one victory in the last 59 days is not reason for celebration. OK, maybe it is to some extent. As a lifelong Philadelphian (technically in the suburbs for the first 18 years), hard work is praised and should be rewarded.
The Sixers work hard every night and nevermore was that evident than Saturday night. There were more lifeless bodies in Pistons uniforms than at your county morgue. After missed shots, the 76ers ran. It didn't matter who corralled the rebound, it was runners take your marks and go. They closed out on shooters, battled big guys and just beat the Pistons in the ground.
That's why there is reason for some level of celebration. National pundits who don't watch the Sixers look at a team clearly not putting the best possible product on the court and call them an embarrassment. Yes, the roster has three legitimate pros on it, but the reason Philly is not humiliating itself is the effort. When the knock on pro athletes, especially basketball players, is how little they care, the Sixers fight. They fight to compete, they fight not to be shamed and they fight because they don't know any other way.
"I don't have much of a choice," forward Thaddeus Young said. "I'm here. I'm the leader of this team. I have to go out and give 110 percent."
Sadly, most casual NBA fans don't believe Young is the norm. All of the Sixers play hard. They don't play smart, or well for that matter, but they play hard.
The biggest reason why they don't play well is most of this roster would generously fall under "journeyman" status, so a good run with Philadelphia could alert other teams for the future. With the exception of Young, Michael Carter-Williams and probably Tony Wroten, these young men are fringe NBA players at best. The Sixers are primarily fighting for contracts.
Please don't take this column as praise for the Sixers. Hard work should be expected, not lauded, and this is the worst collection of NBA talent on a non- expansion roster in my lifetime.
But part of the charm of this Sixers team is that it has never shied from what it is as a squad. The Sixers have never embraced it, either, nor have they confirmed what the plan is, but it's clearly to try and acquire as many ping- pong balls as possible.
"The city has believed we have been transparent," Brown said. "We haven't hidden anything - this is who we are, we own it. You may not agree with it, but this is our path, this is our plan. I think the city's patience has been remarkable. We're grateful. We want to deliver for them."
The plan is to lose, but it's hard to embrace that philosophy without the reality of casualties.
Michael Carter-Williams has hit a rookie wall. He may still win NBA Rookie of the Year, someone has to, but his play has been erratic. Part of the reason for that is the composition of the Sixers versus competitiveness. It's hard for Carter-Williams to grow into an effective point guard when no one else can score, and because he can, he may try to do too much to simply try and win a game.
Another casualty of this season came with that victory. It put the Sixers two games behind the Milwaukee Bucks in the race for the worst record. It speaks volumes of the Bucks that the Sixers, who traded two of their four professionals at the deadline, and lost 26 straight games, couldn't get past Milwaukee for that dubious honor. Being two down with less than 10 to go is going to be tough to make up for the Sixers.
Is the whole thing, this whole experiment of sacrificing a season for the "greater picture" as Brown says, worth it if the Sixers don't finish with the worst record? To some degree yes. There are no guarantees when your plan is predicated on luck, but Philly will most likely own at least a top-five pick and another lottery one assuming the New Orleans Pelicans don't get lucky.
That's a huge step in the rebuilding process. Nerlens Noel will be back next season and add two more first-round picks, and the Sixers are starting to build something, albeit slowly.
"We chose a path when Sam was hired and some may agree with it and some may not agree with it, we're not claiming it to be the correct way to do it, but we're committed to the plan," Brown said. "We don't want to blink.
"I've gone on record many times saying, that this is a three- to five-year plan. The exciting thing is we're building our own."
And finally, if you didn't want to see the Sixers end this streak, you're mean. A group of people have to own dubious distinctions, it's part of the business and part of life. But if the hard-working, honest guys can't get one ray of sunshine in a self-inflicted season of misery, who can?
"That group's staying together. They didn't blink. They stayed together," Brown said. "What we don't boast in resumes and experience, they do have camaraderie and they do put in the work."