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January 20, 2017

An open letter to fellow Process-trusting Sixers fans: Let everybody in

Following three and a half years of organized, but goal-oriented, futility, the sun is beginning to appear over the horizon.

After blocking Philly native Kyle Lowry at the rim and drawing two free throws to seal Wednesday night's victory over Toronto (an Eastern Conference contender), Joel Embiid held his hand up to his ear as chants of "Trust the Process" and "MVP" reigned down (reminiscent of a Sixers legend). Seven wins in their last nine games. A historically great start for the man who might not ever play. He's now a star on and off the court. Meanwhile, Dario Saric, the man who may never come over to America, is just dousing lighter fluid on a fan base already in supernova mode. And of course, we'll always have T.J. McConnell's fist in the air after a buzzer-beater to down the Knicks.

It all appears to be happening.

Granted, it could all come crashing down in a moment; Embiid's health could be a question forever, we still don't know for sure when Ben Simmons is returning, and plenty of pieces still need to fall into place before this squad becomes a playoff team — let alone a title contender.

But that's beside the point: Ever since former General Manager Sam Hinkie put the wheels in motion with a draft-night trade, the easiest criticism of his plan was asking where the results were, and when they'd be visible. You can finally start to see them now in a big, big way.

Generally, when a team starts getting good or exciting, a bandwagon follows. Casual fans begin watching and attending games, the national media starts raving. Dedicated fans make it known that they've been there since day one when everything was bad and boring. It's a natural and predictable process (I know, sorry).

But with the Sixers faithful, there's a particular bitterness against everyone jumping aboard now. The reason being that usually, when a team's bad and boring, nobody cares. When the Sixers were bad these past four years, everybody cared — and a lot of them freaking hated it.

National pundits, local columnists and talk radio hosts, your uncle, your roommate, your barber, etc. Everyone had an opinion on The Process or tanking now to obtain elite talent to avoid mediocrity. Never before had the way a team decided to build been such a topic for debate, and those who put their faith in it felt vilified on a daily basis. Paying fans deserve a competitive product every year, even if that means a perennial first-round playoff exit, they said. You're all nut-jobs for believing in this, they said. You've been duped, they said. Mockery at every turn.

So now, with the basketball world feverish about the Sixers, it's so tempting to revert to attack, I-told-you-so mode.

Here's my plea: Don't.

If you learn one thing from writing on the internet for a living, it's this: Negativity is an endless pit. Pessimism begets more pessimism. Insults become hurtful beyond belief. There's no basement, only an ever-accelerating race to it. But spikes in positivity are so fleeting, and so seemingly impossible to capture, that they demand appreciation when they appear. 

It's difficult for me describe the type of joy the Sixers are bringing me right now, just like it's hard for me to explain why I so badly want to shove the current success of the team in the faces of those who so smugly doubted the path to getting here — something I've admittedly succumbed to a few times. But I do know this much: The former is the best in me, the latter is the worst.

As one Twitter user recently put in an expletive-laden rant, not everyone bought into The Process, but who cares? Rooting for The Process is great, but rooting for the team and the city is why you cared in the first place.

That's not to say you can't enjoy it a little. Spike Eskin and Michael Levin over at the Sixers-centric Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast are planning a "Retweet Armageddon," in which they resurface old opinions and predictions about the Sixers that look silly now. And let me tell you, there will probably be some good ones.

But that's all in good fun. After all, basketball writer Andrew Sharp, a notorious Process hater, is embraced at events organized by the podcast, even though their second motto after "Trust the Process" is "F--- Andrew Sharp."

In contrast, leave the mean-spirited, exclusionary tactics alone. Matt Moore, a national NBA writer, called the Sixers "America's Team" on Twitter Thursday — a seemingly genuine compliment. Within an hour, he regretted giving us praise because so many needled him for disagreeing in the past with some of the Sixers' decisions. He's a national basketball writer, so he should (and does) own up to his opinions, but that same mentality is trickling down among some of us fans. It’s apparent from conversations I’ve had with fellow Process-trusters, my own vitriolic thoughts and the cesspool of social media:

The big prize from this mindset? Zilch. Nada. Spencer Hawes' double zeroes. Maybe you'll make someone who had a different opinion than you feel bad for enjoying something that brings them genuine happiness. Life sucks for all of us, you know, no matter what your stance on The Process is or was — do you really want to make someone feel suckier just so you can feel good about kind of being more right?

Sure, you'll get the immediate gratification of putting someone else down, but that's the empty calories of fandom. On the flip side: A rocking Wells Fargo Center? Embiid jerseys all over the city? Having a reason to ask a coworker or family member, "How about those Sixers?" That's protein, baby.

It's also important to remember that, while you can agree with all the steps taken, it all could have flamed out, and still could. Embiid could have never seen the court. We could have whiffed in the lottery last year and not ended up with Simmons, who by all projections will be something to behold once he makes his much-anticipated debut. No matter its wisdom, The Process was always calculated risk, and if the risk fails, you're the one on the end of others' ridicule. I trusted the Process — hard — and would have agreed with Hinkie's plan even if nothing ever came of it. But if the team had taken a different course I disagreed with that led to multiple titles, would I — a lifelong Sixers fan – be barred from enjoying the team's success? I sure hope not.

If everything does, in fact, go according to plan, and Embiid stays healthy, and Simmons is the next Magic Johnson, and we nail this year's draft picks, and we're playing in the 2020 NBA Finals, the bandwagon will grow bigger and bigger. Many jumping on will be those who eagerly dismissed The Process as the pieces were being put into place.

Let them on board. We're all on the same team. After all, we'll always have Boston fans to hate.