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July 10, 2017

Are the basketball gods punishing the Sixers for years of tanking?

It’s just too cruel, even in the fickle world of professional sports. Right when Sixers fans were convinced their streak of horrendous luck was finally ending, there was No. 1 draft pick Markelle Fultz howling in pain on the basketball court during a summer-league game in Las Vegas late Saturday night.

If you were watching the game live – I was not because of the three-hour time difference – you probably thought you were reliving a nightmare. In fact, it was the latest sequel to a torturous succession of horrors plaguing our beloved basketball team.

Even now, two days later, it seems impossible that a 19-year-old elite athlete in perfect health could last less than three games in a Sixers uniform – on the very day he signed his first pro contract, no less – before he went down just like the top picks that preceded him: Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons.

I have watched the play at least 25 times, and it doesn’t bring any understanding to the bizarre nature of the injury. Fultz was trailing the ball-handler, Jabari Brown of Golden State, as Brown collided with his defender, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Fultz grazed the back of Brown’s sneaker before landing awkwardly on his left foot.

The initial focus was actually on Luwawu-Cabarrot, whose face was lined with blood from a busted lip that required stitches. When Fultz didn’t get up right away, sirens went off. When he reached for his left leg, the alarms grew louder. When a trainer started probing Fultz’s ankle, all systems went to DEFCON 1.

There was no solace in what followed, either. As he was helped to his feet and carried to the locker room, Fultz never placed his left foot on the floor. Those hardy souls watching live must have had the same thought I did later – goodbye, rookie season. The injury looked much worse than the sprained ankle being reported by the Sixers.

And this is where the story goes from frustrating to maddening. Is there any reason to believe the Sixers’ report yesterday that it’s nothing serious and that he will resume basketball activities in one to two weeks? Remember, last year around this time, Simmons (broken foot) was going to be back in January. He still hasn’t played.

The fact is, no team in American sports has been more dishonest – or inept – in reporting honestly about injuries than the Sixers. They were miles off on Embiid (twice), on Okafor (knee surgery) and on Simmons. Even GM Bryan Colangelo admitted the team “needs to communicate better” about injuries. Don’t bet on it this time, either.

While we wait to find out how long Fultz will actually be out, fans must deal with a blow that seems unfairly deflating. At last count, 14,000 season tickets had been sold, primarily because of excitement over seeing Embiid, Simmons and Fultz play together. The pain of four lost seasons was going to end this year.

It still may. After all, Embiid and Simmons will report to training camp in two months completely healthy (we can only hope), and Fultz should be recovered by then. Come on. He’s only supposed to miss a week or two. No?

But it’s worth asking now whether the Sixers tempted the basketball gods by losing on purpose for so long, by tanking to obtain players who consistently have met the fate that Fultz did on Saturday night. Maybe a higher power doesn’t like it when teams go out of their way to lose.

Somewhere, the unemployed ex-GM who masterminded this plan, Sam Hinkie, is probably pondering that question right now.


LaVar Ball is an obnoxious attention whore who has no regard for his talented son Lonzo. He is a crude, money-obsessed con man. He is, at least based on his public demeanor, a terrible person.

And that’s why it was so easy last week to dismiss his latest Twitter battle with Sixers center Joel Embiid as just another example of LaVar’s endless quest to stay in the news, at whatever cost. That’s also why the army of Embiid devotees in Philadelphia returned fire with so much gusto. There’s no easier target than LaVar Ball.

Unfortunately, what LaVar said had some merit. No, not the part about Embiid having a limited vocabulary – if that was a reference to the language barrier, shame on him – but the part about talking less and playing more. Embiid really needs to do that.

For a player who has played 31 of a possible 246 games in his NBA career, Embiid has gotten by with charm for long enough. He is great at Twitter, and probably great at basketball, too. But at some point he’s going to need to actually play the game that is the forum for his high public profile.

That time is now.

LaVar got the best of Embiid by Tweeting: "When you don't win, and don't even make the playoffs, and don't even stay on the court long enough, that's the best thing you can do – is tweet.”

There’s nothing disputable about that statement. The Sixers won only 28 games, they haven’t made the playoffs since Embiid got here and the center truly can’t seem to avoid serious injuries. Instead of letting the comment pass, Embiid responded with an F-bomb, which got him a $10,000 fine from the NBA. Not smart.

Of course, LaVar then demonstrated his own dubious thought process by replying: “You gotta use cuss words when you don’t have no intellect.”

Someone needs to tell LaVar that a double-negative like that is also evidence of “no intellect,” but the real point is, Joel Embiid should be smart enough by now not to engage in Twitter wars with people like LaVar Ball.

As Ball himself suggested, Embiid needs to start backing up his words on the court, not on Twitter.


It’s so much fun to portray Jerry Jones and his contemptible Dallas Cowboys as evil that sometimes we lose sight of the strange reality of the situation.

They actually do have evil tendencies, don’t they?

Just last week, three of their players – including their two top names – were involved in stories involving inappropriate behavior. If assault with a deadly weapon, domestic violence and duping fans are not evil acts, what are?

After the recent DWI for former Eagle (and now Cowboy) Nolan Carroll and the PED suspension of DE David Irving, the Cowboys made it back onto the police blotter on the Fourth of July when linebacker Damien Wilson rammed a woman with his truck during a parking dispute that escalated to gun-pointing.

The woman was not seriously injured, but Wilson faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

Meanwhile, star running back Ezekiel Elliot is still facing a possible suspension for an incident last summer in which his ex-girlfriend says he abused her physically for months, culminating in an attack that including throwing her repeatedly into walls and choking her.

The NFL has been investigating for an entire calendar year now, with a decision expected before the start of the new season.

And now Dak Prescott, a star quarterback with a solid reputation, has been implicated in a fake autograph scam. According to Beckett Grading Services, Prescott’s name has been affixed on a set of valuable trading cards not with his own hand, but with an autopen.

“I’ve never heard of a modern athlete doing this,” said a spokesman for Beckett.

Well, if it were going to happen, you’d figure it would be a Dallas Cowboy, wouldn’t you?

And finally …

• Pete Mackanin made a bold comment last week – especially for a manager with the worst record in baseball – when he said top first-base prospects Tommy Joseph and Rhys Hoskins “can’t co-exist on the same team.” Joseph has 15 home runs in his first full season with the Phillies, while Hoskins has 20 one level below at Lehigh. Who stays? Who goes? GM Matt Klentak is studying their exit velocities and launch angles as we speak.

• J.P. Crawford, the most overrated prospect in the Phillies system since Domonic Brown, dropped 80 spots in the latest Baseball America prospect rankings, plummeting from No. 12 to No. 92. Even with a slight uptick the last two weeks, Crawford is batting .215 at Lehigh. Anybody who actually believes Crawford is going to unseat Freddie Galvis – a team leader with a superior glove at shortstop and far better offensive numbers – is nuts.

• It was encouraging to see the newest hope on the Flyers, Nolan Patrick, at developmental camp last week. At 18, he’s still working on a wisp of a mustache and looks like a kid ready to go to college. In this case, his schooling will happen on the ice, not in the classroom. Of course, because he’s recovering from sports-hernia surgery, he won’t get to play for a while. If there’s one thing Philadelphia has cornered the market on, it’s injured kids.

• Jim Washburn, one of the worst assistant coaches in Eagles history, retired last week after 40 years in football. For some absurd reason, he tried to put a positive spin on his two years here by rolling out some numbers on how effective his wide-9 defensive line was in 2012, when the team finished 4-12. He even said one writer considered him “the anti-Christ.” Uh, no, Jim. You just sucked here. That’s all.

Carson Wentz is holding his special camp for skill-position offensive players this week in North Dakota. All of the top Eagles have already checked in, including new wide receivers Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith. Jeffrey said he’s looking forward to trying a bison burger and enjoying all that Bismarck has to offer. In other words, the Eagles are in no danger of getting in trouble this week.