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June 02, 2022

Worst Week: The domino effects of the Kawhi Leonard shot are still felt

Sixers NBA

Worst Week rolls on! I lamented a crippling South Philly doubleheader on Monday, looked for some catharsis after the Chip Kelly era on Tuesday and vented about Eddie Jordan on Wednesday. It's time for me to get ultra-specific and look at the worst play during my time following Philly sports.

Again, as I've said during this series, if you're picking an event or game or team from before my time, it's not going to hold the same emotional resonance for me. In reality, the single worst play in Philly sports history is likely Joe Carter's walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. I was in my mother's womb at the time. I wasn't watching! Maybe I had my first kicks as Carter was jumping up and down as he rounded third base, a lifetime of Philly sports anger just starting.

Anyway, I'm going for a 21st-century choice. Ronde Barber's pick-6 in the 2002 NFC Championship Game would be a worthwhile pick for sure and it's the haunting moment of my youth as a sports fan, but the game was actually kind of over already. The Barber touchdown was more so mentally crushing than devastating for scoreboard purposes. It was the nail in the coffin for Veterans Stadium rather than the play that changed the trajectory of the game.

That leaves me with Kawhi Leonard. Oh, Kawhi Leonard.

Four bounces. Four!

During the 2019 postseason, Leonard played like the second coming of Michael Jordan, complete with his own version of "The Shot."

Not that Sixers fans need a refresher of what that shot looked like, as I'm sure they can remember exactly where they were at when it happened, but here it is in all its infamy:

What I've been getting at during these Worst Week stories are that these little moments have domino effects that shaped the future of these teams. The Eagles' Dream Team blowing up was the beginning of the end for Andy Reid. Cliff Lee's Game 2 meltdown against the Cardinals spelled doom for the Phillies' golden era. Chip's egomaniacal grasp on the Birds slipped away in 2015. Eddie Jordan continued the Sixers' path of mediocrity that eventually culminated in the Process. It's the same for this Sixers team.

Jimmy Butler left that ensuing summer. Maybe he just wanted to head to South Beach to "retire" as some Sixers fans said. Maybe it was a me-or-you situation between Butler and the Ben Simmons-Brett Brown combo. The ripples are still being felt. Butler leaving led to the disastrous Al Horford signing, which led to the Daryl Morey hiring, which led to the James Harden trade, which led to, you guessed it, another second-round exit in 2022.

There are a ton of memes that go around Twitter and Facebook that ask if you can change a single thing for, say, the Eagles, what would it be? Alshon Jeffery's drop against the Saints, Reggie White leaving for Green Bay in free agency and similar things are options. For the Sixers, there aren't many, if any, 21st-century options. Yes, you could go with the Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone and Charles Barkley trades, but for a younger generation, it's the Kawhi shot and there isn't a close second choice.

What if the Sixers won that Game 7 against Toronto in overtime? What if they battled Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference Finals and advanced? What if they faced an injury-ridden Golden State team in the Finals like the Raptors did? What if there were two parades in a 16-month span on Broad Street? Would some other poor schmuck have found love there?

Butler advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals twice since he left Philly, especially given that the Sixers haven't reached there in 21 years, only makes matters worse. So do his four 40-point playoff performances this spring. With Harden looking like he's lost four steps, Joel Embiid battling injuries, and an inept bench forced to play major minutes, it's impossible for Sixers fans not to play the "what-if" game with Butler and that begins with the fallout of Kawhi's magical shot.

Magnetic rims, huh?

I think of Andy Bernard in "The Office" when he says, "I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them." The Sixers had a fantastic 2021 regular season and finished as the top seed in the East before suffering their own heartbreaking playoff loss(es). The Sixers stunned the league when they acquired Harden back in February and the hype was palpable. Still, 1,117 days later, the 2019 Sixers remain this era of Sixers basketball's best shot at a title. The sting from that shot can still be felt today.

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