BY PAUL MANCANO—It’s getting late. “MLB Tonight” is blaring on the tube, and I’m starting to get sleepy. Without Mitch Williams, the show has lost its luster for me (it’s a shame he’s got major anger management problems). It’s time to turn in. I shut off the tube, grab a cup of warm milk, and head to bed. I pass out instantly, and dream away…
My dream begins with the news that NBA Draft lottery reform is happening, and happening now. Adam Silver’s enormous ears make an appearance on ESPN to announce the changes. Mediocre teams now have the same chance of winning the first overall pick as horrible teams. Sam Hinkie shifts uncomfortably in his seat.
As expected, the Sixers suck hard in 2014-15. Even worse than they did the year before. When all is said and done, they’ve won 12 games. 12. But it doesn’t help. Hinkie can only watch as the Sixers draw the 10th pick in the draft. And a month later, they take a moderate talent. But not a star. Gulp.
Then, in the summer of 2016, the news comes down that Dario Saric plans to spend not only the next season in Turkey, but the rest of his career. He’s met a nice Turkish girl and wants to settle down near her dying father. Double gulp.
But it’s OK, because we still have NoJo and MCW. In 2018, the team advances all the way to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where they face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. And the still young Sixers are keeping pace with LeBron’s squad—until Game 7. During the fourth quarter, in undoubtedly the worst 13-minute stretch in Sixer history, both big men go down. First, Noel slips on some sweat and twists both knees. Five minutes later, he hobbles off the court, howling in pain. Three minutes later, Doris Burke gives us the diagnosis in complete monotone: two torn ACLs.
Joel Embiid, suddenly saddled with the burden of carrying his team past the defending champs, goes ham. At one point, with his back to Kevin Love, he pulls out the “Dream Shake.” But he hesitates just long enough to allow LeBron to snatch the ball from his hands. Then, in a feat of Herculean proportions, James picks up Embiid, raises him above his head, and, as did Bane with Batman, breaks his back.
Just like that, all hope is extinguished. Over the next three years, the Sixers struggle mightily as it becomes increasingly clear that both Noel and Embiid’s careers are essentially over. Nerlens is so depressed, he shaves his flattop. Embiid deletes his Twitter account. MCW can be seen visibly weeping in the locker room following every game—even the wins. Hinkie is fired, and his head in placed on a stick atop of the Ben Franklin Bridge as a warning sign for any GM who dares tank again.
I wake up in a cold sweat. The sound of Bill Simmons’ laughter still rings in my ears. Geez, I think to myself, that dream got really unnecessarily violent at the end there. My breathing slows as I return to reality. In Hinkie we trust, I tell myself, in Hinkie we trust.
After I’ve calmed myself, I take a sip of my milk, which is now colder than Ryan Howard—I’M SO TOPICAL—and fall back asleep.
My next dream begins with another successful tank of the 2014-15 season. No lottery changes are made. This time, the Sixers send Charles Barkley, instead of Dr. J, to the lottery. Because the world is fair in this dream, the Sixers win the first overall pick. Bill Simmons throws another on-air hissy fit. When asked during the post-lottery interview who he thinks Philly will draft, Barkley looks dead into the camera and proudly proclaims, “Allen Iverson.”
After a month of ridiculous trade rumors, Hinkie stands pat and takes the player of his choosing—Emmanuel Mudiay, Jahlil Okafor, Kelly Oubre, whomever.
The dream jumps ahead several years to the 2016 offseason. Free agent Kevin Durant is still ringless. After watching a roster full of up-and-coming superstars fall in the first round of the playoffs a month before, KD turns his back on both Oklahoma City and Washington to join NoJo, the Croatian Sensation—who did NOT stay in Turkey—and MCWF in Philly (by this point, MCW is so good, he’s gained another initial: F. It doesn’t stand for anything).
The season following his signing, Durant leads the team to an Eastern Conference Finals duel against the defending champion Cavs. During the fourth quarter of a thrilling Game 7, James attempts a spectacular dunk over Embiid. Instead, the eight-footer (he’s added a foot since the draft) smacks it back into James’ face, breaking his nose. Disfigured and dethroned, James leaves the court for the last time in his career. Embiid is seen leaving arm-in-arm with Rihanna.
The Sixers’ first ring comes against the San Antonio Spurs the very next year. Nerlens Noel matches up with 42-year-old Tim Duncan, whose abilities are only stymied slightly by the fact that one of his hands is used to hold his cane. Brown goes at it with his former mentor, Gregg Popovich, in an epic battle not unlike that of Star Wars: Episode III between Anakin Skywalker and his former mentor, Obi Wan Kenobi. This time, however, the Padawan wins out, and red and blue confetti fills the arena. The torch has been passed.
The Sixers go on to become the only team to win nine championships in seven years—yes, you read that right. KJ McDaniels becomes the first player to win both the dunk contest and the three-point contest. On Noel’s mantelpiece stand 12 MVP trophies. Hinkie is elected mayor of Philadelphia. Embiid marries Rihanna (Kim Kardashian attends the ceremony) and the pair has eight kids, all of them female. They later become The Embiid 8, a phenomenal Jackon 5-esque sibling pop group. The dream fades as The Embiid 8’s cover of “Here Come the Sixers” plays.