Is it Possible to Explain The Process?


I’ve given up trying to explain the Philadelphia 76ers.

Game 5 against the Atlanta Hawks may have been the nadir of Sixers fandom during the Process Era. It’s an era that’s almost impossible to explain, even by Sixers fans. The only way to make sense of what I’m seeing is to compare them to their counterpart in the arts. Something that is their equal when it comes to vacillating between stretches of brilliance, and pure perplexity.

Then it hit me scrolling through HBO Max after trying to forget Philly’s Game 5 showing– the Sixers are Christopher Nolan movies. Here is a guide for us to discuss the Process Era Sixers in a way that everyone can share their exuberance and frustration.

The 2016-2017 team – Memento

Joel Embiid’s first season seems like forever ago when you stack it up to his all-NBA, all-star, and all-defensive team seasons from the past few years, yet the seeds were there from the beginning.

Memento was that for Christopher Nolan. It didn’t have all the stars of his recent movies, but it still had names you recognized. Nolan’s signature style of his manipulation of time was on display for the first time.

Conversely, Embiid’s array of powers in his rookie season mirrored Thanos with only the power stone at his disposal– undeniably formidable but still far from inevitable. It was different and riveting in a way that made you want more. That’s how the 2016-17 76ers started out. So much promise. Just out there showing what they could do. Then, they started getting serious.

The 2017-2018 team – The Prestige

That 2017-18 team is still my favorite team of the Process Era. The Ben Simmons rookie year when he was getting Magic Johnson comparisons. The J.J. Redick addition in the offseason. The Marco Belinelli addition late in the season.

They went from a happy-to-be-here team to one who seemingly announced– clear out, we’re here! Embiid’s first full season mirrored Christian Bale’s first lead in a Christopher Nolan movie. Nolan knew he had his guy just as the Sixers knew they had theirs. That team may not have been a title threat quite yet, but they were threat-level midnight levels of entertainment and optimism. It’s the last team I watched with pure joy before the weight of expectations made them shift again.

The 2018-2019 team – Batman Begins/The Dark Knight

The beginning of the season was riding high on the expectations of last year. They delivered a perfectly serviceable start to the season, but the organization wanted more. Batman Begins was a perfectly fine batman movie and a welcome return for this character. It meant the expectations for the sequel were infinitely higher.

Then came the Jimmy Butler trade. He came to take over in the same way Health Leger’s Joker stole The Dark Knight. The Sixers perhaps added a bit too much with the Butler and Tobias Harris additions as did TDK did with its run time. Ultimately, TDK had sensational first and second acts, but suffered a bit in its final act. That would be an understatement for the way that 76ers team ended. 

The 2019-2020 team – The Dark Knight Rises

We tried to hype it up at the beginning even without one of the essential pieces that made the preceding product so great.

I’ll let you figure out whether I’m talking about TDKR or that Sixers team.

The additions looked good on paper for TDKR: Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard. Just as it did for the Sixers: Al Horford, Josh Richardson. Taken all together, it just didn’t work. The plot didn’t work for TDKR, and you need a good plot to help the chemistry of your stars.

Insert scheme for plot and you have the problem with this Sixers team. Perhaps the major highlight of the TDKR was in Bane, a character that somehow only got 22 minutes of screen time in a two-hour, 44-minute movie. This reflected my feelings on using Matisse Thybulle (THIGH-BULL!!!) so sparingly that year who was one of the highlights in an otherwise dismal, lost year.

The 2020 regular season team – Dunkirk

It’s difficult to capture this past regular season with a single Nolan movie. Inception could be chosen for its fan approval. Interstellar would be a fine choice given the range of emotions it has given us. Given that this is the best the Sixers have looked in the Process-era, it has to be compared to one of the most critically acclaimed of all of Nolan’s movies.

It’s the movie that makes the most sense, if only because it isn’t about dreams, time travel, or whatever the heck a temporal pincer is (we’ll get to that) and diverges from some of the common elements of past teams. Other than Embiid’s regular-season injury, this regular season has been a breath of fresh air.

From start to finish, it was entertaining, coherent and the best use of its talent. Until…

The 2021 playoff team – TENET

This is where we’ve landed. Something that is visually stunning but equally confounding boarding on infuriating. They’ve both suffered from unfortunate circumstances. In TENET’s case, it was the pandemic and not having the benefit of the theater experience.

In the Sixers’ case, there are several options. The Embiid injury. Doc Rivers‘ lineup choices. The disappearance of Simmons and Harris for stretches. Both TENET and these Sixers have stretches of brilliance even when it’s difficult to explain– Sixers Game 5 first quarter and TENET’s freeport scene.

Unfortunately, ultimately, you walk away from it not quite realizing what you’ve seen. We have to give up knowing what we’ll expect from quarter to quarter, let alone game to game. If you are looking for a prediction for Game 6 or what to make of the rest of this playoff run, don’t go to a basketball analyst, let a scientist explain.


After the Game 5 debacle, collapse, embarrassment, indictment, or whatever it’s being or will be called, there was no use piling on. There’s plenty to be said of the flaws with Ben Simmons, the lineup adjustments Doc Rivers needs to make, and the DNA of the team.

It’s all so tiring. We know that we somehow still love this team even though we have no idea what to expect from them. They will take us on a roller coaster of emotions that will challenge the way we think about life, existence and what’s possible.

It’s the power of this team. It’s also the power of Christopher Nolan.

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About Matthieu Hertilus

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