New on Sports Illustrated: The 76ers Are Sleepwalking Straight Into a Nightmare Scenario

August 20, 2020 at 09:27AM

Have the 76ers quit? It’s a legitimate question after watching Philadelphia plod through the final three quarters of a 128-101 loss to Boston that has the team's future looking bleak.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla – Have the 76ers quit? It’s a legitimate question after watching Philadelphia sleepwalk through the final three quarters of a 128-101 loss to Boston. After building a 14-point first quarter lead, the Sixers quickly blew it. The defense allowed the Celtics to shoot 51.2% while the offense looked lifeless, often reduced to quick drives or late dumps to Embiid. The outlook is bleak for Philly, which won’t have a homecourt advantage—they were 31-4 at home this season—to lean on in Game 3.

After the game, Brett Brown, who was late getting to the Sixers interview room, said he believed Philadelphia had the talent and character to get back in the series. 

So I asked him: Does he believe the players do?

“I’m sure in the middle of the night you start thinking, ‘What do we have to do?’” Brown said. “But I do believe it. Tonight we started a rookie [Matisse Thybulle] against a pretty good player [Jayson Tatum], we started a G League wing that has come in, in Shake Milton, and those two young kids are now in prime time in the NBA playoffs … I think there has been enough success, not consistently, in the bubble, where you can call upon things without Ben [Simmons] that are real. It’s up to me to recognize those things. To point them out in a real way and help them get through this. I do believe that the locker room feels that they have a hell of a lot more to give.”

Speaking of Tatum, this has already been a star-turning postseason for the third-year forward, who followed up a 32-point Game 1 performance with 33 more in Game 2. There is superstar potential in Tatum. He already ranks among the best pure scorers in the NBA—I’d argue he’s inside the top 10—and his defense has made significant strides this season. The Celtics are deep with scorers, but Tatum is the reason to believe this Celtics team can make a deep playoff run.

At Long Last, Public Justice for Masai Ujiri

It’s been more than a year since the Raptors celebrated the franchise’s first championship, but one of the ugly moments of that evening lingers. During the celebration, team president Masai Ujiri attempted to get to the floor. His credential in hand, Ujiri attempted to get past an Alameda County Sheriff's deputy. An altercation between Ujiri and the deputy, identified as Alan Strickland, occurred. Ujiri eventually reached the floor, with Kyle Lowry pulling him on. 

In February, Strickland filed a lawsuit against Ujiri, claiming Ujiri attempted to “storm” the court, hitting Strickland in the face and chest with both fists. Strickland claimed that he “suffered injury to his body, health, strength, activity and person,” causing him “great mental, emotional, psychological, physical, and nervous pain and suffering.”

This week, Ujiri’s legal team released Strickland’s body cam footage which, unequivocally, proves that Strickland lied. On the footage, Ujiri, who at 6’4” and dressed in a suit is fairly recognizable, attempted to get past Strickland. Strickland responded by shoving him in the chest. Ujiri approached again, identifying himself as the president of the Raptors. Strickland, unprovoked, shoved Ujiri again. In a legal filing, Ujiri’s attorney’s admitted that after the second shove, Ujiri pushed Strickland before turning and finding another way on to the floor. 

The video clearly absolves Ujiri of any wrongdoing. Yet, incredibly, the Alameda County Sherriff’s office has doubled down on its defense of Strickland, telling Canadian outlet CP24 that they stand by their original statement that Ujiri was the “aggressor in this incident” and “don't be quick to judge based off of what lawyers are saying.”

Amazing. This is an open-and-shut case. Few believed Ujiri, one of the NBA’s genuinely great people, did anything wrong anyway. The tape backs him up. Strickland should be fired and the Alameda County Sheriff’s office should apologize for putting Ujiri through this.

In a statement, the Raptors restated the organization’s support for Ujiri

“We are mindful this remains before the courts, but we have always maintained that the claims made against Masai are baseless and entirely without merit. We believe this video evidence shows exactly that – Masai was not an aggressor, but instead was the recipient of two very violent, unwarranted actions.

“The events of that evening cast a pall over what should have been a night of celebration, and the year since. While Masai has the full backing of Raptors and MLSE as he fights this injustice, we are aware that not all people have similar support and resources. This is a spurious legal action that MLSE, the NBA, and especially Masai should not be facing.”

The wording at the end of the statement stands out. Ujiri, whose parents are Nigerian, is a prominent figure. He has the means and the support structure to fight baseless accusations. But what if it wasn’t Ujiri, but another black man, one with just as much right to be on the floor as Ujiri did? What if Strickland assaulted, and then sued, someone without the resources of Ujiri. Injustice like this should be exposed, and the people who commit it, along with those that support them, should be publicly shamed until it’s corrected. 

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