With the playoffs starting tomorrow, it’s time we identify the playoff villains fans can root against. If you want to check out who you should be rooting for, read this. Part of the fun when watching sports is irrationally or semi-rationally disliking players and teams. In the semi-fantasy land of sports fandom, feeling the full range of emotions makes the competitions more fun. To be a villain that the majority of a sport’s fans root against is not easy, but there is usually at least one. Some checkpoints that need to be hit to be a sports villain include: victimhood, boring style of play, holier than thou attitude, loads of success, unearned hubris, and lots of smack talk. Let’s jump into this year’s playoff villain, the Philadelphia 76ers.

MVP Chatter

This MVP race has been captivating for anyone who follows the league. You have three players in the prime of their career throwing up numbers and passing the eye test for historical seasons. Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid have cast an enormous shadow over the league, figuratively and literally, dueling for the MVP two years running. It’s great for the league.

The Fans

Enter in the Philadelphia 76ers organization and fans, who couldn’t wait for a chance to show their ass. The fans of Philadelphia, whatever the sport, are veterans of this, and it seems they have rubbed off on the organization. Just pop into Twitter if an MVP debate has started, and you will see Sixers fans incredulously posting that if you don’t have Embiid as the MVP, there is something wrong with your eyes and mind when processing basketball.

It’s one thing to cape for your guy. I get it; fans will do this and want to see the player they watch all year win. Joel has had a wildly impressive season and would be a deserving MVP winner. But all this victimhood and overt bashing of the other candidates and anyone who thinks they should win is lame behavior. It’s precisely how you get the general public to root against your team.

Comments From Embiid and Company

This is before we even get into comments Joel had about the MVP, highlighted by him saying to Tom Withers of the Associated Press, “If it doesn’t (win MVP), I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll feel like they hate me.” Who says that besides someone so deep in the chatter they are dwelling on it? I love Joel, he’s my favorite player in the league. A true two-way terror. But stop with this victimhood about MVP. Is it possible that a few members of the media don’t like you? Of course. But there isn’t some grand conspiracy against you to hold you back from winning. The other two have great candidacies as well.

Beyond Joel, you have his trainer, Drew Hanlen, saying voters don’t know hoops simply because it looks like Joel isn’t going to win MVP. Like, what? Because your guy might lose MVP to other worthy candidates. Clown behavior. The president of basketball operations, Daryl Morey, who always has something to say about his players and awards, is also campaigning for Embiid in the media. I get saying something here and there, but come on. This is too much. Fans of the league aren’t here to see organizations, players, and fans incessantly bemoan their players not receiving an award. Nobody likes sour grapes, especially when it’s a close race.

Free Throws

Yes, free throws are a crucial and essential part of the game. This talk (cough, Ty Lue, cough) about hypothetically removing them is lame and salty. Please stop. (Channels my Stephen A. Smith voice) However, free-throw parades make for clunky games that drag on and become anticlimactic. In the regular season, fine. In the postseason, we don’t want that.

Joel Embiid and James Harden have been two of the premier foul drawers over the last half-decade. Now they have combined forces, and the results are predictable. Free throw attempts are in the 20s for these two alone. Whether those are full of legit attempts or drawn via flops and baiting, the viewing experience is the same. The game becomes a slog and loses the free-flowing nature that makes basketball great.

Joel Embiid and James Harden share a hug.
It can be easy to root against these two when they are constantly parading to the free-throw line.

I can hear a tiny minority from Philly or Harden and Embiid island yelling, “free throws are part of the game; stop hating.” To them, I say, “if you want people to like your team or favorite player, style matters.” It is an efficient offense to draw tons of free throws for guys who make them at a high clip. But it’s not enjoyable to watch, and that is a quick way to have people root for you to lose.

Management

I know this is a weird category to highlight as a reason to root against a team. The players are really what matters. With that said, Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey are relatively easy to dislike. Or, at least, root against.

Doc Rivers

Let’s start with Doc. This is a guy with some of the worst collapses in playoff history, including three series where his team blew a 3-1 lead. He loves to get snappy with people he perceives are questioning him. I concede that can be annoying, but if you watch enough Doc Rivers, you’re going to have questions about strategy and personnel decisions. To have him respond to those questions with a holier than thou attitude makes him an easy target to root for his comeuppance. Furthermore, Doc is one of the preeminent whiners in the league, equipped with a multitude of “there is no way you called that foul on us” faces that will annoy almost anyone when you see it repeatedly. He’s just a tough coach to root for.

Doc Rivers exasperated
A classic Doc Rivers reaction to a perceived bad call.

Executives

Moving onto Daryl Morey, it may seem odd to root against an executive, but he makes it easy. He’s super active on social media. He unapologetically campaigns for his players. A tweet here and there, is ok. Doing it incessantly, for years, and acting like anyone who disagrees is completely wrong, lame. He unabashedly made his name by being the cold, calculated executive that fully ushered in the math era of basketball of threes, free throws, and layups. And he doesn’t seem to fully understand the people aspect of building a team. People like this, in general, are usually polarizing, especially when they give off, “I’m the smartest person in the room.” Morey leans into this persona and seems to enjoy it, but by no means does it make people want to root for the team that employs him.

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About Author

Ryan Rodriguez

If you want to hear my thoughts, check out my podcast, The Coastal Connection, which I do with some former coaching colleagues available on Spotify, Apple, and Google Podcasts. You can also check out my personal blog, The Thoughts of r2, if you want to read me on more topics than just NBA.

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