The NBA is experimenting with different ways to manufacture some semblance of a home-court advantage as it restarts the 2019-20 season in Orlando, and the scrimmage games have given us a preview of what this will look like. The Laker Girls will be there, sort of, as will “virtual fans” watching live. The idea is to simulate the feeling that, if you’re the “home” team, you are playing on your turf, in a supportive environment.
For Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, though, “supportive” isn’t necessarily the right word. In his long-awaited first appearance on” The Rights to Ricky Sanchez,” the show that this website once called the preeminent podcast of the Process, Embiid said that, in a recent conversation with co-star Ben Simmons and Patrick Rees of the team’s public relations department, he suggested that they bring the sound of angry Philadelphia fans to the bubble.
“We need some boos in here,” Embiid said.
Before the hiatus, the Sixers’ home/road splits were one of the strangest statistical stories in the league: At the Wells Fargo Center, they were 29-2, with an offensive rating of 113.0 and a defensive rating of 102.7; elsewhere, they were 10-24, with an offensive rating of 106.7 and a defensive rating of 112.1. Embiid’s best explanation for this is that, when their own fans are booing them, it motivates them to play harder.
Embiid’s argument is straightforward: “When we’re home and people start, fans start booing us, we’re like, ‘Oh, we gotta pick it up, it’s not good, we don’t want to hear it. So I gotta play hard, I gotta make plays.’ So when we’re in the bubble and if we’re down, if we’re not playing hard, like, we need them to put sounds of boos from Philly fans here in the bubble so we can get it going.”
Leading up to the restart, the neutral-site effect is something of a mystery, especially for the Sixers. An optimist would predict that they’ll be awesome because there are no road games, in which they have often appeared disconnected and discombobulated. The pessimistic prediction is that they’ll be terrible because there are no home games, in which they have more frequently looked like the team they aspire to be. Embiid’s idea, tongue-in-cheek as it may be, gets at the question at the root of all this: Why have they been able to make things work so much better at home?
“I mean, I’m part of it, but it’s just weird, even thinking about it,” Embiid said. “And we still don’t know what was going on.”
Some crucial context: The subject came up because “Rights to Ricky Sanchez” co-host Michael Levin asked the three-time All-Star which was weirder, that this year’s Philadelphia roster has a worse road record than the New York Knicks or that the 2015-16 roster won just 10 games over the course of a full season. Embiid picked the current team having having a worse road record than the Knicks — the correct answer, obviously.
Also on the podcast, Embiid said he wants to play with Simmons for the rest of his career, among other revelations.