“Minnesota was the first step of us being totally emo and sentimental about all of this, and this trip, deciding to go to Indianapolis in the middle of winter on New Year’s Eve, just to see a former back-up point guard is really basically us in a sentence,” said The Rights to Ricky Sanchez host, Spike Eskin, with a prideful self-awareness.
On December 30, several hundreds of Philadelphia fans will make their way to Indiana to see their 76ers face the Pacers for “Fly the Process V,” the main attraction being a reunion with the consummately scrappy “coach’s son,” T.J. McConnell. McConnell, at his time of departure, stood as the team’s most tenured player. His survival through the signature beatdowns that epitomized the Process era to their rapid ascent into upper-echelon of the league garnered the 27-year-old back-up guard a hometown hero status. McConnell, reliable and rugged, deserves something more for his years of service than the standing ovation he is sure to receive upon his return to the Wells Fargo Center, and Eskin plans to give him that.
Eskin and his co-host, Mike Levin, started The Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast on July 3, 2013, after a prelude on the 1:00 a.m. hour of Philadelphia’s 94WIP. The hour opened with a disgruntled Philly resident threatening to buy floor seats expressly to mock Spencer Hawes, who had already blocked him on Twitter. Only a week prior, the 76ers drafted future Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams, and were heading into their first of four straight sub-30-win seasons. The first episode’s description reads, “Episode 1A of the unnamed podcast. Spike and Mike talk about Twitter etiquette, NBA free agency, and just how handsome Sam Hinkie is.”
Six years later, not much has changed besides the team itself.
Over the course of their run, the duo has helped to assemble one of the most fervorous fanbases in sports history on the back of an unwavering belief in “The Process,” a league-altering tanking venture engineered by mastermind general manager, Sam Hinkie.
The harbingers of the infamous “Retweet Armageddon” and proprietors of premium G-league prospection, Eskin and Levin leverage their fanbase each year at multiple live events with appearances from coach Brett Brown, a banner for Sam Hinkie, an oddly-spirited amount of tailgating, and a whole lot of beer. Fly the Process, a yearly group trip of 500 Sixers fans to opposing arenas around the league, has become something more than a cult congregation.
“Sometimes you’re a salesman,” pauses Eskin, “even if you’re not selling anything. And I really have to be able to believe in this idea to sell it to people and I just feel like saying out loud, ‘Let’s go to Indianapolis for New Year’s Eve, and T.J. McConnell will come to our New Year’s Eve party after the game.'”
When asked about attending the party, McConnell did not hesitate. This series of treks comes from much humbler beginnings however.
The first trip, simply titled “Bus the Process,” took two buses of Nerlens Noel hopefuls to Brooklyn in a blowout. The second was to Washington, in which the Sixers once again lost in a blowout. Attendance had blossomed from 125 to 500, however. On their third trip, titled “Bus The Process III: Operation S–thole,” the crew hitched it all the way to Milwaukee in a shamelessly petty yet respectful attempt to get #JusticeForJoel after Malcolm Brogdon won the Rookie of the Year award over Embiid. The Sixers lost that game, too.
Man Sixers fans are the best.. Really appreciate y’all.. The love and the passion that y’all have is kinda insane but I love it #BusTheProcess #JusticeForJoel pic.twitter.com/n2nQcTEvV2
— Joel “Troel” Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) March 5, 2018
Last year’s trip saw Eskin and Levin leading a legion of royal-blue-jerseyed acolytes to Minneapolis, where they paid tribute to Patron Saints of The Process, Dario Šaric and Robert Covington. Though the Timberwolves’ organization was wary of scornful jeers from the Philadelphia fans, they were met with confusing adoration for their Sixers alum.
“It was just this wild thing where we would cheer every time the Sixers hit a basket but every time Dario touched the ball we would also cheer,” Eskin reminisced, fond of his fanbase’s decorum in enemy territory. “It means a lot to me that people who have been involved in this show have so much reverence for the players, and for the time and for each other, and I think that’s what I’m most proud of.”
“The players are people, and I think the connection to the players is what is different about this,” continued Eskin, “and that’s why the ones that have left, I think we felt that they suffer in a similar way with us, and I think we feel kinship to them, and I think they feel the same way to us.”
While highlighting that The Ricky fanbase is but a subsect of millions of other less-involved Sixers fans, Eskin relented, “It makes me encouraged about people and encouraged about what community and sports can bring out of people.”
A recent quote from Šaric in an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters corroborates that.
Dario Saric on #Philly: “Sometimes people just click in life, and I think we clicked my first year there and that just stayed for a long time.” #Sixers pic.twitter.com/UaxlUfcS51
— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) November 4, 2019
What the media once claimed would ruin the organization, stomp out all hope, and chase away fans has yielded a singularly-dedicated group of zealots, two 50-win teams, and top-of-the-league attendance. As the 76ers thrive, The Rights to Ricky Sanchez, focused on the future success of their failure for four of its six years on the air, continues to prove to be a driving force in the culture the fanbase they steep themselves in. Though seldom recognized by the 76ers’ organization, Spike Eskin and Mike Levin have had an indelible effect on Philadelphia fandom, as well as the players themselves.
Eskin has a message for the city of Boston, the Celtics, their fans, and specifically Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart:
“My message to the fans of Boston would be that I feel sympathy and pity towards them. They leveraged all of these picks and all of this cap space and Al Horford ended up leaving. Another one of their stars, Kyrie Irving, ended up leaving. Gordon Hayward has a tragic injury and is now just an overpaid bench player. Their coach is really sort of like a Chip Kelly version in the NBA. He can obviously deal with young players and college players but when it comes to stars he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. And the Celtics have a GM who is more interested in leaking stories about who he may have traded for than actually growing the team. In the end, I feel pity, and I really hope players like Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown who I respect find their way out of there and have a respectable career elsewhere.”