For Evan Bowen-Gaddy, it was like spotting Big Foot.
On Monday night, the Lower Merion native and occasional Lyft driver was cruising around Center City waiting for customers when a large figure emerged from the shadows at 23rd and Pine streets.
And I do mean large.
As a wide-eyed Bowen-Gaddy looked on, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid — all 7 feet 2 inches of him — jogged across the intersection. Turns out, the face of Philadelphia’s basketball revival had been playing some tennis at a public court nearby and decided to run home.
Bowen-Gaddy whispered to himself in awe.
He eventually pulled alongside Embiid, rolled down his window and blurted the only thing that came to mind.
“Yo! Trust the process,” Bowen-Gaddy said.
Embiid raised his arms to acknowledge the literal shout out.
Then, in a moment of ticklishly pure fan panic, Bowen-Gaddy bellowed: “I love you!”
Over the last four seasons, 76ers fans have substituted trust for on-court success. The team lost an astonishing 77 percent of their games in a deliberate attempt to clear their mediocre roster and draft the best, young talent.
“Trust the Process” became a mantra among fans as they waited for the strategy to bear fruit. (The phrase was first uttered by a former player and gained traction thanks to a fan podcast called “The Rights to Ricky Sanchez.”)
Embiid embraced the patience-first outlook, nicknaming himself “The Process.” He’s since become a league-wide sensation for his tantalizingly good play and self-effacing humor. (There are too many examples to list here, but his tweets about trying to date Rihanna are Kim Kardashian are a good place to start.)
Now, the Sixers are poised for more than just good humor. They might actually play some good basketball.
The team begins its 2017-18 season Monday night with a preseason game against the Memphis Grizzlies, and many pundits believe the squad has a chance to make its first playoff appearance since 2012. That’s because of Embiid’s emergence, along with the addition of rookies Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz — both of whom were picked No. 1 overall in the NBA draft.
Full-court press of faith
After four years of waiting, there’s a deafening buzz around the team. For proof, just ask Evan Bowen-Gaddy, who happened to record his Embiid encounter on a dashboard video camera.
He posted the clip to a subsection of Reddit populated with Sixers news. He didn’t expect much. And he was wrong.
Within an hour, he’d been contacted by ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and the Turner-owned website Bleacher Report — all wanting to use his footage. TNT tweeted a video of Embiid’s face superimposed over another iconic Philadelphian who ran through the city streets. As of Wednesday afternoon, Bowen-Gaddy’s YouTube video had over 40,000 views.
Partly, that’s because of Embiid’s growing folklore status as the people’s giant. And it’s partly because Embiid’s dubious injury history means fans crave some assurance he can indeed run.
But in the viral trail there’s also evidence of unadulterated excitement. Fans are so delirious with Sixers hype, even a video of their beloved big man jogging gets them giddy.
Bowen-Gaddy shares the enthusiasm. Though he’s spent most of the Sixers’ rebuild living in Pittsburgh, he’s continued to follow the team closely. He’s watched a lot of losses.
It’s caused him some agita over the past few seasons, and cost him a little bit of money.
Every year he bets with some of his Pittsburgh buddies over how the Sixers will fare, always taking the optimistic wager.
“We make a yearly bet of $20,” Bowen-Gaddy said. “Which I’ve yet to win.”
This season he bet the Sixers would finally make the playoffs.
“This is my year,” he said. “I’m pretty confident.”