Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are quickly becoming the NBA’s most exciting duo, and their precocious play could take the Philadelphia 76ers on a surprising run this postseason.
The deeper they go, the more high-profile their games will get, which means a growing number of hoops fans will probably be left asking, “Why is there a snake on the court?”
Take out your American history textbooks and turn to page 76.
The midcourt logo of a segmented snake wrapped around the Liberty Bell is part of a playoff campaign dubbed “Phila Unite.” It’s an homage to a famous drawing by Benjamin Franklin, the Founding Father and longtime Philly resident who graces $100 bills and can be found dribbling a basketball on a 76ers alternate logo.
Before all that, Franklin’s snake drawing was published in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1754 as what’s commonly considered America’s first political cartoon. His snake is cut into eight segments, each representing an American colony (or region, in the case of New England) with the phrase “Join, or Die” written below it. The image accompanied Franklin’s persuasive editorial about the “disunited state,” delivering a message during the French and Indian War that America would be strongest if united. Back then, word was a severed snake could be resurrected if the pieces were reattached before sunset.
The 76ers’ use of the snake is a tour de force in ethos-driven branding for a team that has been resurrected this season after an especially painful rebuilding process.
“Ben Franklin used the snake to represent the colonies uniting for freedom. That spirit is woven into the fabric of Philadelphia and the 76ers,” a voice says in a promotional video the team tweeted before the postseason. Coach Brett Brown then chimes in with passionate speech about basketball and revolutions and togetherness.
When a franchise wins just 75 games over four seasons, then emerges as a 52-win group this year, it’s easy to buy into the hype. With Simmons producing a stunning (redshirt) rookie season and Embiid becoming the (masked) face of the franchise’s revolution, the 76ers lead the Miami Heat, 3-1, as the best-of-seven series shifts back to Philadelphia tonight. Tune in and you’ll see a snake on the floor.
It appears elsewhere, too.
The new logo was stitched on the team’s City Edition shorts all season but was sort of a mystery because of its placement on an inside flap. More conspicuously, the logo is splashed across Philadelphia on several murals and a 50-foot-by-50-foot banner hanging on the outside of the team’s arena.
The 76ers aren’t the first Philly team to go serpentine. The Philadelphia Union of MLS have a snake on their logo and boast a team motto of “Jungite aut Perite” — Latin for “Join, or Die.” It hasn’t caught on quite as virally as “Trust the Process,” the rallying cry for 76ers fans after all the losing they had to watch.
The 76ers hadn’t reached the playoffs since 2012, when a young team coached by Doug Collins upset the Chicago Bulls in the first round before falling victim to the Boston Celtics in Round 2. Neither the Sixers nor the Celtics have any players remaining from that series, but they could meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals this spring. The Celtics resume their first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks, tied 2-2, tonight in Boston.
Regardless of which team wins that series, the Sixers — if they can close out the Heat — will likely be the favorite in their matchup in the next round. Ahead of schedule in its rebuild and with two future MVP candidates on the roster, Philadelphia appears to be one of the NBA’s best-equipped teams for a long run of success.
So get used to that snake at midcourt — it could slither into many playoff series over the next few years.