Tha Sports Junkies 101

Brotherly Love for Nerlens Noel Unwarranted

Nerlens Noel Patricia 12 via Wikimedia Commons

NBA

Why is Nerlens Noel So Beloved In The City Of Brotherly Love?

Let the Right One In

Much has been written, told and exaggerated regarding the passionate Philadelphia fan base. No doubt, a hardcore, critical bunch. However, as a local athlete, if you are part of the chosen few to have made your way into the fans’ good graces, they truly live up to the city’s “Brotherly Love” credo with a staunch show of unconditional support. The Mt. Rushmore of players in recent history to avoid the world-renown ire of Philly fans are as follows: Hall of Fame candidate Brian Dawkins (Eagles), Hall of Famer Allen Iverson (76ers), World Series Champion Chase Utley (Phillies) and Nerlens Noel (76er … wait, what!?)

Nerlens Noel? That guy that missed his entire rookie season in 2013-14? Continues to be injury-prone?  Averaged only a tick above 10 PPG and a modest 7.6 RPG (Essentially only averaging one more RPG than ex-teammate Jahlil Okafor who gets chastised by fans for being a weak rebounder)? These items somehow add up to Noel having attained a groundswell of support from a notoriously tough crowd?

The Departed

When it was announced just before the NBA trade deadline that the Sixers would ship off their one-time first round draft pick — even knowing that one or a few bigs had to be moved due to the current logjam on their roster — fans absolutely lost their minds. It just seems like the fan reaction is disproportionate to the player’s worth. Noel sent out a heartfelt appreciative tweet thanking Philly fans, post-trade which set off the virtual equivalent of Sixers faithful showing up in droves to lay flowers upon this legend’s tombstone.

To be clear, I am very happy to know that Philly has left an indelible impression on Noel which will last a lifetime. I would bet that he will not receive the same adulation at any other stops throughout his career, save Boston — Thats a win for a fanbase with negative public perception. My main issue is to figure out exactly how he has managed to endear himself while lacking impact on the court, tenure and winning.

The Lives of Others

Noel never was a part of a winning campaign nor close to a playoff berth. No “big moment” type plays that have been etched into the minds of fans. Not his fault, but almost all beloved Philly figures have some kind of winning attached to their existence. Hell, even former Eagles complimentary wide receiver, Freddie Mitchell converted “4th & 26” in a divisional playoff game vs the Green Bay Packers in 2004, easily one of the most memorable plays in Philadelphia sports history. It’s safe to say “FredEx” is not wholly loved by the local fans.

There are only two players of recent memory that will forever have a special bond with fans despite their abbreviated stints. Mitchell’s counterpart, Terrell Owens and Philadelphia Phillies outfielder, Aaron Rowand. Owens played approximately one and a half seasons in Philly, Rowand only one. However, there is absolutely no mystery as to how they were able to capture the imagination of so many, as both were examples of that certain Philly grit and toughness.

Hobbled by a leg injury, Owens famously gutted out a 9-catch, 122-yard performance in Super Bowl XXXIX vs the New England Patriots. Aaron Rowand made his mark (literally) by running headfirst into the outfield wall tracking a line drive. He sacrificed his face to make the catch. Bloodied and black eyes. That’s all Philly right there. And on top of just the examples mentioned, Owens is a Hall of Fame candidate and Rowand was an All-Star.

Which Way Is Up?

So again, why the overwhelming support for Nerlens Noel?

No larger-than-life moments, linked to losing, no longevity, no accolades, not even a unique public persona. Nothing jumps out. Do fans get his back just simply because he was at the very beginning of the “The Process?” (not necessarily trying to win games in order to gain draft assets). Are they sympathizing with him suffering through the build just like they have during his tenure?

To be clear, the return on the trade that sent Noel packing is not what I’m questioning here. I really didn’t like the move. And this was difficult to write without sounding like I dislike him or don’t see value in his game. I wish for him to be utilized in a way that accentuates his talent. But his unexceptional run in Philly compared to the exaggerated fan outlook is something I truly do not understand.

Why do you think Nerlens Noel earned the embrace of typically hard-to-please Philadelphia fans?