By: Chris O’Brien
I was watching the Warriors vs. 76ers game on Saturday night. I was looking down at my phone when I heard the sideline reporter say the following:
“I caught up with M. Night Shyamalan here…”
You did what now?
I looked up at the screen, then did a quick rewind. Still photo above. (Copyright NBCSports, NBA League Pass)
Turns out M. Night Shyamalan, the director of Signs and Sixth Sense, is a Philadelphia guy; a big 76ers fan. He cried when Dr. J retired. His daughter has even sung the national anthem (and she crushed it!)
And so, of course, this sent me down a rabbit hole. I wondered, especially since M. Night had such an early peak in his career, then a long struggle, then a little bit of a comeback the last two years, could one make the case that his career runs parallel with the 76ers?
Check this out.
Sixth Sense – 1999
76ers ’99-00 season – 49-33, lost in the Eastern Conference semis
Signs – 2002
76ers ’00-01 season – 56-26, lost in the NBA Finals.
The Village – 2004. This unofficially marked the end of “M. Night is the next Spielberg” and began a long dry-spell.
76ers ’04-05 season – 43-39, lost first round of the playoffs. They would not finish above .500 again until 2011-12.
M. Night from 2004 to 2013, directed: Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth.
Those movies’ Rotten Tomatoes scores, in the order above: 25% / 18% / 6% / 11%
Few things to point out. It’s not like M. Night had terrible rosters during this span. His leading men included Paul Giamatti (fresh off Cinderella Man), Mark Wahlberg (fresh off The Departed and Shooter), Dev Patel (fresh off Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire) and the seemingly unstoppable box-office force of Will Smith.
Kind of similar to how the 76ers had Iverson and then a young, future NBA Finals MVP (hey, it’s true) Andre Iguodala. Eh? A little bit of a stretch? Yeah, probably.
Second thing, Will Smith has been cursed since After Earth. Hasn’t been able to crack even a 60% on Rotten Tomatoes ever since teaming up with M. Night. His box office numbers have struggled too, the only time Smith cracked over $100 mil was Suicide Squad, and that one he was part of an ensemble cast vs. it being a “Will Smith movie.”
Third, hidden in M. Night’s tough run of low-performing movies was one called Devil that M. Night didn’t direct but he wrote the story. It scored a 52% which, sure that’s not a high score, but it is an outlier next to 25/18/6/11. That movie was released in 2010, a year the 76ers went 41-41, barely making the playoffs.
Not great, not good, but a solid season nevertheless.
In 2013, the Philadelphia 76ers started “The Process.” It was time to unapologetically tank, be as bad as humanly possible and just try to get No. 1 draft picks. The blueprint to follow was Oklahoma City. If you could stay in the Top 5 picks every year, maybe you could end up with Durant, Westbrook, and James Harden. General Manager Sam Hinkie was in charge and hired Gregg Popovich disciple Brett Brown to be the head coach.
From 2013 through 2016, the 76ers were bad. Real bad. Like 47-199 bad. But it was all about trusting the process. They drafted Joel Embiid in 2014, and now they had their franchise cornerstone, who might just be the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon. In 2016, they drafted Ben Simmons.
Unfortunately, Embiid battled injuries, missed almost 2 1/2 seasons. Same thing with Simmons who missed the entire 2016-17 season.
But there was new hope. Reason to believe in a bright future. Reason to “Trust the Process.”
And right there sitting courtside, up and close to the action, was none other than M. Night Shyamalan. A quiet resurgence was underway.
In 2015, there was The Visit, a creative thriller about grandparents trying to kill their grandkids. Sixty-five percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a solid $56.5 million box office. Two years later, Split hit 74% and a truly impressive $138.2 million box office (+ just a ton of office buzz. I would overhear a lot of, “Dude, did you see Split!? Movie was crazy.” That type of buzz hadn’t existed since Signs.)
The 76ers now have two of the brightest young stars in the league, both comfortably under 25-years-old. Both under contract for years. Together, comparisons are made to Penny and Shaq. And this may be hyperbole, probably is, but individually Ben Simmons is compared to Magic Johnson. Embiid compared to Hakeem.
Think about that! While ESPN continues to obsess over Lonzo Ball, Philadelphia may quietly have a young Magic teamed up with a young Hakeem, plus a great coach, and a bunch of solid role players. They might not be far away from competing for the Eastern Conference title. Especially a couple of years from now in either a post-LeBron world (if King goes to the Lakers) or a 36-year-old LeBron (if he stays.)
And the last time Philly was competing for the Eastern Conference crown, M. Night was doing his best work, making Sixth Sense and Signs.
For fans of M. Night Shyamalan, or former fans who have given up, I have three words for you:
Trust the process.
I thought this was going to be just me posting that video and moving on. Now I’m fascinated by this whole concept. What would it look like to view Lakers courtside Superfan Jack Nicholson’s career next to the Los Angeles Lakers seasons? Or how about Spike Lee next to the Knicks? Future posts to come!