Ah, it’s college graduation time in the Philly region.
Cue the long gowns, Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March, families visiting the city in their Sunday best to celebrate, and a newly minted graduate using his commencement ceremony to dwell on another disappointing Sixers season.
University of Pennsylvania College of Arts and Sciences grad Leo Chen, 22, went viral after he crossed a stage at the school’s Franklin Field Sunday to the requisite cheers from family and friends as his name was called, only to give a deadpan stare to a camera streaming the ceremony and flash his phone.
“Fire Doc Rivers,” read the white letters on the black screen.
Bleacher Report shared a seven-second clip Tuesday and it spread like wildfire, though Chen admits he was inspired by a grad in Massachusetts who flashed “Celtics in 7″ during his commencement ceremony.
Chen, who grew up in Paoli, is glad he could bring the Sixers fanbase a laugh in this trying offseason, though he had a target audience of one. Chen hoped to bring some levity to his 12-year-old brother Teddy, who had to sit through the three-hour ceremony on the night before a math test and a big basketball night — the NBA playoffs featured two big game 7s, neither of which included the Sixers.
“[Teddy’s] just a diehard Sixers fan, diehard Philadelphia sports fan, and I knew he would appreciate it,” said Chen.
The stunt got approval from the 12-year-old as well as a slew of Sixers fans in different stages of the grieving process after another second-round playoff exit for the team.
Chen said the comedy bit is rooted in a family desire for the Sixers not to waste superstar Joel Embiid’s prime.
Chen maintains Doc Rivers is an average coach, a choker in high-stakes games, and you can’t count his championship run with the 2008 Boston Celtics because the team was simply “flooded with insane talent,” including Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
What’s more, Rivers’ emphasis on isolation play limits the offense, Chen said, and the coach is reticent to develop his younger players, entrusting veteran players with more minutes than necessary in the regular season.
The latter is a take that other Sixers fans like Avi Wolfman-Arent – a WHYY host and education reporter when not tweeting out basketball analyses — have echoed.
Take Paul Reed’s crucial performance during the Miami series. The general consensus among the fanbase is that Reed was a surefire upgrade from DeAndre Jordan during Embiid-less minutes. Still, Reed struggled with fouls, an issue fans like Wolfman-Arent argue could have been worked on with more regular-season gameplay — something Miami does well.
Wolfman-Arent calculated Miami players like Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, who have been with the Heat roughly as long as Reed’s been with the Sixers, logged more than 500 minutes each in their first full seasons with the team. Reed didn’t break 500 minutes of regular-season play in his first two seasons combined.
Chen has heard complaints about the Sixers’ depth, but he doesn’t entirely agree.
“We just kind of have this old school establishment, really traditional, ‘Hey, you got to prove yourself before getting on the court,’” said Chen.
Chen has also grown tired of what he characterizes as a slow type of play from Rivers that relies too much on isolation basketball, which can be ground to a halt with double and triple teams.
“It doesn’t help when Doc talks back to reporters and makes excuses for failures of coaching,” said Chen, referencing instances where Rivers has gotten defensive in response to coaching questions.
Or adding Reed minutes.
Chen said it feels like Rivers is another version of predecessor Brett Brown, fired after a first-round sweep at the hands of the Celtics in 2020.
So far, the Sixers organization has not given any indication they’ll oust Rivers. But Chen and Teddy can always dream.
Chen’s ideal Sixers coach is recently retired Villanova coach Jay Wright — emphasis on ideal because of the longshot nature of the dream. Chen said the coach is used to developing young players who are about to enter their prime playing years.
If you think Chen, a recent college grad, is speaking out of turn, or another “crazed Philly fan,” reconsider what drives his madness.
“We’re frustrated, we have really high expectations for all of our sports teams, especially the Sixers with the talent that we have,” said Chen. “The energy of the city when we got [James] Harden] was just like the pope coming back to Philadelphia. And it just sucked to look at the season and see how it ended. It just feels like it’s the same thing over and over, and over again.”