MIAMI >> Philadelphia’s six leading average scorers so far in the playoffs, in order are: Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid, JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova.
Their homelands: Australia, Croatia, Cameroon, the United States, Italy and Turkey.
Philadelphia — a melting pot of humanity for more than 300 years — has a basketball team probably as diverse as the city itself. The 76ers, 19-1 in their last 20 games and suddenly looking very much like an NBA Finals contender, will try to close out the Miami Heat and clinch their Eastern Conference opening series when they play host to Game 5 on Tuesday night.
About a dozen languages and dialects can be spoken in the 76ers locker room at any time, but clearly, winning is a universal language.
“It’s all basketball, but the true side of how people coach, speak, say, play the game is different,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “And that collection now that I have with everybody is like is a melting pot of all peoples experiences. That equals a team. I mean, I love it. I love the geo-political conversations. I love that diversity on the court, off the court. I enjoy it.”
There might be no coach better-suited for this particular gig that Brown, too.
He spent nearly two decades living overseas, spending most of that time coaching in Australia before getting hired by the San Antonio Spurs — another franchise that has found championship ingredients from all over the world — back in 2002. Brown went to Philadelphia in 2013, took loss after loss after loss for his first four seasons when The Process was playing itself out, and now is reaping the rewards.
The 76ers are young. They’re brash. They’re fearless. And they’re legit.
“A lot of the guys growing up overseas, we have that European style of play,” Simmons said. “It’s a lot different than the U.S. style.”
Simmons is still a kid, in the NBA sense. He’s 21. But he’s already seen the world with a basketball in hand: He’s played all over Australia, represented his country in Lithuania at the FIBA World U17 Championships as a 15-year-old, ended up going to high school in Florida and spent his lone year of college at LSU.
“I’ve seen a lot,” Simmons said. “I’ve played everywhere.”
The poise shows, with the rookie shining in his first playoffs.
Embiid, also in his first playoffs and with a mask protecting his surgically repaired face, has handled playing injured with ease. Belinelli has been a steadying force since he got to Philadelphia two months ago. Saric has been doing things in these playoffs that can draw comparisons to what that countrymen Drazen Petrovic and Peja Stojakovic did before him. Ilyasova has been a key player for Philadelphia since getting rescued from Atlanta in February.
They all think differently, many learned the game differently, and the backgrounds are wildly different.
But it works.
A record 62 players from 33 countries were on playoff rosters across the NBA this season, and no one had more of them than Philadelphia — the 76ers have seven international guys with them for the postseason, matching Utah for the league lead.
“My English isn’t that good, Dario’s isn’t that good, but we try to be a great group,” Belinelli said. “And we are. We go to dinner all together, we spend a lot of time together in the locker room after practice. It’s just part of the work, I think. Having all these guys from different parts of the world, it’s a good thing.”
Brown, a coach in three Olympics, couldn’t agree more.
“This global instinct and sort of global feeling that we have in Philadelphia interests me very much,” Brown said. “I embrace it. For me, it’s another layer of why I enjoy coaching this team.”