Seltzer's Notebook | 'Family Day' Facilitates Culture Building, New Tone at Practice

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

‘Family Day’ a Big Day for Brown

Soon after the large, grown men on the Sixers’ roster finished dribbling and shooting on the floor of their practice gym Sunday, they were replaced by several youngsters, adolescents, and teenagers doing the same. 

Outside the team’s headquarters in Camden, dozens of people milled about. Underneath the covered spaces in the parking lot, conversations were exchanged at high-top tables and in lounge areas, all while fare was served at food stations, music played, and NFL games were being shown on TVs.

A few yards away, attendees young and old could take runs through an inflatable corn maze. The mini-golf course set up on the lawn connecting the two entrances to the Sixers’ basketball operations building seemed like an enticing activity, too.

What, pre tell, was going on Sunday afternoon at the Sixers’ training complex? This was the latest iteration of ‘Family Day,’ the brainchild of Brett Brown, and now-yearly tradition for players, coaches, basketball operations staff, management, and ownership.

Typically held the weekend before the regular season begins, the gathering represents one of several signature culture-building initiatives that the head coach has rolled out during his tenure in Philadelphia.

“I think it’s a rare opportunity to get all the families together - wives, children, moms, dads, close friends - and bring them here to our facility, meet each other, and enjoy the day before the season gets started,” said Brown, entering his fifth season with the Sixers.

Since his arrival, Brown’s mission has been not only to grow a sustained winner, but “a culture that lives ‘family.’”

“Everybody talks about it,” he said, “but you have to be it.”

Heading back inside to the Sixers’ practice courts Sunday, Managing General Partner Josh Harris; his wife, Marjorie; and one of their five children could be found sharing a laugh with big man Joel Embiid. Co-Managing General Partner David Blitzer chatted with several assistant coaches. Off in a corner, parents and siblings of prized prospects Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz traded introductions.

As much as Brown preaches defense, pace, and space, the 56-year old father of three immerses himself in the relational side of his profession, relying on a human touch to develop and implement events like ‘Family Day’ that could ultimately become long-lasting, enduring traditions.

Other such examples include Brown’s free ‘Coach the Coaches’ clinics; intimate ‘Front Row’ dinners for season-ticket holders; ‘Chalk Talk’ Q-and-As at The Center on home gamedays; and the pre-season media luncheon he hosts for reporters every fall.

You won’t come across many NBA head coaches who spearhead functions like these, let alone genuinely consider them to be meaningful.

When it came to Sunday’s ‘Family Day,’ Amir Johnson, the 13-year veteran forward who signed with the Sixers in July, was impressed.

“This is one of the first times I ever heard of a ‘Family Day’ for a team. I really think it’s awesome, just meet everybody’s families, see the kids come in and play. I think it’s a great day, and gives a chance for the team to relax and unwind, meet everybody, and treat it like a family atmosphere.”

“The 76ers organization and the ownership group are fantastic in providing the resources for us,” Brown said about ‘Family Day.’ “It’s a great way to start the season, and it’s great I think for everybody to have the opportunity to meet the closest people in their lives. It’s important for me, the club, and I think Josh and David are incredible when it comes to these cultural pieces that we want to continue to grow.”

Practice Pointers

That the Sixers practiced Sunday was nothing new. The team, after all, has been together - working out and playing games (albeit of the exhibition variety) - for the better part of two and a half weeks now.

Making the dynamic different, however, was that the club’s 80-minute session was its first gathering since the 2017-2018 regular season roster was finalized. Furthermore, it marked the Sixers’ first opportunity to really jump into preparations for Wednesday’s opener at Washington.

The mood in Camden subsequently changed.

“Big time,” said Amir Johnson. “The season’s about to start. It’s time when we definitely got to clean up things, realizing things are going to start counting.”

As a result, Brett Brown sharpened his tone. According to Johnson, the head coach keyed in particularly on the Sixers’ guarding against blowbys, and tightening up their transition defense.

“The intensity was way, way, way higher,” said rookie Markelle Fultz. “A lot of the plays we have, you have to know them. Coach was on it. You can tell it’s getting closer to the first game.”

“Solid,” “smart,” “disciplined” were buzzwords that Brown mentioned following Sunday’s practice.

Brown knows the Sixers are relatively young, and excited to begin the upcoming campaign. He likes the group’s swagger, and wants it to play freely. On the other hand, his goal is to make sure the fine details don’t get overlooked.

“I’m happy with the work we’ve put in,” said Brown. “We’ve ticked boxes for a while, now we just got to get it done.”

“We got two more days of practice,” Johnson said. “We’re going to get better.”

Embiid Reflects on Preseason

Joel Embiid’s pre-season might have only consisted of about 29 and a half minutes of basketball spread out over the 76ers’ final two games, but in that window of time, he still was able to take advantage of valuable live reps. 

The big man found the experience to be beneficial.

“I needed it,” Embiid said Friday in Kansas City.

That night, he and the Sixers powered past the Miami Heat, 119-95, to close their exhibition slate with a second consecutive victory. Embiid accounted for 5 points and 7 rebounds, and finished the preseason with 27 points, 14 boards, and 2 blocks overall. 

“I still have to work on a lot of stuff,” said Embiid. “I just got to build on the [things] that [coaches are] going to need me to, be the best player I can be, and the leader that they want me to.”

Particularly on the heels of his explosive pre-season debut Wednesday versus Brooklyn, Embiid thought his defense could use some fine-tuning. There were two instances in which the Nets established themselves deep in the paint, and scored. 

“I respect how critical he is of himself,” Brett Brown said last week. “Positionally, he’s fine. I’m always challenging our bigs to be more vocal. The game is so fast, there’s multiple pick and rolls.”

On the whole, Brown felt Embiid has performed well.

“Given what he’s been through, I think he’s exceeded my expectations,” Brown said Friday. “We’ll all make better judgement of how far along is he really when you really plan an NBA game. To-date, he’s taken the opportunities he’s had, made the most of them, he’s put in work. He’s been a complete pro with trying to learn and get his body and his cardio right under the guidelines that have been given to him.”

“It was good to get out there,” said Embiid. “I felt good out there. Everything is fine, and I’m happy, excited about the season.”