The most overlooked aspect Sixers & Markelle Fultz saga is easily the most worrying

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The Sixers can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to the immediate impact of their rookies. Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz all spent their rookie years in very different ways in comparison to what the world expected. But Fultz was different. Fultz is different. For over a year now, we have seen nothing but criticism, mockery and the most intensive spying I have ever see on one aspect of a player’s game, purely because of his reputation and it has revealed a side to pro sports that many don’t talk about.

Social media can be a vicious place, even for the kindest of souls. But when you’re in the public eye, it’s even more so. The definition of trolling has moved from strange pictures with that annoying large font sprawled over it, to videos, images and borderline bullying of an individual. Just because said player has a blue checkmark next to their name, it doesn’t mean you can get away with whatever atrocity you’re typing out because it would be lost in the floods of people doing the same. It’s very likely that Fultz, who actively pinned an old and very interesting tweet to his profile earlier today, has heard all the noise. In fact, how could he not?!

Every shootaround for the last six months has been met with media filming his jumpshots on their phone. Every warmup has been met with fans doing the same. When I covered the NBA London game earlier this year, people were so focused on Fultz and trying to record his broken down throwing mechanic that it felt alien to me. The kid is 20-years old and yes his rookie year was bizarre and yes his shot was well and truly deconstructed but does it really need a daily entry from every beat writer on the planet, reading

‘Dear Diary,

Today, Markelle threw the ball and his arms didn’t look as funny. Sometimes the ball went in. This is an improvement over yesterday where they looked a little funnier, but not as funny as a week ago. This is fun.’

The answer is absolutely not. But here we are, months later and not a damn thing has changed. I understand that Fultz is a first overall pick and while the likes of Mr Tatum continue to thrive, the weight of a trade-up for a guard who can’t shoot baffles everyone. But this is a 20-year old kid, having his profession micro-managed to levels I have never seen.

From conspiracies about nerve damage and getting ‘the yips’, to mental health and the Sixers training staff, it probably all plays a part. But ask yourself this, next time you retweet a video of Fultz trying to shoot a basketball. Is it really worth it? Is ‘that’ much really going to change in the space of a few days?

Nobody knows why Fultz had his shooting mechanic broken down, but many of you reading this have jobs or go to school. Many of you know what it’s like to work for an annoying Boss that won’t leave you alone and antagonizes you. Many of you made a lot of mistakes at 20 years old and many have probably battled mental health issues at some point. But what if you took all of those factors, put them into a bottle of Coke and dropped a Mentos sweet into it? That wouldn’t even begin to describe the pressure that this second-year player is under right now.

Imagine, every time you check your twitter, your mentions are flooded with people mocking your profession, something you’ve dedicated your life to. Fans calling you out, tagging their friends. Media members quick to make a quick 30 second video for a few thousand instagram hits and before you know it, your face is everywhere. Every time you go to shoot a free throw, you know the whole world have their phones at the ready, just licking their lips at a shot at bouncing a few retweets off of your name.

I found it difficult at 20 to handle criticism about my work. People would often downplay my credibility due to being based in England or downright insult my craft and it used to weigh so heavy on my mind. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how much damage this pressure-cooker is having on the career and stability of Markelle Fultz.

Nobody knows what’s wrong, but there is every chance that some underlying nerve damage could be impacting his play, hence the inconsistency in mechanic. It could be mental health, it could be injury or it could be everything. But in a world of instant gratification where it’s easier to hide behind a screen and disrespect than it is to take a minute to put yourself in another’s shoes, what if we’re all to blame in part?

For Fultz to still go out there and play his heart out every single night is staggering. I can’t think of many people at all who could handle that kind of negative spotlight constantly bearing down on them. Forget stats and shooting for the time being, we’re talking about a young man who is still finding his way through life, facing a sense of pressure greater than most of us could ever think of experiencing.

Before you send that ‘house of highlights’ video to your friend next time, just think to yourself…could you handle getting home after work and seeing a mistake you made being shared by thousands of people and laughed at? Could you see it every single night? If not, I think it’s time to focus on some internal mechanics, while Fultz focuses on building external ones.

 

 

Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

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