She was in Atlanta Sunday night, and she wanted to talk about the 76ers’ winning streak.
Granted, it was a modest winning streak. Philadelphia had won one in a row, after trouncing the Pistons 123-98 on Saturday night. Before that, the Sixers had been on a 26-game losing streak, which tied an NBA record. So I finally caught Molly Sullivan on a good night.
Sullivan, who was an excellent swimmer at Green Valley High and at the University of North Carolina (she was a four-time NCAA qualifier in the 1650 freestyle), is in her second season as 76ers sideline reporter for Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.
You’ve heard of that movie about backup singers called “20 Feet From Stardom?” Well, Sullivan has spent the basketball season 20 feet (or thereabouts) from futility.
She said though she grew up around UNLV football — her parents Tom and Debbie still live here — and covered the Rebels for the The Mtn. sports network, there is nothing that can prepare one for 26 consecutive losses.
I mentioned that some of us old-timers remember Fred Carter and the 1973 “Nine and 73ers,” who finished 9-73. But that was long before she was born. Anyway, the most games in a row those 76ers lost was 20.
Sullivan, a pretty face who does her homework, said it had started so well, too — people might have forgotten that Philadelphia opened the season by beating LeBron and Miami 114-110.
She said you could feel the angst as the 76ers warmed up to play the Pistons, who aren’t very good, either. As she pointed out, the 76ers are the youngest team in NBA history, but young players have pride, too.
A “total sense of urgency,” she called it.
“At the half, I said to (Sixers coach) Brett Brown — he had said that he didn’t look at the guys any differently throughout the streak — ‘Look, you don’t look at the guys any differently, but can you see anything different in their eyes?’ And he said yes. That tonight there is a sense of urgency, and you could sense that.
“They didn’t want to be the team (to singularly own the longest losing streak; the Cleveland Cavaliers also lost 26 in a row in 2010-11). Nobody wants to be associated with that.”
It’s been a tough run, one that an old pro like Mad Dog Carter could relate to but one that will mess with the psyche of a young team that is building for the future.
“I think if the losses would have been sprinkled out over the season, it would have been different,” Sullivan said.
But a lot of the futility has been by design.
The decision was made to gut the Sixers’ roster (which at one time this season listed 10 first- or second-year players and various guys on 10-day contracts), lose a bunch of games, and then take a chance with the pingpong balls in the NBA Draft lottery.
So this is sort of like Rommel during the invasion of France — a tank job, at least administratively. This year’s 76ers pretty much were set up to fail.
“They’re on a different path,” Sullivan says of the young players, which is a sideline reporter’s way of saying they were set up to fail.
Sullivan said the players were total pros during the losing streak, at least off the court. They were easy to deal with, she said, and so for the most part was Brown, their rookie coach.
For the most part.
At halftime of consecutive loss No. 26, the unsinkable Molly Sullivan asked a submerged Brett Brown how the Sixers planned to overcome a 14-deficit against the Rockets.
“I have no idea,” he said.
Or this exchange, at halftime against the Bucks, after the 11th loss in a row:
Molly: “Coach, as you continue to develop the players you’ve invested so much time in, (you’re) now also developing three new Sixers. What do you emphasize here on defense?”
Brett: “To play it.”
On Feb. 9 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Sixers trailed the Clippers 69-30 at halftime.
They were down 39. At halftime.
So Sullivan refrained from asking Brown about the emphasis on defense. She might have asked herself what Erin Andrews would do in that situation.
“I said to Brett, look, from day one, you’ve wanted to install accountability,” she said about what one asks an NBA coach at halftime when his team is trailing by 39. “What I did is bring it back to what he said in his opening press conference in August.”
The Sixers were a little more accountable in the second half. They lost by 45.
Though it has been a brutal year to report from the 76ers’ sideline, Sullivan said she’s still having a great time doing it.
She says she loves Philadelphia, loves the fans there, has yet to be booed.
Recently, this one fan said he drove five hours from West Virginia just to see her. He made a poster about it, and Molly Sullivan said he wasn’t creepy.
Not at all, she said. She said he was a Sixers fan named Paul, and that he has a nice family. She put his picture up on her Facebook page.
But it didn’t look like he could play defense, either.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.