Jake Fischer Trusts ‘The Process’

Jake Fischer | Courtesy of Jake Fischer

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid scored 30 points in a first-round playoff victory over the Washington Wizards on May 23. To 76ers fans, it was an auspicious beginning to the team’s quest for an NBA championship, which would be the franchise’s first since the 1982-’83 season.

Having entered this year’s playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, hopes are, understandably, quite high.

To Jake Fischer, the performance by Embiid and the rest of his teammates is the culmination of much more than one season of high-level basketball. The author of the new book “Built to Lose: How the NBA’s Tanking Era Changed the League Forever” sees the first-game victory as another chapter in a story that begins years ago, one that he’s been itching to tell.

Fischer, 27, lives in Brooklyn, where he writes about the NBA for Bleacher Report. Previously, Fischer worked for Sports Illustrated, and his writing has appeared in GQ, The Washington Post and SLAM Magazine, among other publications.

Much like the story of Embiid and the 76ers, Fischer’s story doesn’t start with wild successes. Unlike the team’s 7-foot-3 center from Cameroon, his begins at Cherry Hill East High School.

Fischer was “somewhat of an OK basketball player” in high school, by his lights, competing in regional Maccabi Games and in the local JCC league, too. When it became apparent that he probably wouldn’t be taking his talents to the collegiate level, Fischer decided to devote more of his time to working on communications for his USY region, Hagesher (now called Mizrach). He also decided that he would pursue a career that was slightly easier to break into than professional basketball: writing.

He got his start writing for Eastside, the school newspaper. After he graduated in 2012, heading off to Northeastern University, Fischer landed an internship at SLAM, the legendary basketball publication that he’d dreamed of working for one day. Through his school’s co-op program, he was also able to cover high school basketball for The Boston Globe.

In between those gigs, Fischer started to write a little bit for Liberty Ballers, a local 76ers blog. That was 2013, which happened to be the year that the team hired a Houston Rockets executive named Sam Hinkie to be the general manager.

That’s where Fischer’s story and that of his book begin to converge.

Hinkie deployed an aggressive tanking strategy, losing as many games as possible over multiple seasons in order to acquire a slew of high draft picks. Players of value were quickly flipped for future draft picks; the team became a repository for every other team’s second-rounders. To many observers, and some in the league office, “The Process,” as it came to be known, flew in the face of competition.

To Fischer and others, The Process was a chance to give the team the best possible shot at winning an NBA championship: drafting an elite player with a high draft pick. One of those elite players, drafted by Hinkie, was Embiid.

For years, Fischer observed from afar as Hinkie’s strategy seemed to have massive ramifications for the rest of the league. Since he was fired in the spring of 2016, Fischer sensed, Hinkie’s team-building philosophy was increasingly seen as more than the fringe views of a short-lived front office executive. Maybe, rather than being foolhardy or anti-competitive, there was something visionary in what he’d tried to do.

Courtesy of Triumph Books

In 2019, Fischer’s time at Sports Illustrated came to an unfortunate end after Authentic Brands Group, a brand management company, bought the magazine and laid off 40 employees. The year before, Fischer had started to put together some notes for a book about The Process and the league-wide reactions to it, and he decided to take the opportunity to press forward with
the project.

Over the next few years, Fischer interviewed more than 300 agents, players, coaches and front office executives for “Built to Lose,” which he wrote covering the period of Hinkie’s 2013-’16 tenure. The book retells old, forgotten stories and brings to light new elements of what Fischer argues is a formative era of contemporary NBA team-building.

With the onset of the pandemic, Fischer was able to lock himself in his room and write until he couldn’t anymore. He feels lucky to have had something to keep himself busy during those early days of lockdown.

Now that “Built to Lose,” published by Triumph Books, is out, Fischer believes the story he’s told makes it clear that there’s no better alternative for small market NBA teams than Sam Hinkie’s tear-it-down team-building method. Thus far, the reception has been positive.

“I definitely was confident that people would like it,” Fischer said, “But now that the work is out there and people are enjoying it, it’s definitely really rewarding.”

jbernstein@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740


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