Gathered in a ballroom in downtown Charleston on Sept. 26, the 2022-23 Philadelphia 76ers shared their first team meal.
There, historian Dr. Bernard E. Powers Jr., Ph.D — who would be one of the team’s hosts for the week — addressed the team, offering an introduction to Charleston’s history. , formerly the site of the largest slave port in the United States.
“We have a lot to learn about those who came before us, those who paved the way for us,” Dr Powers said. “It’s important for young people to imbibe the values of the people who made the history we are learning.”
The evening lecture, an introduction to Charleston’s role as the epicenter of the American slave trade, provided a stark contrast to the morning’s agenda.
Just eight hours prior, the team had gathered in Camden, NJ, for its annual media day.
But for Doc Rivers, who designed the team’s training camp away from home, morning obligations and evening events were carefully matched.
“It’s a season for us, not for me,” Tyrese Maxey said that morning in Camden, speaking to the Philadelphia media.
Rivers had delivered this slogan to the team a few minutes earlier, during their morning meeting.
At the end of the media day circuit, the group flew directly to Charleston – the site where the team would begin to forge that “we”.
For Rivers, camp away from home has always been versatile. Uninterrupted time on the pitch, opportunities to bond with the we, and a historical and cultural immersion that began with Dr. Powers’ evening lecture.
“I was very intrigued by the prospect of trying to make a contribution to this important and historic visit the 76ers made here to Charleston,” Powers said. “It’s really something I’m honored to do.”
And as official training at the Citadel began the following morning, off-pitch priorities also remained front and center:
Maxey described the following afternoon, which became evening, spending hours with his teammates at the hotel – talking, playing cards, breaking bread.
The following day, instead of a second practice, the team embarked on a historic three-legged tour, led by Rivers and Dr. Powers.
“It was powerful, it was moving, it was profound,” Shake Milton said of the afternoon that followed. “I feel like it was something everyone needed to see.”
The team’s first stop was The museum of the former slave market, the first museum in the United States on the history of slavery. The museum is located on the site of Ryan’s Mart, Charleston’s main site for public slave auctions before the Civil War.
“The most telling thing for me is the dollar amount they were purchased for,” Tobias Harris said. “When we started hearing those numbers, it was eye-opening to hear them and feel them. ‘Wow, someone was bought off for $450. That’s awful. was the time.
“Professor Powers told us that at one point several people in the room [ancestors] had probably passed through Charleston, ”said Matisse Thybulle. “I think for 99% of us we had no idea that was the central hub. To be in that space, surrounded by so many black men, was very powerful.
“They talked about the fact that the bricks themselves were made by the slaves, and you could see the fingerprints of the people who made them. To be able to stand and look at where someone’s fingers were – the person who was being bought, sold and separated from their family – was a very moving experience.
The team’s second stop was the next African American International Museum (scheduled to open January 21, 2023), where players and staff had the opportunity to preview the museum which will showcase centuries of African American history.
“We [talk] about how you can use South Carolina as a base to understand the African-American experience in the United States,” said Powers — who is the museum’s acting chief executive.
“But beyond that, we convey the major point that the black experience is not limited to the borders of the United States, but has important international connections.”
The museum is on the former site of Gadsden’s Wharf, once the point of entry into the United States for up to 40% of all American slaves.
This is where Thybulle, whose father is Haitian, found a special connection to his own history.
“The museum had a section on Haiti and their history in slavery. For me, being a Haitian-American, that was really meaningful. Their story is one most people don’t know, in that they had a successful rebellion against the country that was trying to colonize them – the French – and broke free. It’s an incredible story that we don’t often talk about.
Powers was proud to serve as a conduit for these connections.
“They are highly accomplished, All-Star athletes who know how to soar, fly through the air – but in doing so, they are propelled forward not only by their own power, but by the power of those who came before them and helped pave the way for them.
A message taken up by Joel Embiid.
“It was good to learn about the history, slavery and all that happened with my people – my African people – coming here, the people who gave their lives so that we could be in this position” , Embiid said. “It was great to learn all of this.”
Dr. Powers’ goal of teaching international connections has also resonated with fellow international Sixer Furkan Korkmaz.
“I’m glad I was part of this group that was trying to learn,” Korkmaz said. “History is history. It doesn’t matter what country you are from or what religion you are part of, you just need to learn it. It gives you more vision.
The tour ended at The Avery Research Centerwhere the team viewed works by local artists, were treated to a Gullah Geechee meal by celebrity chef BJ Dennis, and continued to reflect.
“It was cool not only to have so many black men experience it, but also to be led by a black man in our trainer, Doc Rivers, and to feel how important it was to him. and how important it was to us, first-hand,” Thybulle said. “Doc said it’s important to learn history so you don’t repeat it.”
“[Doc] is a real leader for this team and wants to set the right tone,” Powers said of his work with Rivers. “He realizes that the team members come from all over the country, that they bring different experiences and that they are not from here. It’s such an important place in terms of the African American experience. He wanted to be able to relate that experience to the team members. As a history teacher, I really appreciated that.
The conversations sparked that day came back to the hotel with the team, and beyond.
“I know when I got back to the hotel it was a lot to take in,” Harris said. “When we were up close, getting real historical information, I know I spoke to a lot of guys – their hearts were really heavy.”
“For me personally, that was huge,” Milton said. “I came home, called my mum and we talked about it too. It was powerful. I’m really happy to have been able to experience this. »
Korkmaz and Thybulle thought together.
“Matisse is a good friend of mine, so we really talked,” Korkmaz said. “I didn’t hesitate to ask questions because I wanted to learn. I really wanted to learn. It should come from your heart.
“Now when people talk on TV, when my teammates talk, now I really know what we’re talking about. It’s really important to understand, and it also helps people to know each other. We are all part of the story.
For his final training camp workout, Dr. Powers addressed the team on the field alongside Rivers.
“Remember, these people were captive Africans, yes, but their spirits weren’t broken,” Powers said. “They came from many places, but when they came here they became a new people.”
Rivers and Dr. Powers stood in the center of the last camp group. Harris delivered the final “threesome” of the week.
“I think the big message from training camp was resilience,” Harris said. “Seeing what our ancestors went through and understanding better, but also knowing that we play basketball with the same values that we should bring to our sport as a team – resilience and perseverance.”