- Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Staff Writer
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PHILADELPHIA -- With about 40 seconds remaining, the thousands of fans who remained until the end hoping not to witness history stood up and delivered a rousing standing ovation.
If ever a standing O sounded like a sigh of relief, this was it.
By winning for the first time since Jan. 29, the Sixers avoided setting the record for most consecutive losses in the history of any of the four major North American sports.
Some fans began chanting, "Thank you, Detroit" with over three minutes left. After his team notched its 16th victory of the season, coach Brett Brown talked about how proud he is of not only his team, but the city of Philadelphia for sticking by the Sixers (16-57).
And he also took the time to deliver a heartfelt reminder about how the Sixers' rebuilding plans will take more time and even more patience.
"We chose a path when Sam was hired," Brown said of the team's general manager Sam Hinkie. "And some may agree with it and some may not agree with it. We are not claiming it to be the correct way to do it. But we are committed to the plan. We don't want to blink.
"And times that you have just been through, they teach you a lot about different people, how things may sound good at the start of the plan yet people get wobbly and second-guess things. We are fully committed to seeing our plan through."
Surprisingly, a city with a reputation for some of the most unforgiving fans in all of sports seems to be fine with losing nearly 60 games to rebuild through the draft and free agency.
Gina Rodriguez, a season-ticket holder during the Allen Iverson era, is willing to endure all the losses if it means getting a dynamic star to pack the house the way Iverson once did.
"We'll be fine," Rodriguez said confidently while sitting behind the basket. "I really believe that they will get some players here that all jell like that 2001 season with Allen.
"Gotta rebuild," she added. "You have to. You have no choice."
When Pat Croce was president of the Sixers, he had the fortune of winning the lottery and landing AI. The two were able to lead the Sixers to the Finals in 2000-01. But even if there were an Iverson in this summer's draft, Croce said by telephone he would never be down for purposely tanking to land the most favorable pingpong balls on his watch.
"No [f---ing] way!" said Croce, a Philadelphia native who splits time living between Philadelphia and Florida. "I had the No. 1 pick and next year, obviously, we lost [60 games in 1996-97]. Tanking? Every loss I took [f---ing] personal! No! No! No! No! I couldn't do what they did this year. That would kill me. ... I am all about carpe diem, seize the day. So now you are allowing a year to go by of your life praying that it goes by very quickly?
"Philadelphia sports fans have passion, we have a winning attitude," Croce later added. "We don't like to accept losses, even if they are planned losses."
Croce, who now is a motivational speaker and also owns several restaurants in Florida, made it clear that he hopes Hinkie and Brown can resurrect Philadelphia basketball.
"No one likes to be in purgatory because you can be in purgatory forever," Croce said . "But it is scary. There is an old Jewish adage: Man plans and God laughs. There's no guarantee, right?"
Before Saturday, there had been only one sure thing for Sixers over the past two months, and that was a loss. The Sixers traded Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes before the trading deadline to basically ensure that they would stay the course, rebuild and free up cap space.
The Sixers potentially own seven draft picks in this year's NBA draft, including their own first-round pick and the Pelicans' first-rounder, as long as it's not in the top five.
"This is a three- to a five-year plan," Brown said. "You are going to look on the floor and you will see some first-round draft picks, a healthy Nerlens Noel, a Rookie of the Year in Michael Carter-Williams."
But for one night, the Sixers didn't want to think about the future. They wanted to avoid history and feel what it was like to win again. The Sixers threw down several dunks, drilled 12 3-pointers, scored 70 in a half and led by as much as 32 in the third over a disinterested Pistons team that lost the night before to Miami at home.
"I don't have much of a choice," veteran Thaddeus Young said of being patient and trying to lead the team through all the losing. "I'm here and going to continue to do things I've been doing before I inherited this team or the plan or the structure or rebuilding process that we are in right now."
Nobody knows whether all this losing will be worth it. But for the first time this season, Sixers fan Jon Rondolone was able to leave Wells Fargo Center with his 5-year-old son, Giovanni, with a new experience.
Father and son, both wearing retro Iverson jerseys, have been to 16 home games this season. They have been to games in past years, but this was the first victory they have witnessed during this season.
"Giovanni gets upset when they lose and gets excited when they tie," said Rondolone, who also accepts the team's rebuilding strategy. "They never have the lead [this season], so he gets excited when they tie."
The Sixers didn't make history on Saturday, but they gave Giovanni something he hadn't seen all season -- his first Sixers lead, win and victory-ending standing ovation.
14hMarc Stein and Calvin Watkins