How One Podcast Made Philly Believe in the Sixers
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
It’s what real fandom sounds like.
By Max Holm
Even if the Sixers are perennially a bottom-dwelling team, one podcast has won the hearts and minds of the NBA team’s dejected fans. And now, everyone should listen to Spike Eskin and Michael Levin’s podcast, Rights to Ricky Sanchez, to learn about basketball, laugh and discover what real fandom sounds like.
With episodes that average 45 minutes to an hour, Rights to Ricky Sanchez — the name comes from Rick Sanchez, who was acquired by the Sixers but never played a game — kicks humor, analysis and fanaticism into high gear. It’ll make you wish you could love anything as much as the two hosts love the Sixers. The pair, who are also good friends off the mic, seem to remember everything about this NBA team, the way few do unless they’re rooting for a storied franchise like the Yankees. They cared about the Sixers before it was cool to “Trust the Process” — a phrase that Eskin and Levin have used a lot, urging fans to stay calm and trust former GM Sam Hinkie’s vision for the franchise. And they argue as much about the last man on the roster as they do about the stars. “They’re good at summing up the state of the Sixers,” says Jake Pavorsky, who used to write with Levin at SB Nation. “I don’t think a lot of people can speak for people the way they can.”
It’s about people connecting. You won’t find that in many basketball podcasts.
It helps that the hosts hail from similar backgrounds. Eskin works in sports radio in Philadelphia as a program director for 94 WIP, while Levin is a former sports writer who now writes for television in Los Angeles. Eskin’s radio chops and Levin’s comedic writing combine to make the podcast both funny and engaging, elevating it above others. But it’s more than entertainment; it’s also about being there for their followers. On an April 7 episode in 2016, Eskin and Spike talked Sixers fans through grief over Hinkie’s resignation, highlighting that this period was about more than just basketball. In December 2015, they held an emergency podcast where Eskin expressed real fear that the hiring of Jerry Colangelo could see the beloved Hinkie run out of town. He called it.
Their best episodes typically analyze and react to big events — like outrage and sadness at the firing of Hinkie and the trade of Nerlens Noel or joy on the episode following the Sixers’ 2016 lottery win. Sometimes things get political (check out the Ricky episode recorded after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election). And hot takes are their specialty — such as when they were the sole defenders of Hinkie’s tactics when the mainstream media was out to get him.
Eskin and Levin have created a show that appeals to listeners’ hopes and their ideas of loyalty and camaraderie. It’s about people connecting. You won’t find that in many basketball podcasts.
But soon this podcast, which has celebrated an underdog for years, might have to change gears now that the Sixers have hopes of rebuilding. They have the third pick of this year’s draft and the promising duo of center Joel Embiid and forward Ben Simmons. But Eskin and Levin have been optimistic even when others weren’t. For instance, while many have seen a robotic general manager, they see hope.
Rights to Ricky Sanchez has transcended its medium by creating a community where none thought one possible. And now it hosts events that entice thousands of fans. There are even marriage proposals at podcast recordings — as if people are attending an actual game. “The fact that we’ve had a part in creating a community full of people who respect each other so much and find so much joy in something that no one else could find joy in is inspiring,” Eskin says.
- Max Holm, OZY Author Contact Max Holm