Why Do the Philadelphia 76ers Have a Snake on Their Court?

What’s in a name? In the world of professional sports, a great deal. For teams around the world, a name and logo make up a large part of their identity and ties them to their home city. The Philadelphia 76ers, for example, draws heavily upon the City of Brotherly Love’s role in American history.

While some of the connections are apparent, like their name and use of the Liberty Bell, the 76ers also have pulled things from a bit deeper in the history book. For an illustration of that, you don’t need to look any further than the snake on their home court.

The Philadelphia 76ers have embraced American history ever since relocating in the 1960s

These days, it’s almost impossible to imagine the NBA without the 76ers. There was a time, however, when the franchise called a different city home.

In the early days of professional basketball, a club called the Warriors called Philadelphia home. While the club had plenty of success and boasted some legitimate stars, they left the east coast in 1962 and relocated to San Francisco. That gave the Syracuse Nationals, who had pushed their mid-sized market to the limit, a chance to move to the big city.

The Nationals did just that and, after the 1963 campaign, moved to Philadelphia. Taking inspiration from the city’s colonial heritage, they rebranded themselves as the 76er and donned red, white, and blue uniforms complete with 13 stars. Even as uniforms have changed over the years, that historical element has remained present. In 2015, a secondary logo featuring Benjamin Franklin dribbling a basketball was even added to the team’s branding repertoire.

Why do the Philadelphia 76ers have a snake on the floor?

Even if it’s been a while since you sat through a history class, the Sixers brand image is fairly easy to grasp. Having an image of a chopped-up snake on the floor, however, seems a bit random compared to red, white, and blue, stars, and the Liberty Bell. Unsurprisingly, though, there’s another colonial connection at play.

As explained by The Washington Post, that snake stems from a famous political cartoon that Franklin ran in his newspaper in 1754. Each segment of the snake represented a colony or region and, below the image, sat the words “Join or Die.” While science has changed since — the cartoon is based on the idea that a snake could reassemble its body before sundown — the message still rings loud and clear more than 250 years later. There’s strength in a united front.

The 76ers seized on that concept and made it part of their “Phila Unite” campaign ahead of the 2018 NBA playoffs. While the snake has become a little less prominent since then, it’s still a part of the club’s in-arena branding and can be sighted on the floor in Philadelphia.

Even if they’re united, the Sixers will have a tough road to the NBA title

As mentioned above, the underlying message of Franklin’s “Join or Die” cartoon was that a united group of colonies would be stronger. While you could probably apply that message to sports without too much of a stretch — there’s something to be said for a tightly-knit team with plenty of chemistry — the 76ers will need more than a tight bond to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

While there’s no need to panic after a Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, that defeat did prove that Philadelphia can’t simply stroll into the Eastern Conference Finals simply by showing up. Even if they get past the Hawks, Doc Rivers and company will have a date with (presumably) the Brooklyn Nets on the horizon. Although Philly can theoretically match up pretty well with the Nets, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant currently seem pretty unstoppable.

As of June 8, 538’s NBA predictions give Philadelphia an 8% chance of making it to the top of the mountain and claiming the 2021 championship. While those might not be amazing odds, Ben Franklin knew a thing or two about defying conventional wisdom and pulling off an upset. Maybe this is the year when the 76ers can follow his lead.

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