Eighty-one different players have been on the 76ers roster since Brett Brown took over as the head coach before the start of the 2013-14 season. Robert Covington and Joel Embiid are the longest-tenured players on the current roster, though Covington has played in 225 games during that time; Embiid has performed in 49.
Covington was a four-year player at Tennessee State who went undrafted in the spring of 2013. He hooked on with the Houston Rockets in the fall of 2013 but appeared in just seven games. He spent most of his rookie season playing for Houston’s developmental affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. With the Vipers, Covington shined, averaging 23 points, nine rebounds, and two-plus steals per game. Those numbers earned him D-League Rookie of the Year honors.
The following season Covington was about to embark on a second stint in the minor leagues when then-Sixers general manager, Sam Hinkie, offered Covington a four-year contract worth four million dollars. It was a massive raise for Covington at the time, but the next three years, it proved a steal for the 76ers organization. Since his arrival, Covington has worked diligently on his craft, developing into a well- respected two-way player evidenced by his finishing fourth in last year’s voting for NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
This fall, there was a shift in the level of talent on the Sixers roster. A healthy Joel Embiid paired with Ben Simmons, the current favorite to win Rookie of the Year for 2018, are the two faces of the franchise. It is a franchise staring at a bright future for many years to come. But on November 17, 2017, the 76ers made it clear that Covington was every bit as important to “The Process” as Embiid and Simmons. The organization extended Covington’s contract, paying him $16 million for this season and between $10-$12 million for the four seasons to follow. In all, the new contract guarantees Covington $61.5 million.
“I knew for a while,” Covington said after a recent home victory. “I talk to (Sixers GM) Brian (Colangelo) a lot. He sat down with me and said he had heard so many good things about me and then he got a chance to see for himself and overall he told me the whole break down of what he planned to do.
“He told me straight up that he loved that I am a player that came in and worked and developed and does everything the right way. He said those are the types of players he enjoys and I make it easy for him.”
Brett Brown would second the 76ers President’s sentiments.
“There’s an inner confidence that he has that’s born out of, ‘I belong. This is my organization, and I’m going to do whatever I can to help move it forward,’” Brett Brown said. “And that he has. He’s just maturing before all of our eyes.”
That maturity is both on and off the court. On the court, Covington is on pace to make 254 three-pointers for the season. A year ago that number would have placed him fourth best for that NBA season. His sharp shooting has been a delight for his teammates to witness.
“Cov is on fire right now,” Embiid said after a recent practice. “When he shoots it, he is unconscious. A couple of the shots he takes I say ‘No, no!’, but he is the type of guy, you say ‘no,’ then he does it and you say, ‘Yes!’ Cov is a great shooter.”
Covington appreciates the praise. He also sees reasons, not only for his early season successes, but that of the team.
“The way we have it set up now with so many different pieces, it is hard for defenses to key in on any one guy,” Covington said, referring to the multiple scorers the 76ers now have. “Previous years, it was easy to key in on certain guys because you knew who was in certain positions, but now we have so many threats on the team that at any point you could be hit with a dagger.”
Off the court, Covington is a man amongst the people. On an October morning, the day after a 29-point performance by him, Covington visited Chester A. Arthur elementary school. And in mid-November, Covington’s mom, Teresa Bryant, paid a visit to the same school. They both shared with students their time and advice about schoolwork being the top priority. That was the way things worked when Robert was growing up in Chicago.
“I like to be involved in the community,” Covington said. “I use my platform—you have to—to have an impact and be in touch with as many different people and touch their lives. To change people’s lives is a big deal and that is what I want to do. I want to do my part and give back.
“Back home there aren’t many people who get the opportunity to be in this position, and one small gesture can change someone’s life. Little things mean a lot to me.”
One of the little things Covington likes to do, after a game or on an off night, is participate in friendly shoot-outs on the basketball machines at Dave and Buster’s.
“I like Dave and Buster’s to wind down and have fun,” Covington said. “I play video games, eat, watch other basketball games, and then I play pop-a-shot against people. Nobody has beaten me yet; well, one guy almost beat me, but I was playing around with him and his friends. He kept saying ‘I do this all the time; you can’t beat me. I ended up locking in on him. He was kind of hurt.”
It is one of the charming characteristics of many players on the current 76ers roster; they engage with the fans in a friendly, down-to-earth way.
If Covington’s Dave and Buster’s appearances become less frequent, forgive him. He has two Frenchie dogs, Ace and King, waiting for him at his new home in New Jersey.
The Process has served many quite well, including Covington, whose patience, perseverance, and hard work depict the meaning behind the mantra.