Right now, new Sixers player Jimmy Butler is the big news in Philly sports. I don’t even watch sports and I know this. Fandom is woven into the underlying fabric of the city. Iconic sports figures rise above the fray and become an essential part of Philadelphia culture.
That’s never been so obvious as with last month’s introduction of Gritty, whose fame has transcended sports entirely.
To me, the new Flyers monster fits right into Philly’s pantheon of bizarre and unappealing looking mascot mofos. For example, there’s the Penn Quaker, an embodiment of collegiate douchiness; Phang the Union snake, who looks like he made a cameo on Trainspotting; and Mario the Magnificent, the Drexel Dragon that actual furries are into.
But where does Gritty fit in the overall stratification of local sports icons? Where does Jimmy Butler slot in? And what about all the other names that flood local news headlines?
With the caveat that the only Philly sports gear I own is a size-M Eagles tee from the kid’s section at Target (you’ve been warned), I attempted to sort it all out.
From last to first, here’s my definitive ranking of the top 10 Philly sports figures of 2018.
10) Bryce Harper
No… He’s not a Philadelphia sports icon yet, but the Phillies hype train has deemed Harper, who might not actually be $400-million contract worthy, as the city’s next overly-wooed MVP. Let’s not put all of our eggs in one basket of glorification, though (lest we forget what happened when ex-fantasy boyfriend LeBron James broke our hearts and signed with the Lakers).
9) The Rocky Statue
Hefty amounts of botox injections have given Sylvester Stallone an inexpressive, static look eerily similar to that of the Rocky statue at the foot of the Art Museum steps, making it difficult to discern who’s who when they’re shown side by side.
But when it comes down to choosing the better Rocky, the statue is the obvious champion. A fictional sports film icon that embodies the authentic side of Philly’s proud, determined, never-forget-where-you-came-from spirit, we’re glad to have Rocky Balboa’s immortalized power pose on the Parkway.
8) Jason Kelce as Mummer (not as football player)
Honestly, who even uttered the name Jason Kelce before his fiery, f-bomb and sequin-fueled speech about how nobody likes us and we shouldn’t care because the love we have for ourselves should be enough to sustain us through this harsh, dark world? Hardcore football fans did, maybe, but he wasn’t a household name.
When Kelce retires he should tour schools across the country giving an altered version of his pep talk to kids with raging hormones and low self-esteem. (And the Mummers Museum needs a life-sized wax replica of him, stat.)
7) Carson Wentz
The team’s record so far this year notwithstanding, Wentz is still beloved. All I know is that when the city lost its redheaded prince last year to a torn ACL, the whole kingdom was in shambles. Eagles chants went soft; bandwagon fans cried hard. Why did this city choose to focus on this misfortune, when waiting in the wings we had noble stallion Big Dick Nick? Because this is Philly, that’s why.
The naysayers were wrong, obviously, and last year’s season turned out just dandy. Whether we can say the same about this year remains to be seen.
6) Nick Foles
Foles asked for Philly Philly, it happened and Tom Brady subsequently wept. Gisele Bündchen may have been the one wiping those tears — and don’t lie, you’re jealous — but Foles made Brady cry (and we don’t need the photographic evidence to prove that). Truly iconic. This city will never forget him.
5) Joel Embiid
Oh, there’s nothing to snark about here. Embiid is an absolute gem of a person because of how himself he is. You don’t need to care about the Sixers to care about Embiid, who plays pickup basketball — and takes it seriously — with South Philly kids, unironically drinks Shirley Temples and attends events like Made in America in the crowd with the rest of us plebes (you know you feel bad for the person who got stuck standing behind a 7-footer while trying to get a glimpse of Kendrick).
Embiid also unashamedly admits random personal things during interviews, like how he doesn’t want to marry a woman who has dated an NBA player — because he doesn’t want to be told on the court: “Hey, I fucked your wife.” Yeah, Embiid is up there.
4) Jimmy Butler
Who even is this guy?!?! He hasn’t played a single Sixers game (his first is tonight) but Twitter and Reddit are already worshipping the man as if he’s the second coming of Basketball Jesus.
I looked him up, and discovered two nonsports reasons to jump on the Butler train. One, he was kicked out at age 13, so his superstardom was born from the ashes of a rough childhood as a superstar). Two, a mediocre white rapper on YouTube claims that Jimmy Butler is the baller father of LeBron James.
I find both points inspiring.
3) Michael B. Jordan
Those sweat-slicked muscles. Those flawless facial features. Those pearly whites.
Yes, he’s a Hollywood actor. But he’s also the protagonist of the Creed franchise, so I proudly claim this man a Philadelphia sports figure, and refuse to believe otherwise.
Gritty is not just a googly-eyed, tangerine-and-vomit hued monstrous manifestation of Philadelphia’s attitude and aesthetics. Gritty is above the law. Gritty has been honored by City Council. Gritty has been claimed as a non-binary antifascist legend.
Highly meme-able and highly lovable, Gritty shot up the sports icon charts in record time — and will likely stay there, either because or despite the fact that it looks like a Muppet tormented by the demons of its past and present lives.
1) Phillie Phanatic
The Phanatic is the Alpha and Omega of mascots. Period. Sorry Gritty stans, but it’s the truth.
When he once hit a woman in the eye with a hot dog, his charms overwhelmed her to the point that she had no choice but to forgive him.
He’s a cinematic dreamboat, a bonafide television star. He’s in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He has his own children’s book series. He’s from the Galápagos Islands, which means the Phanatic is a Latinx immigrant.
And, rumor has it that if you belly womp to the Phanatic, he’ll belly womp right back. What more could a Philly nonsports fan ask for.