The day before, McConnell and the rest of the Sixers had boarded a private plane in Philadelphia for a two-hour flight to Indianapolis. McConnell's bags were packed and his devices were charged. He was prepared to, well, sit back, relax and enjoy the flight—until he realized something was missing.
There was no Chick-fil-A on board, and McConnell believed that Landry Shamet, his rookie teammate, was to blame.
For a few years now, Sixers rookies have been tasked with supplying their teammates with fresh crispy chicken sandwiches before team flights. The tradition, according to former Sixers guard Jason Richardson, began in the fall of 2012. In the six years since the Sixers have cycled through nearly 100 players, five general managers and one Process. And yet, somehow, preflight Chick-fil-A endures.
Shamet was briefed on his duties early this season by Sixers veteran JJ Redick. During his first few months with the team he grew familiar with the local Chick-fil-A drive-thru. "But on this trip," he said while dressing that evening in the visitors' locker room of Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse, "the guys didn't want any food."
Overhearing this, McConnell, eating a plate of quinoa and chicken in front of the locker next to Shamet, turned to his rookie teammate. He opened his eyes wide.
"You guys got to let me know," Shamet said. "We have Slack for a reason."
"No, you've got to remember," McConnell shot back. "What are we, your planner and calendar?"
McConnell was speaking from experience. As one of three rookies on the 2015-2016 Sixers he'd been in Shamet's position. Early that season, someone—McConnell doesn't recall who—approached him and fellow rookies Jahlil Okafor and Richaun Holmes and notified them of their preflight responsibilities. Okafor and Holmes, however, both ignored the decree. "So I ended up going every time," McConnell said. "It wasn't too bad, though. I've heard of much worse stuff that other rookies have had to do."
In the years since, McConnell has made a point of maintaining this Sixers tradition. Most rookies have complied, though some have managed to duck McConnell's requests.
"They tried to get me to do it," 2016 No. 1 pick Ben Simmons said. "But they respect me differently just because I came in a certain way. And I don't eat that stuff anyway. It's not healthy."
Instead, Simmons found a more efficient way to aid his rookie teammates with their obligations.
"One time I just gave the other guys money to go do it," he said.
Shamet, a reserve who was drafted 26th overall this summer after a three-year career at Wichita State, doesn't have the same pull. So a month after his Indianapolis mishap, he relaxed his thin 6'5" body into the driver's seat of his black Jaguar XJL and pulled up to the drive-thru window of a local Chick-fil-A. The Sixers were scheduled to take off for Toronto in about an hour and Shamet had learned from his past mistakes.
Dressed in black sweatpants, he waited for a driver in a beat-up silver Chevrolet in front of him to place an order. He flipped through Instagram on one iPhone to pass the time, while a second rested in his lap. Meek Mill's "24/7" pulsed out of the car's speakers.
"I had an order that I called in; the name's Landry," he said after a woman named Nadia greeted him over Chick-fil-A's speaker. He and Jonah Bolden, his rookie teammate, had recently acquired a cellphone number for the franchise's manager. The hope was that calling beforehand would help streamline the process.
"Is it a catering order?" Nadia asked.
"I just placed an order," Shamet said. "I made a phone call, and, uh, I wouldn't call it a catering order. I'm just picking it up."
Nadia asked if the order was a tray. "No," Shamet said. Nadia told Shamet that she couldn't find the order. "I'm sorry," she said. Shamet rolled his eyes. He opened up a text message that had been sent by a Sixers security staffer whose job it was to relay Embiid's hankerings.
Shamet told Nadia he needed four spicy chicken sandwiches. "No pickle, no anything." Also, four orders of french fries. Also, four cookies and cream milkshakes.
"That order should be separate," Shamet said.
"Do you want whipped cream and cherry on all those shakes?" Nadia asked.
Shamet scanned the text message. "Yes," he said. He then opened a second text message and read off the cravings of the rest of his teammates: Five spicy chicken sandwiches with no cheese, five regular chicken sandwiches with no cheese, four orders of fries.
"I'm sorry," Nadia said, "we actually did have the order in the back. Do you need anything else?"
"I just need all the sauce in a bag, too," Shamet said. "And a bunch of mayo. A handful of mayo, please. And, like, your Chick-fil-A sauce and barbecue sauce and all that." While waiting, Shamet swiped through Instagram. Nadia told him to pull around to the pickup window. An attendant with blonde hair greeted him. Shamet passed her his credit card. She passed him a tray of four milkshakes and a bag containing Embiid's sandwiches and fries.
Shamet clutched the precious cargo—all 5,680 calories of it—and placed the milkshakes carefully onto his car's console, the safest resting spot for the 10- to 15-minute drive to the airport. The attendant handed him three more bags—the rest of the team's order—which he placed on the passenger seat. The smell of fried food filled his car. Shamet closed the window, wrapped around the Chick-fil-A parking lot and sped off to a group of hungry veterans eagerly awaiting his arrival.