Back on June 26, 2017, Markelle Fultz and Kenneth Tappin got matching tattoos on their left calves to display what they're about.
The talk was that Fultz’s mother, Ebony Fultz, and Keith Williams, his trainer, mentor, and father figure, were expected to get their own variations of the same tattoo in the coming weeks.
On the outside of their calves is "F2G" painted in the colors of Maryland's state flag — gold and black, red and white. Underneath are Bible excerpts from the Book of James, Chapter 2, Verses 14-17. "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? … Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."
The F2G stands for Fultz's motto: Faithful to the grind. Tappin picked out the scripture.
"I was like, ‘You can be faithful. But you still have to work. You can’t just pray about it,’ " said Fultz at the time, who was picked first overall by the 76ers in the 2017 NBA draft four days prior.
Fultz, a Maryland native, wanted to be faithful to the grind. That’s why he and Tappin met Williams at the Riggs La Salle Recreation Center in Washington, D.C. at noon on June 27, 2017 to work out. It was the first of two hour-long workouts for that day during which Tappin served as a rebounder and defender, friend and motivator for Fultz.
This was before some felt Williams had too much of an influence on Fultz. It was before the 20-year-old developed the yips. It was before Williams became the fall guy for his shooting woes. And it was before Williams was no longer making decisions for the player.
One has to wonder how much things would have played out differently for Fultz – who's obviously in need of guidance – had Williams remained part of Fultz's inner circle.
Instead of staying faithful to the grind, sources are questioning Fultz’s work ethic. They’re also questioning the decisions and actions that have been made on his behalf.
It’s no longer a secret that the Sixers sent Fultz to several prominent doctors, but none of them found anything to prevent Fultz from shooting the ball. Sources have long said his shooting woes were mental, and that a shoulder injury was not a factor.
Some sources said the alleged anxiety that resulted from the bad advice and decisions made on his behalf – not a shoulder injury – has affected his shooting. His shot, according to sources, is a mess during stressful times and fine when he’s in a good place mentally.
Williams had always tried to block Fultz from stressful situations. The two remain in contact, but Williams is no longer in a position to protect him.
Yet, Fultz and his remaining inner circle were in St. Louis on Friday to see a specialist. On Friday, the team was informed by Raymond Brothers, Fultz’s agent, that Fultz will continue to see specialists through early next week.
Brothers blindsided the team on Nov. 20 by telling general manager Elton Brand that Fultz would not practice or play until his client saw a shoulder specialist to address the injury issue. His agent’s decision to see a specialist came one day after coach Brett Brown chose to play T.J. McConnell as the backup point guard in the second half against the Phoenix Suns instead of Fultz.
Sources have said that Fultz’s family was upset over the decision. Sources are also saying the 20-year-old is dealing with a lot of off-the-court stress that Williams and Tappin used to help him avoid.
But they are no longer helping him make decisions. And it's not surprising to sources within and outside of the Sixers' organization.
Williams, former general manager Bryan Colangelo, and Brothers didn’t see eye to eye on certain issues. Sources say Brothers and Colangelo wanted Williams out of the picture shortly after the draft and even brought up parts of Williams' past -- his past indiscretions 21 years ago -- in an attempt to turn the Fultzes against him.
There was concern that Williams was garnering too much of the credit for Fultz's success. The media and sponsors usually contacted him instead of Brothers and Ebony Fultz. Sources said that didn't go over well.
One issue, in particular, that started the disconnect was Fultz playing in several 2017 summer-league games before signing a contract. Williams was aware that 2016 first-overall pick Ben Simmons signed his rookie contract leading up to the 2016 summer league. Simmons wasn’t going to play without a signed contract. Williams wanted the same for Fultz.
Once Fultz’s shooting woes were apparent, Colangelo speculated that Fultz changed his shooting motion on his own, which may have contributed to his shoulder soreness.
Williams, who includes Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, and Michael Beasley among players he has helped develop, denied changing Fultz’s shot. But Colangelo still blamed Williams for Fultz’s shooting woes. Over time, Williams drifted further and further out of the picture.
No one in the Washington, D.C. area could have expected that heading into the 2017 draft.
The love between Fultz and Williams has always been obvious. They acted like blood relatives. And no one who knew them would dare to say that they weren’t related. Williams was the protective father figure to the guy expected to be one of the cornerstones of the Sixers franchise.
He was heavily involved in molding Fultz into the person he has become. Brothers is Fultz's sports agent, but Williams has the personal influence. The 49-year-old knows the business side of basketball from his past relationships with NBA players and executives.
And that's just part of it.
Williams and Ebony Fultz, classmates at Crossland High School in Temple Hills, Md., devised the blueprint two years ago that led to Fultz becoming the first pick in the 2017 draft. It was Williams' decision to not hire a sports agent until the last couple of weeks leading up to the draft. It was Williams who helped Fultz secure endorsement deals with Nike, Tissot, JBL, and Samsung as a rookie. He’s still sponsored by Nike.
And it was Williams who the outside world had to contact when trying to connect with Fultz.
"Many years ago, his mom gave me permission — way before all of this — to move on his behalf, to mentor him, to help raise him," Williams said back on June 27, 2017. "Obviously, a single mom gives you that type of way with her kids, you've got to make sure you do the best for them."