I was born in 1988 in Philadelphia. I’ve lived within an hour of the city for all of my 31 years on this planet. I’m not an Eagles fan. The Eagles winning the Super Bowl is a top 3 day in the history of Philadelphia. It probably goes in between the day the Declaration of Independence was read and the day the Constitution was signed. It was as lot of fun, but it will not be a cherished memory of mine for years to come. The Phillies won the World Series during my junior year of college and that was an incredible party, but I’m not even sure who was on that team. The Flyers are a ton of fun to watch, but I’m still not really sure what I’m watching when it comes to hockey.
I love the Philadelphia 76ers. I own a Moses Malone jersey only because when I saw it in someone’s closet I freaked out so much that the owner decided that I needed to have it. Thank you Dan Moyer. You are a beautiful human being. Growing up I would go with my dad to a game every year for my birthday. My mother has given me an incredible number of thoughtful gifts, but none will top sacrificing her ticket to game 3 of the 2001 NBA Finals so that I could go cheer for Allen Iverson and boo Beyonce Knowles for wearing a Lakers jersey in Philadelphia. I can’t say 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 without immediately saying Sixers! I can’t say 10, 9, 8 without immediately saying 76ers! Clap your hands everybody, for Philadelphia, 76ers!!! Stomp your feet………..oh no, it’s happening again.
Looking back on my years of fandom there are 2 moments that are emblazoned in my brain. I remember every single second of each of these events. The second happened just a few days ago on Sunday, May 12, 2019. Hold that thought please. I’d like to be optimistic and nostalgic for a bit. Instead we’ll start with the first unforgettable 76ers moment of my life which happened on Wednesday, June 6, 2001.
The Los Angeles Lakers were a juggernaut. The question at the time was not whether they would win the title, but whether or not they would sweep the 76ers becoming the first team in history to go undefeated in the playoffs. The Lakers were terrifying. They had Shaq at his peak, Kobe announcing himself to the world, Phil Jackson mastering his Zen, and veterans not yet too old to contribute. They are one of the best teams in the history of the NBA. The city of Philadelphia was not optimistic. Dikembe Mutombo was on the wrong side of his career and incapable of slowing down Shaq and our best solution for Kobe was George Lynch. But, we had Allen Iverson. I can’t express how I feel just typing that sentence.
Allen Iverson was everything to the city of Philadelphia. The world know us for our famous (ok, infamous) football fans, but Philadelphia is a basketball town. High school games sell out regularly. The Philadelphia Catholic League final is consistently one of the best high school games played anywhere every year. At the college level we have Villanova, Temple, LaSalle, St Joseph’s, Penn & Drexel who’ve combined for 4 NCAA titles and countless tournament appearances. Philadelphia is home of the Palestra. Before becoming the Golden State Warriors, the Philadelphia Warriors won 2 titles. The Philadelphia 76ers, formerly the Syracuse Nationals, won 1 title in the city in 1983. We love hoops.
We also love Rocky. We love him so much we even put a statue of Rocky next to one of the world’s best art museums. For those who don’t know, Rocky is a movie character. Allen Iverson was Rocky. He took a punishment every single night and kept getting back up for more. He never got tired. He never got hurt. Our “SIX FOOT GUARD FROM GEORGETOWN” was really only 5’10” and his listed weight was 165 lb. His method of scoring was using top level handles & footwork to get by his initial defender and then throw himself into whichever big man switched over to help, toss the ball into the hoop somehow, and get up unscathed. He would do this over and over again for 40+ minutes a night, season after season. He is the greatest basketball player in the history of the world who was 6’0” tall or shorter.
Wednesday, June 6, 2001 was game 1 of the finals. The Lakers were 12 point favorites at home and opened up the game with a 21-9 run. The 76ers were able to fight back and even led by 6 at halftime. Allen Iverson had 30 points. The 76ers stretched that lead all the way up to 15 points in the 3rd. Iverson was amazing. He was all over the floor on defense and just kept scoring. At the end of the 3rd and throughout the 4th quarter Shaq began to take over and Phil Jackson put a young man by the name of Tyronn Lue on the floor to try to stop Iverson. It worked. Lue held Iverson to 3 points in the 4th and the Lakers were able to send the game to overtime. OT was gut wrenching, but then it happened. With about a minute left, having already scored 5 points in a row, Iverson got the ball in the corner with just Tyronn Lue in front of him and he did this:
That is the greatest moment in my life as a sports fan. I will never forget that for as long as I live. I’ve watched it at least 1,000 times and will never stop watching it. It didn’t matter that we were going to lose the series. That was a predetermined outcome. We didn’t get swept. We and only we beat the Lakers that year in the playoffs.
The second moment in 76ers history that I can see in slo-mo replay in my mind was in Game 7 of this year’s round 2 series against the Toronto Raptors. It was an ugly game, but that was the kind of the game the 76ers could win. It was tight the entire way and in the 2nd to last possession of the game the 76ers were down by 2 points. Jimmy Butler made a great drive to hoop, slowed down enough to throw off the defender, and scored the layup to tie the game. With 4.2 seconds left the Raptors called timeout and inbounded the ball with an opportunity to win the game.
Let’s break down what you just saw. For starters, this is an excellent inbound play draw up Nick Nurse. Kyle Lowry comes down from outside the 3 point line to act as a decoy, but also set a screen for Siakam who then screens Kawhi open to receive the inbounds. Despite this great design, Ben Simmons fights through the chaos and is still right on top of Leonard. Embiid abandons Siakam and it seems the 76ers plan is to have Embiid trap Kawhi. This next part has caused me many sleepless hours, but, Joel Embiid blows this in 2 ways. 1 is his fault and 1 is kind of not. To his discredit, instead of setting himself parallel to the baseline he couldn’t make it in time and actually ending up screening Simmons out of the play. To his credit, he catches up in time to challenge the final shot of the game. This is the part that’s not his fault. Kawhi’s shot was a moonball. It went high up in the air, high up enough to be able to hit the rim FOUR TIMES AND SOMEHOW STILL GO IN. Now, why did he shoot the ball so high in the air? Was it because a giant human being was right on top of him and he knew he had to shoot a moonball to avoid the shot being blocked? Like I said, it’s not really Embiid’s fault, but I’m sure Kawhi doesn’t throw up a moonball like that if anyone else is front of him. I don’t have a physics degree, but I’m pretty sure only a moonball like that bounces into the net. If you do have a physics degree, please reach out and let me know.
Now what? Game 7 was a microcosm of both all the 76ers potential and all the 76ers failures. The Sixers were big, confused their opponents, and overwhelmed them with their talent for long stretches of the game. The Sixers were also hapless, confused, and too tired to play their best at the end of the game. Brett Brown will be our coach for another season. I hear that he’s built a “culture” in Philadelphia. I’m not sure what that means after only 2 playoff appearances that ended before the conference finals. Only Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jonah Bolden, and Zhaire Smith are under contract next season. Do we re-sign Jimmy Butler right before he starts to age? Do we re-sign Tobias Harris who looked incapable of making an impact in these playoffs? What about JJ Reddick who has real chemistry with Embiid and is a top level shooter on a team without shooting? We waited years for The Process to pay dividends only to see Bryan Collarangelo ruin it in less than a year. Now, it seems, we are on the precipice of what comes next and I don’t know what that looks like. I’ll write more on that come the offseason, but for now, Philadelphia 76ers fans are just left to wait, wonder, and try to not to go too crazy thinking about what just happened. I do know one thing for sure. I will be there next year watching and waiting for that 3rd big, unforgettable moment. Hopefully it’s a championship.