The Sixers are home again. The mountains of the west coast are in the rear-view(for now) as the bright lights of City Hall and the skyscrapers of Liberty Place shine in the near-distance of the Wells Fargo Center. The red-seats inside the structure have been unoccupied by Sixers fans since Lou Williams nailed a game winning heave to beat the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the playoffs back on April 24th, 2011.
Since then Josh Harris and the new ownership have arrived and it’s hard not to notice how hard they are working to get Philadelphians to watch this team, to care about this team, and to embrace this team. They’re giving fans new commercials, new ticket prices, and trying to instill a new sense of pride. The best part about it, is that the team has been buying into it all and feeding off of it as much as they can. As Evan Turner put it, “It’s cool to see somebody pushing to grow with you. The new ownership is willing to dig in and grow with us and get more excitement in the arena by getting fans out to the games. They’ve gotten us a better practice facility and when everybody is on the same page and clicking it does wonders for an organization.”
Wonders it has because while most Philadelphians were home unwrapping presents and popping champagne bottles for the holidays, the Sixers were busy out-working opponents and showing the NBA why their team is going to pose problems for teams throughout the league. The “young” Sixers fought their way to a 3-2 record on a tough road trip out west to start this season. Some fans have already taken notice and one can only hope that, that number will grow ten-fold by seasons end.
Philadelphia is a city with a basketball tradition and the Sixers are the franchise with the third most wins in NBA history. In recent years getting the attention of basketball fans in this city has been tough, considering that the Phillies, Eagles, and Flyers have all been that much better. The Sixers haven’t won a playoff series since the 2002-03 season. In the years since then the Phillies have won a world series title and the Eagles and Flyers reached the finals in their respective sports. It’s easy to be the forgotten team when you are expected to fail, but that expectation ends today.
Last night, the Sixers played their first home game to a near sell-out crowd of 19,408. For player introductions there came a new video amist a cloud of smoke, which filled the arena and was a cool element for the fan experience. The video captured tradition, the greats of new and old, and shots around the city you know so well (It can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVqyrrl-XtU). Shortly after Philadelhpia legends took center stage at the arena. World B. Free, Dr. J, Moses Malone, Bobby Jones, and Earl Cureton took their places at mid-court to a strong ovation from Sixers fans. They are the champions and they deserved every last clap. They stood under their 1982-83 championship banner and gave a nod of approval to the young Sixers team who has seemed to find their identity and the organization who has been doing everything right. Lou Williams took the microphone and said, “We’re trying our hardest right now for you guys(the fans) and we won’t let you down.”
What is so great about this team compared to teams past is the expression of the words “we” and “us”. As beloved as Allen Iverson or Charles Barkley were to the Sixers organization, ultimately the teams they were a part of were a one man show. Doug Collins has been able to create this environment since taking over the team last season and the team has definitely responded to it. As Collins puts it, “we are a team in every sense of the word.” It’s especially important for the youth of this team to grow and be accepted by their team. The player with the most pressure on him this season is the second pick in the draft from last season Evan Turner. Turner gives credit to his teammates for his more matured play this season. Evan said, “I understand the system a little bit better now and I have great teammates to guide me. They’ve helped me become a pro more.” His young counterpart on the team is Jrue Holiday. Jrue is two years younger than Evan, but with one more year of NBA experience he has been a huge help to Evan. “Jrue and I playing well together foreshadows what could be in the future,” said Evan. “We have a connection and we’re getting better together. The most important thing is that we like eachother off the court as friends and I think that shows on the court as well.”
Another facet of the game which coach Collins expresses to the team is the importance of playing your role. “Coach always says, ‘know your role, accept your role, star in your role,’ said Evan. “I think our team has a lot of star role players such as Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young. We’re always rooting for each other and whoever is out there on the court whether it be Jodie or Lou I hope they are on fire.” Thaddeus also expressed praise towards Collins’ coaching approach, “He’s done a great job getting us to play in our roles. The hardest part for us has just been figuring out exactly what he wants us to do on the court. When we’re all playing our roles, we’re a hard team to beat.”
When the Sixers took the court against the Pistons last night, they dismantled them to the final score of 96-73. The star of the game was Jodie Meeks who after a rough start to the season shined, scoring 17 of his 21 points in the final quarter of the game. Even though Meeks started the game shooting 1-6, his team didn’t abandon him and it payed dividends as he went 6-6 from the field in the final quarter of play. Maybe it was the spark of seeing one of the Sixers great shooters Andrew Toney wave to the crowd just before half-time, his first time back in a Sixers arena since his playing days. It could’ve also been James Brister Jr’s famed belly dance just after that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfmhl1GftI4.
All I know is what happened was special, which is a word to describe the Sixers play through six games this season. Just like when Spencer Hawes chants rained throughout the WFC after the big man hit a deep two, acknowledging the big mans amazing play this year notching his fourth double-double of the season by nights end(16 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks). Or just like every time Lou Williams touched the ball and had his name chanted for his veteran leadership this season. “Being a leader comes natural to me,” said Lou. “Being a guard you’re kind of always a captain on the court. That translates to the locker room with helping out younger guys like the vets before me did such as Allen Iverson. So to be in that position is a cool thing.” One thing is for sure that Lou learned the word teamwork on his own and he should be proud of the product that has come of it. The liberty bell rang on the jumbo-tron, confetti rained down on the hardwood, and the Sixers with their new culture held their heads up victorious atop the Atlantic Division. It’s only a matter of time before their city takes notice.