PHILADELPHIA — Last year I attended a La Salle basketball game at Tom Gola Arena. Since the previous time I had been there, the Explorers had added a new tradition: Before the game, a La Salle notable would light up the neon “L” on the side of the gym. Then a small smoke machine went off. It was incredible. I wrote about the whole pregame show.
Yesterday was La Salle’s home opener. I’d already seen them play once, in a loss at Villanova on opening night. No matter. When my Saturday was unexpectedly free, I knew I needed to see La Salle’s 2022–23 pregame show. I was not disappointed. When I walked into the arena, I saw what appeared to be four smoke machines.
There was a big crowd; it was La Salle’s homecoming, and campus was in fact abuzz as I headed to the arena. I thought they looked better than I expected. When Fran Dunphy came out of retirement to take the job, La Salle’s roster had looked thin. But Dunphy got a few transfers, convinced some guys in the transfer portal to stay, and ended up with a team that is not embarrassing.
But, oh, the pregame. I have seen all 80 minutes of La Salle basketball in person this year, so I think I have earned the right to make fun of this. The “L” lighter today was new La Salle president Daniel Allen, a notable fundraiser who may be able to convince alums to open their wallets for a gym renovation (and other things). Anyway, here is what happened yesterday when he tried to light the “L.”
I nearly lost it when he began waving like the pope while the “L” remained dark. I am very happy that it did eventually light up. But where were the smoke machines? After last year’s video of the smoke machine drew attention, La Salle added a second smoke machine to flank the door; both machines went off when the guest of honor entered. Where were the four smoke machines I had seen when entering?
They were there for player intros. Only one worked.
I like the idea, but next time I hope all four smoke machines go off.
La Salle beat Wagner, 77-69. Khalil Brantley had 22 and Josh Nickelberry had 20. It was Dunphy’s first win as coach. The game was pretty entertaining; La Salle led wire-to-wire but Wagner made a few runs in the second half, closing to within four at one point. The crowd was rocking all game! Two guys next to me each drank two beers! Twenty-five percent of smoke machines worked! La Salle basketball is back, baby!