My friend called me at halftime. I figured he just wanted to talk. He was having a great night. He and his wife were sitting in the front row, seats 63 and 64, at Tuesday night’s Sixers game against the Phoenix Suns. I was there, too, or anyway I was technically in the building—I was in the mezzanine, in Row 15, the last row. My friend was busy, being in the front row and all, and so he had only sent one note to our lil’ text chain with another pal: He was sitting next to Allen Iverson. What a night! I answered the phone wondering if he was going to put Iverson on the phone to say hello.
It was better. “Yo,” he said when I picked up the phone, “You wanna move down here? Allen Iverson left. He gave me his tickets.”
This is how I went from the very last row of the arena to the first one midway through last night’s game.
My road to courtside seats began when my friend Brian answered an email from a sportsbook. These casinos currently have prizes to throw around, which they do in hopes of enticing people like him into losing their life savings on their platforms. His response to an email about “NFL suite experiences” somehow got him a pair of tickets to the Eagles/Jets game in New Jersey last year. It was a nice time; Gardner Minshew threw two touchdown passes in an Eagles win. While there, he chatted up a representative for the sportsbook. They got to talking about Philly sports. They had more stuff to give away, it turned out—a pair of front-row seats to Suns/Sixers.
I had no plans to go to the game. But when The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported last week that the Sixers and Nets might be headed toward a Ben Simmons-for-James Harden swap, my friend Brian sent a text: Tickets for Tuesday’s game against the Suns were around 10 bucks. This is 2022, and everyone always is—or, anyway, I always am—looking for low-risk investments that might turn out to make you a cool hundred bucks or whatever. In this case, if the game against the Suns were Harden’s first in Philly, flipping the tickets would be easy.
But I had a better idea: Why not go to the game myself and see the Sixers play Suns, the best team in the NBA this year! I got tickets for a whopping eight dollars each. I did not realize they were in the very last row of the arena, and James Harden is still a member of the Nets as I write this, but I didn’t care. After I explored the Color World on Twitch, my friend Pat and I met up and went into the game. After a slow start, it was a fantastic first half. That’s when I got the call.
Would we actually be able to do this? We met up with Brian in the concourse. He handed us the ticket stubs given to him by Iverson and AI’s longtime manager Gary Moore. We walked down to the court. One usher looked at us funny, but we had our tickets. He let us through. The funniest part to me is that Allen Iverson even needed a ticket for the Sixers game, but I guess some rules apply even to local gods. Also, my friend had better seats! Iverson was closer to the baseline. Do they just put Iverson wherever when he shows up?
Brian was beaming when we arrived. “We talked basketball for like five minutes!” he said. “Allen gave me that little finger handshake when he left!”
I want to be clear: I was not starstruck. I am a sportswriter. I assure you that I am not bragging when I say that I have been to plenty of Sixers games down low. My first game covering the Sixers was on May 1, 2002, when the Sixers beat the Celtics in Game 4 of a first-round playoff series. I was interning at Comcast SportsNet’s website. I went into the locker room and interviewed Dikembe Mutumbo for a sidebar. My first game working by myself was in 2004, when I covered a game in which Zendon Hamilton won the game for the Sixers down the stretch. I have covered plenty of Sixers games since. When you’ve interviewed all the big names—Dikembe, Zendon, I could go on—seeing basketball players up close would not be some sort of fanboy moment for me.
But also being in the front row of an NBA game is exciting. The players are enormous. I could see what they wrote on their shoes. It’s fun to see the players argue with the refs and see who talks the most trash. Last night I learned that one NBA referee wears Reebok ZigTech shoes—I didn’t even know they still existed! Also, yeah, I was sitting in Allen Iverson’s seat. Brian’s wife, Katie, pointed at a bag on the ground and said, “He left his popcorn!” He had, indeed, left his popcorn. It was all pretty great, except when Franklin the dog came over. I was worried he’d read what I had tweeted about him over the years. Fortunately, it was just a photo opp.
Here is another story about being in the front row: My senior year of college, some roommates and I went to watch a Princeton/Penn women’s basketball game. It was during a break, and nobody was really there. We sat along the baseline. A player on Penn shot a long three. A Princeton defender attempted to catch the ball, but then pulled her hands back when she realized it was going to airball and go out of bounds. A ref ruled it Princeton ball.
Along the baseline, we flipped out. The Princeton player hadn’t touched the ball, but we acted as if she had. And the ref changed the call! They gave it to Penn! It was my greatest moment as a fan… until a different ref, who’d guessed what we were up to, overturned the call. Ah, OK. We’d tried.
I like to think I did something even better last night. Chris Paul was inbounding the ball right in front of me. I yelled “5 seconds! Turnover!” and he immediately threw the ball away! That the Sixers turned the ball over immediately afterward did not ruin my moment. Certainly this was all me and not just a coincidence.
If the Sixers need me in the playoffs to heckle players on inbounds plays, I will be there. Daryl Morey, stop trading crypto, get off the phone with the Nets and give me a call. I have some seats in mind.