It didn’t feel like I was truly at a live sporting event until I got to boo. Fortunately, the Sixers gave me more than enough chances last night to do so. It felt good, if not quite right, right up until Grayson Allen’s second three of the third quarter, which put the Grizzlies up 18 points. Then I booed like I had a year of pent-up boos inside me. I did, actually!
Sunday night was my first live basketball game in more than a year. Of course the Sixers got slaughtered—the Grizzlies beat them 116-100 in a game that was not even that close. But it was a blast. Booing the Sixers’ lousy performance with 4,093 fellow socially distanced Philly fans was a great way to spend my Easter Sunday.
The Sixers have been allowing season ticket-holders to buy tickets to select games, and a buddy with access offered to pick up a pair of seats for me. I guess he wanted to hang out with his family on Easter instead of watching De’Anthony Melton absolutely shred the home team every time he had the ball, but that’s his business. I was not nervous to go to the game; that is not my personality, and also I got my first COVID-19 vaccine shot all the way back in 2020. I took my dad, who got his second shot three weeks ago. That was good for two reasons: I love watching basketball with him, and my mom would probably offer to pay for the tickets. And considering that my dad picked me up at my house on the way to the game, I suppose it is more accurate to say that my dad took me to the game. Whatever.
I was excited. My dad was going to pick me up 90 minutes before gametime, and I spent the two hours prior hyping myself up—I was going to actually attend a live sporting event. (A disclosure: In August I attended, by myself, a pro wrestling card held on a pier on the Atlantic City boardwalk. An additional disclosure: That show’s main event was delayed for a few minutes when Priscilla Kelly accidentally kicked Chris Dickinson in the balls.) I put on the 76ers socks my wife got me for Christmas (I’m a lucky guy). I broke out my Ben Simmons sneakers—the plaid ones, not the ugly words-on-wood ones—for the first time. I even changed. I initially put on my favorite Joel Embiid t-shirt, but switched to a different one when I learned he would miss the game. “Your mom told me Joel was out as I was leaving the driveway,” my dad told me when he arrived to pick me up.
I wasn’t nervous to attend an indoor event, but doing so was still weird. Or at least different. There was little traffic on the drive down. The parking lot was mostly empty. (This did not stop my dad from taking 45 minutes to select a spot.) My dad and I walked to the entrance, and I spotted a few guys in baseball jerseys who had clearly spent the afternoon taking in the final game of the Phillies’ season-opening sweep of the Braves. What if they’ve been drinking all day, and got belligerent at the Sixers game? What if there was a fight? I’m not saying I wanted that to have happened, but it would’ve been interesting if it had.
Outside the arena, there was a little tent where security guards performed a bit of hygiene theater before they let you enter. There was a giant poster with a bunch of questions. It boiled down to this: A security guard asked if you were sick, and let you through as long as you said you weren’t. There were paper masks if you needed one. Inside, there was additional security theater. My belt set off the metal detector twice, which was a sign that I should have gone with my white-Philly-guy gut and worn shorts. I scanned my tickets. I was in.
We were up top, as when I bought the tickets I did not realize my mom would be paying. We were in section 206, row 5, seats 1 and 2. Each seat had a “PLEASE SIT HERE” sign on it, though the Sixers had covered them with blue rally towels. No one was really all that close to us. It was great. The one thing live sporting events need more of is legroom, and finally I had it. Additionally: I am a loud person. I cannot go to a wrestling show with my friends without being yelled at for talking too much. I don’t really know if my dad is loud, but clearly I got my voice from somewhere. But tonight we could talk loudly and stretch our legs and not have to get up so anyone could go to the bathroom. It was like going back in time to Phillies games in the late 1990s. I felt like a teenager again.
Last night’s Sixers game went about as well for the home team as all those Phillies games at the Vet when I was a teen. The Sixers scored the first five points of the game and seemed to play as if they thought that would be enough to win. Memphis took the lead for good midway through the first quarter. The Sixers trailed by 10 at halftime, and should’ve stayed in the locker room for a third quarter where they gave up 45 points. The Grizzlies, in the bottom third of the league in three-point percentage, hit 16-of-38 on the night. The Sixers didn’t have Embiid, they were playing a back-to-back, et cetera. All of that is true. They also looked like shit.
I still had a great time. Part of the fun of going to a sporting event—especially one in Philadelphia, where teams have not traditionally been very good for most of my life—is the sideshow aspect of it. I want to hear other fans boo and heckle. I want to see what silly skits they roll out during stoppages in play. I want to pay $40 for a t-shirt and be told “enjoy the game” with the Sixers trailing by 27.
I failed to get on camera for the “Drip Cam,” but I’m sure that was just because they didn’t see me. I clapped along, probably off beat, with the Stixers drumline. I screamed at the Grizzlies’ shooters in a vain attempt to get them to miss free throws so I could win free ice cream and French fries as part of a promotion. The Sixers did miss multiple pairs of free throws; after Danny Green missed a pair, my dad suggested a promotion in which Sixers players are force-fed French fries.
I dunno if anyone heard that one, but it was nice just to hear other fans again. One of the first games I ever went to was when Manute Bol was with the Sixers. Near the end of the game, with the Sixers having turned it over several plays in a row, a fan yelled: “Let ’Nute bring it up!” I know; I know. This kind of stuff can get really annoying, really fast. But everything I heard last night brought a smile to my face. Late in the third quarter a little kid a few sections over was screaming at the team to get it together. Another time I heard a fan tell Ben Simmons to get his head in the game. Some fans were doing Delaware Blue Coats chants. I overheard the dudes behind us complaining about the Sixers’ ugly creme jerseys, the ones that have a bell that’s not even cracked. It’s not that I’m saying every bell needs to be cracked, but when your team is the Seventy-Sixers and you’ve gone all in on the colonial-era branding and even your mascot is a dog named after Ben Franklin, I dunno, maybe the dang bell should be cracked?
But the real joy in the game came in garbage time, with the Sixers’ end-of-the-bench guys getting some run. Paul Reed—better known as “Bball Paul”—was my favorite Sixers scrub, even if his legs look like David Hasselhoff’s. (Or maybe because of?) I can’t tell you why I like him other than that Sixers PA man Matt Cord announces him as “Bball Paul,” but do I really need any more than that? I do know that Reed, Mason Jones, Ignas Brazdeikis, Rayjon Tucker and Isaiah Joe cut a 25-point Sixers deficit to 13, forcing the Grizzlies to put their starters back in the game. For a brief moment of fun, the place was even rocking a little. The Sixers did not complete the comeback. “You ruined my Easter, Brazdeikis!” one fan yelled after he missed a shot.
Of course I was there when the Sixers played their worst game of the year, but I guess I left happy. My dad and I had a great time. It was just great to sit next to him, and talk to him, and tell him to put on his seatbelt on the drive home. So, yeah, I had one of the best times, and all it took was being complicit in the decision to play sports in front of fans during a still-continuing pandemic to do it. That’s modern life, baby!