A few months ago, here’s how the hierarchy of local sports was laid out: The Eagles, followed by the Phillies, and then Flyers. Way down past those rabid, cargo shorts’d fans of the fly-guys sat the fans of the Philadelphia 76ers. Sure, few people in town didn’t want the Sixers to do well, but if a law was passed declaring a city could only have 3 major sports teams, the Sixers would be on their way out of town before the final votes were even counted. A few months ago, this was clear. Now? Not so much.
It’ll take a whole hell of a lot for the Eagles to ever be usurped as the kings of the hill in town, but this year’s Sixers team (along with the Flyers) took a serious shot at gunning for that number two spot. It started with the new ownership, specifically CEO Adam Aron, making it known that they were behind the team, and were here to serve the fans. They brought back novelties and pieces of Philadelphia history, and when their mascot offerings left something to be desired, they ignored the situation completely.
The fans and the team responded. At the end of a lockout-shortened season, the Sixers earned the last spot in the playoff picture. This past weekend, they were eliminated from the playoffs after losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Boston Celtics. It was their strongest showing since losing in the same spot in 2003, and their best winning percentage since that same year. They’re likable, they’re exciting, and they’re young (the average age of the players who contribute is somewhere around 24, which should bum out just about everyone). They kept playing hard and winning in improbable spots; something appreciated in Philadelphia about as much as a championship is in other cities. A lockout can do a lot to hurt a sport (just ask baseball), but this year, the Sixers rose professional basketball from the dead in Philadelphia. Clap your hands, everybody.