So the Bishop and I headed down to the Wells Fargo Center last night for the Sixers’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons. Thanks to our friend Ty, we had tremendous seats, 8 rows off the court behind the Sixers bench. The game itself was not one to be put in a time capsule. The Pistons are a bad team at full strength; without injured starting guards Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey, they are downright putrid. The loss of firepower, combined with the Sixers active defense, led to the Pistons shooting just 36% and committing 16 turnovers that led to 27 Sixers points. Well that and the fact that they stink.
For three quarters, it was as if the stink of the Pistons was rubbing off on the Sixers; while clearly in control of the game, they missed a ton of easy shots and played a bit sloppy. Only a 32 point 4th quarter, led by a long awaited Jodie Meeks explosion from long range, boosted the Sixers’ shooting percentage to a respectable 46%. But perhaps the trait I love most about this Sixers team is that, no matter the score or if shots are going down, they play hard and play defense for 48 minutes. I also love Doug Collins’ ability to recognize which players are having a good night, and more importantly, his willingness to play whoever is playing well instead of being inflexible with a set rotation. During most of the Sixers 4th quarter burst, struggling starters Jrue Holliday and Andre Iguodala were on the bench, while Meeks, whose minutes had dwindled outside of his starting role, finally had a breakthrough game he desperately needed.
Other than the Sixers taking care of business against a bad team, my focus was on the opening night festivities planned by the new ownership. I applaud Josh Harris, Adam Aron and company for making a concerted effort to tap into the deep history of the Sixers organization. Not only does it tie in well with their marketing efforts, but the fans love seeing Doctor J, Moses, Bobby Jones, and others, and remembering the glory years of the franchise. Andrew Toney was even in the building; he had stayed away for some time after ending his career here on bad terms. There might still be a rift, as he was not a part of the pregame introductions with his former teammates, but was instead introduced on the Jumbotron from a suite later during the game. Nonetheless it was good to have the Boston Strangler back and he received a nice ovation.
My favorite part of the pregame introductions was the video played before the current Sixers were introduced. It marvelously tied the current roster together with all the franchise greats of the past, as they shared the basketball in a combination of the great NBA commercials that have aired recently. Really well done. Other positives included American Idol finalist Ayla Brown, who absolutely killed it with her rendition of the national anthem. And CEO Adam Aron was present in the stands as promised; we saw him posing for pictures and talking to fans in the adjacent section. The excitement in the arena was palpable and you could feel the energy in the building throughout most of the game. Kudos to the new ownership for building that excitement over the last few weeks.
There were a few slight changes I would’ve made. The ownership group was also introduced at center court before the game, and although I understand their enthusiasm about the beginning of their tenure with the franchise, I felt like it was something I wouldn’t have done. There’s a fine line between being an active, involved, and accessible owner, and putting yourself at center court. The fans ideally would like their owners involved, but in the background; the court is for the team. I felt the same about the ceremonial tip thrown up by Josh Harris; the Pistons didn’t even want to send someone out for it and eventually sent someone from the end of their bench. Also, after the excellent video, there was a drop off in the transition to player introductions. For one, the introductions really missed the energy and familiar emphasis of Matt Cord; I know they promoted Matt to another position, but the in-game experience suffered because of his absence. New PA announcer Tom Lamaine was decent but fell far short of Cord’s signature performances. Secondly, I realize that many people may have suggested less pounding rap music in introductions, but they need SOMETHING. The intros were kind of dull without Cord and appropriate music to build energy as the players were being introduced.
Overall though, I think the new owners are getting it right. Most importantly, they’re trying to get it right, and as the Sixers show on the court, often times when you give maximum effort, positive results will follow.