The Philadelphia 76ers are putting a lot on Andrew Bynum's shoulders next season. Since Sixers fans like myself have starved for a real No. 1 star in the last several years, his arrival garners a lot of expectations. If he doesn't live up to them, it will be just another case of the Sixers coming up short in their quest to be relevant, both in the NBA and in Philadelphia. But if Bynum pays off in full, the city will love him - as it did when he officially arrived on Aug. 15.
Just under a week after the Sixers stunned Philadelphia and the NBA by landing Bynum, the former Los Angeles Laker received a hero's welcome in his introductory press conference. In fact, the Associated Press headline read that Bynum got a 'rock star's welcome,' which makes sense since he is already the closest thing to a Philadelphia basketball rock star since Allen Iverson.
The last several years without Iverson - and the final few years with him - left the Sixers stuck in traction without a superstar to make them win or draw fans. Yet the fans came out to welcome Bynum home, as they cheered him and chanted his first name like they will at the Wells Fargo Center. Between that and the billboard welcoming him to Philadelphia, this is already a love affair - at least until he gets on the court.
It is easy to be excited by Bynum and to expect the best before anything actually happens. But when the season starts, he actually has to be the 18 point, 11 rebound per game man he was for the Lakers last year, and take the Sixers a step closer to the Eastern elite. With the Boston Celtics still largely intact, the Brooklyn Nets locking up Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, and with the Miami Heat still sadly in the East, it doesn't look like an easy task.
In any case, Bynum is only under contract for a year before he hits free agency in 2013. Even if he delivers, there's no guarantee that someone with deeper pockets, more championship prospects and a bigger market won't snatch him up from Philadelphia. What's more, there's no guarantee the Sixers will even want to take the long term risk, especially if Bynum lets them down in this audition season.
If Bynum reminds us more of Elton Brand than Iverson, his big welcome will look more like a cruel joke than the start of a basketball renaissance. It is all well and good to cheer for him now, but how much will we want to keep cheering him by next August? The honeymoon phase will last for Bynum and the Sixers for a while longer, yet beginnings are often happier than endings around here.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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