Sixers' brilliant win over Grizzlies has a lesson for sports fans - and players
Sixers' brilliant win hides a lesson for fans - and players originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
On Thursday night, the Sixers were fun.
They didn't win a championship. There were no trophies, no legacy-affirming accomplishments. They played a basketball game against the Grizzlies, things got tight at the end, and the Sixers' best players made plays.
And it was perfect.
RELATED: 3 observations after Sixers claw back to beat Grizzlies
It's increasingly easy for the modern sports landscape to grind down fans and players alike into a puddle of apathy and cynicism.
We're constantly bombarded with off-court content, all of it sponsored and very little of it compelling. Sports rights deals are through the roof and sports TV shows spend more time than ever before discussing contract terms and salary caps. The NBA All-Star Game was resoundingly panned for being a competition-free shootaround, and the response from first-time All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was to look for more money:
"There's always... money talks. The more incentives, I think guys will take it seriously - more seriously."
Doesn't the game talk, too?
On top of squeezing every dollar from the games, fans and media types have reached a point in the conversation around sports that distills everything to one goal: ringzzzzz. If you're not winning titles, you're not worth our time. Joel Embiid has been a transcendent star for years now, a basketball unicorn doing things that would make 1963 basketball fans faint. The Sixers have won 64% of their games since 2017 and they just won an instant-classic regular season showdown. And yet the next morning, this is how some fans feel:
I wish I could get into the Sixers, but after years of second round exits and seeing two championship round losses, itâs hard to care that much before the playoffs
— Smarty Jones: All-new 2023 edition (@TheSmartyJones) February 24, 2023
It can feel like everything is for sale and nothing matters.
The only way we can save sports from itself is by having fun, and that starts with the feeling you should've gotten Thursday night as the Sixers fought their way back into a game they had no business winning, made clutch plays in the fourth quarter, and the Wells Fargo Center erupted on a balmy night in February.
The Grizzlies aren't an Eastern Conference rival. The Sixers didn't clinch home court. It was just a win.
But it was fun.
That's the whole point, right? You're not shooting jumpers in your driveway when you're seven years old because you want to land a sponsorship deal with Adidas. You're doing it because you like to watch the ball slice through the polyester net. You're watching your team because you love the way it feels when Joel Embiid sends Ja Morant's dunk attempt into the Earth's core.
Legendary play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan certainly felt the fun as he absolutely nailed the call of this pivotal Sixers sequence, a three-act maelstrom that sealed the deal:
Kevin Harlan calling this crazy sequence in the final minute of the Grizzlies-Sixers game ð¥ð¥ð¥ð¥ pic.twitter.com/hCtQmOCvVh
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) February 24, 2023
Harlan whips out the phrase "a thicket of defenders" and deftly navigates the windows of action because he's a professional, but when push comes to shove and Embiid caps the action with a dunk Harlan just... yells. No words, no insight, just emotion. That's what watching truly great sports should sound like.
Look at the face of the Sixers fan at the 0:28 mark of that video. He can't believe what he just saw. No one in that arena could. Some yelled, others jumped and fist-pumped, and no one could take their eyes off the court.
Because that's why we're here. At least, it's why we start. It's the emotion, the joy, the awe from watching the best in the game dominate and do things that alter our perceptions of human ability.
The Sixers might lose in the second round again. They might - okay, they will - frustrate you with spotty coaching decisions, bad rotations, and indecisive offensive execution.
But Thursday night reminded me, and I hope it reminds you, that we're all here watching this stuff together because we just love watching sports. So let's have some fun.