I'm a hugger.
It's the first thing I realized when entering Wells Fargo Center on Friday around 1 in the afternoon. This was about 2 1/2 hours before the 76ers returned to action for the first time in 135 days.
However, there would be no players. There would be no music. There would be no fans. Instead, the order of the day would be masks and temperature checks and a strict protocol for where and, most especially, where not to go in a building that typically welcomes you with energy and excitement.
And so, no hugs.
It's corny and it's cliched, but it's real. Our group that covers the 76ers for NBC Sports Philadelphia is family. I'll name names, producer JR Aguila, director Mike Harmon, associate producer Josh Schrager, and of course the other two people I share airtime with, Alaa Abdelnaby and Serena Winters. We are family, we love working together,and we're shameless when it comes to showing it.
Typically with a hug.
But we were all happy in one respect. We were re-united for the first time since March 11, when the 76ers beat the Detroit Pistons at Wells Fargo Center, a game played under the strangest of circumstances. Already that night we were beginning to feel the pall cast by the impending pandemic. My typical pre-game schmooze with players, coaches and other "NBA faces" as I call them was restricted. Hugs and high fives became head nods and clumsy elbow touches. Literally, the mandate was "do not touch other human beings." Later that night, NBA commissioner Adam Silver halted league operations and the game we all loved so much was taken away.
This was the first of three scrimmages the Sixers would play at the NBA Campus in Orlando. Our set-up was not in our usual spot, about 25 rows up in section 112, but about as high as you can go at Wells Fargo Center, way up in the hockey press box-the rafters you might say. Each of us literally had our own box, separated by plexiglass, so we could see one another. Our backs were to the open part of the box. Facing into the box, we each had a set-up with a camera, lights, a desk and our windows to the basketball world, two big TV monitors from which we'd broadcast the game.
Typically, I always say, fans don't really care what you have to go through to bring them a basketball game, just bring them the game. But after a tremendous amount of heavy lifting by all the folks at NBC Sports Philadelphia, we practiced social distancing, we wore masks, we washed our hands frequently and we managed to broadcast a basketball game.
Afterwards, we all looked at each other in wonder - we'd actually pulled this off. It also hammered home the reality that yes, basketball, indeed sports, is back. And the fact that we did so reinforced our feeling of accomplishment, indeed of family. With that, we all gave ourselves a nod of accomplishment, gave ourselves a virtual hug, and went home to prepare to do it again on Sunday.
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