As the night has rapidly approached, my boasts have rapidly subsided. It's become too taxing to constantly defend my future actions. I get lots of puzzled looks, lots of gaping mouths, lots of judgmental raised-eyebrows, and every now and then a straight "you are an idiot." There's a lot of "It's going to be a disaster," "He's not going to make it through the night," and plenty of "You're obviously just doing this for yourself." Well ... yeah, obviously. I mean my 4-month old son didn't turn to me the week he was born and say "Yo pops, you should get tickets for the game when the Sixers retire AI's #3. I'd love to go to that, and single-games are on sale!" So yes, of course it's for me. And I can't wait for tomorrow night, because my Dad and I will be taking Max to his first Sixers game, at which Allen Iverson's #3 will be retired and raised into the rafters.
Now up front, let's just get this out of the way: it could be a disaster. I'm very good with Max, but I've never been out with him for 2+ hours without my wife. My dad will be an extra set of hands, for sure, but he's totally out of practice with child rearing (and may have never been in practice to begin with). Max could scream and yell the entire time, making us and those sitting next to us miserable. Max could poop, pee, and/or vomit all over himself, me, my dad, the seats. That kind of behavior might fly at Wing Bowl, but it probably won't tomorrow night. My buddies all think it's a great idea, but many of them don't have kids and don't realize how potentially (yes, I admit it) stupid this could be.
Yet we forge ahead, my Dad and I, determined to make it happen. My Dad (or "Opa" as he is known to Max) bought us tickets in a club box, providing room to pace around when Max needs calming, and a bathroom lacking hundreds of other people. We have multiple Sixers onesies. We've adjusted our goals accordingly: as long as we make it through the banner ceremony, it's a success (unlikely the game will be interesting anyway given the state of the Sixers). I even have a pair of those baby earmuffs to block out the ungodly in-game music. We are going to this game.
And this isn't simply a game! We talkin 'bout AI. The Answer. ALLEN IVERSON! What better first sporting event for Max then one celebrating the most important Sixer of my lifetime. Not only does AI embody much of what I view as important for a basketball player, but he also is an excellent representation of Philadelphia in general. His "be true to yourself" attitude could be a motto for Philly (for better and for worse), and is a lesson many of could could stand to re-learn. Sure, AI isn't exactly a perfect role model, but I don't have to explain that to Max for like at least 15 years, so lets just ignore that for now. This is Max's chance to be in the arena with a Sixers legend and take part in our celebration of that man's career. When I tell Max stories about going to this game while he opens up the arm sleeves I buy him for his 10th birthday, his crossover will probably instantly improve exponentially. My wife asked me, "If you had the chance, would you let AI hold Max?" Only if he wouldn't hold me first.
I relayed my wife's worries to my Dad. The next day he called me to say, "You know, I was thinking about it, and we should get a picture with AI holding Max. You should call the Sixers about that."
The best thing about sports is participating in a shared emotional experience with a larger community. It's one of the rare settings where all the unknown neighbors in your town become your close friends and family, and you rise and fall together. It's why when the spontaneous mob I was a part of starting rocking a Septa bus at 34th and Powelton when the Sixers won game 1 of the 2001 Finals, the people inside the bus cheered us on. Yet even better than sharing these experiences with your temporary-family is sharing them with your actual family. My dad has been talking to me about the Sixers and taking me to games for as long as I can remember. I knew that Wilt never fouled out of a basketball game before I could count to 13. I absolutely hate Boston and adore Sonny Hill, and can't really articulate why. I have formative basketball memories of not only Dr. J and Barkley, but Dana Barros and Manute Bol as well. I absolutely love the Sixers, and that love is inextricably linked to my Dad. He's provided so many of these moments for me, that it's exciting to be able to provide a novel Sixers moment for him - first game with his grandson. And perhaps, just maybe, this is the beginning of that same process between Max and myself.
So yes, I'm doing it for me. I like to think that, in some way, I'm also sort of doing it for my Dad, AI, Dr. J, Wilt, Barkley, Manute, Moses, Chocolate Thunder, Hersey Hawkins, Aaron McKie and Eric Snow, MCW, Nerlens Noel, Croce, Hinkie, Big Shot, The Hare Raisers, McGinnis and Zumoff. And maybe, just maybe, Max. But it's definitely for me. I want this moment with my son and my dad. It's so important that, in what is definitely the worst season I have ever endured as a Sixers fan, I don't think I've ever been this excited to go to a game. I want one freaking picture of us in front of the court with that banner behind us. I want to be able to reminisce about this with my Dad, and recount the experience to Max. If you judge that as foolish, well that's all right. But know that I disagree.
What IS foolish is that I'm already envisioning Max's banner ... right up there next to AI's.