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Exclusive Interview with ‘76ers Sixth Man’ Alan Horwitz

This interview has been condensed for our readership.

NBA: Playoffs-Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, May 13th, I walked in to Campus Apartments, a realty company nestled on Walnut street in downtown Philadelphia. The sky had opened up and was pouring rain, which felt apropos. Just 15 hours prior, the Sixers had seen their title hopes squashed by a game 7, buzzer-beating baseline jumper from Kawhi Leonard that rattled in the net after spending an eternity dancing on the rim. Joel Embiid immediately broke down in tears as he wept in the arms of Marc Gasol, before walking off the court for the final time in this 2018-2019 season. It was a crushing loss for an organization that went all-in on this year— trading multiple current and future assets on players set to become unrestricted free agents in July. As the team despondently boarded their international flight from Toronto headed back to Philadelphia, so, too, did Alan Horwitz.

You must know him. If not by name, surely by sight. Alan Horwitz is among the Sixers most notable and recognizable fans— a member of an exclusive group next to the likes of M. Night Shyamalan and Meek Mill. For his entire life, the white-haired, white-bearded Mr. Horwitz has lived and died with the Sixers just like we all have— he’s just had better seats. Burrowed directly next to the Sixers bench in the Wells Fargo Center, Horwitz has not only bore witness to the Sixers most elating and deflating moments, but forged personal relationships with coaches, players and owners alike, over the years. On this sunless Philadelphia afternoon, Mr. Horwitz invited me in to discuss the longevity of his Sixers fandom, his best stories about the Sixers and their opponents, and where we go from here. The conversation began with Mr. Horwitz maligning the anomalous nature of the 92-90 loss suffered on the night previous. Later, as you’ll read, we got into how we Sixers fans cope with crushing defeats, and in this case, the ennui that is sure to follow in the 5 Sixers-less months to come.

On Game 7

Liberty Ballers: So, you were there. What is like to be there in that atmosphere, with everything that’s going on in a game 7?

Alan Horwitz: To be there- whenever you’re there— I was there at all the games, not just game 7. First of all they’re very competitive, nice people compared to other cities that I go to the games.

LB: Right, because you’re in enemy territory.

AH: Right, you’re in enemy territory, but it depends on which is your enemy. Is it there? Is it New York? Is it Boston, is it— where is it? Where’s my enemy? And that’s what I’m evaluating when I say to you the comparison between them and other places.

LB: So they’re a bit nicer-

AH: A lot nicer. Not even close.

LB: It must be crazy tense for you. I saw you had the dog mask. Because it was always— I think we missed our first 9 shots of the game, but we were only down 6-0. So they were treading water for a while. One of the biggest stats that I saw from last night— Joel [Embiid] played 45 minutes, they were a +10 when Joel played. Joel sat for 2.5 minutes, they were a -12.

AH: Well what’s that telling you?

LB: Kills me. That he was this effective even in not his best game, and it wasn’t.

AH: I didn’t even know that. But he was crying— and believe me he’s not a cryer. But it was because of the team, he’s crying for the team. Because he knew that team should have won that game and been moving on. They had the greatest opportunity— they went into that place an underdog and they should’ve won that game easily.

LB: How do you— as a fan, and as someone close to the team— handle a crushing loss like that?

AH: I handle it as: they’re gonna keep the team together. Hey, we’re human beings, you have an off night, you have a bad game. Unfortunately it came in the seventh game of a series. But how about the body of work all year? How about the body of work last year? How about the fact that these guys need more time to gel together? How about that coach Brown has done wonderful things for the organization and did a great job winning in the last two years, over 50 games a year, and he’s gotten them to the seventh game—you’re a human being. You have a bad night. He can’t play the game, he’s gotta rely on the players. They all love him, I know that for a fact.

LB: I was gonna say: today they’ve been doing exit interviews-

AH: I had no idea.

LB: So, today they’re doing exit interviews, and to a man, everybody has gone to bat for Brett.

AH: That’s what I’ve always known. They all love him. The players tell me, they love him. He’s got a great reputation with all the players. I’ve never spoken to one player that’s said anything bad about him. TJ loves him. Joel loves him. I know Joel loves him, I know [that] for a fact.

On his history as a Sixers fan

LB: Let’s go back. When did your Sixers fandom begin?

AH: As a kid, because I went to Overbrook high school. Who graduated Overbrook 7 years before me was Wilt Chamberlain. Now, Wilt Chamberlain to you is probably like George Washington. But have you ever seen his video?

LB: Of course.

AH: Sonny Hill and myself always push Joel to go look at [Wilt]. Sonny Hill is getting him to look at video of Wilt Chamberlain. Because Joel is as close as you come to being another Wilt Chamberlain. But he’s not, yet. Yet.

LB: Those Wilt teams- are those the first that you remember being a fan of?

AH: Oh God, absolutely. I used to go to the games, when the Sixers had one of the best teams in the history of basketball, I think the ’66, ’67 season, when they won with Hal Greer and Wally Jones— Wally Jones was a senior at Overbrook when I was a sophomore. That’s another reason. They had three guys that were seniors that made it to the pros: Wally Jones, Walt Hazzard and Wayne Hightower.

LB: Were you going to games back then? Did your folks have season tickets?

AH: No, I couldn’t afford season tickets back then, are you kidding? But I used to sit all the way up in the rafters. Convention Hall, down here at 34th street.

LB: When did you move down to your current seats next to the bench?

AH: 60 years later. [laugh]

LB: Do you remember what year?

AH: It was right after Josh [Harris] bought the team.

LB: Oh, so this is sort of right before The Process?

AH: Before Josh and the guys bought the team, there was no seats there before, it was just the press. In every city.

LB: Where were you before?

AH: On the baseline. But there was no seats available then. Comcast and Snyder owned the team back then.

On building personal relationships with members of the team

LB: When do your interactions with coaches, the team, staffers— when does that start up?

Ah: It started as soon as I got there because I’m sitting right next to the bench.

LB: And are they receptive to you to start out? Before they know you?

AH: Oh no, before they know you, they don’t even know you’re there all the time. But once they start seeing you every game, every game, you start clapping, you start talking. Coach [Doug] Collins— you get friendly with him. And assistant coaches. Then once you start getting friendly— it’s like any relationship. You start talking about different things with each other. A couple of the players I took to the Eagles games. I got friendly to Andre Iguodala, [he’s] still my friend, Evan Turner’s still my friend.

LB: When you get to know them, is that largely in warm-ups? Is it before the game, after the game? Because during the game I would imagine it’s difficult to socialize.

Ah: Not with TJ [McConnell]. I don’t know if you noticed, with TJ— he knocks my hat off even when he’s walking past me and going into the game. It’s just a passing thing. Once he’s in the game— forget it. That’s why I get along with him so great. We’re very competitive with ourselves.

LB: You became close to Iguodala and Turner. How do you forge a friendship with those guys?

AH: You invite them— ‘Hey guys, wanna go to an Eagles game?’ If they like football they’ll go to a game, and once you go to a game, then it’s like anybody else. You’re socializing, you get to know them as a person. Joel’s the same thing. Joel in fact— I had his father at the game last night. And I’m friendly with his sister. In fact, Joel— the first year he was in the All-Star game— invited me with his father and sister, we went to the All Star game in California.

LB: When you go to any city on the road to see the team, are you going as an appendage of the team? Or as a fan?

AH: During the season I sometimes go on the plane with them.

LB: So you’re an ambassador, for all intents and purposes.

AH: I’m friendly with Josh, I’ve done some business with Josh. It’s just friendship.

Editor’s note on this subject: Over the weekend, Mr. Horwitz was spotted at the Phillies game with Sixers cult hero Mike Scott.

On some notable run-ins with opposing players

LB: You’ve also had some back-and-forths with opposing players. There was the Kobe one- take me through the back and forth with Kobe.

AH: It’s no big deal, they made a big deal of it. The ball went out of bounds and I went ‘Hey man, what are you doin’? Get down to the other end!’ What they made it look like— I don’t know, like I’m cursing? I don’t know. ‘Hey man!’ in a fun way.

LB: With [Kyle] Lowry, how did that go? Did he foul somebody?

AH: Again, it was all joking around. In fact, we’re buddies now. In Philadelphia, I catch his attention after this happened, at halftime. And I go, ‘Yo!’ and he comes over and he gives me a hug. I say, ‘We’re both from Philadelphia, come on. We’re both competitors. I respect you.’ He says, ‘I respect you.’

LB: He’s a Philly guy.

AH: But that’s the whole thing that came up even when we were arguing. When he was hollering, he was hollering at all the calls. Remember? Not only that call.

LB: The entire series.

AH: So he was like a cry baby, it’s an expression. So, the one occasion he’s close to me, and now he’s crying again. He’s crying over this call. So now he’s close enough that he can hear me, so I’m talking to him. So I say, ‘Yo! You’re from Philadelphia. Hey. I’m from Philadelphia. You’re from Philadelphia. We don’t cry in Philadelphia over foul calls. You know you committed that foul, come on, it was very obvious. Come on. We’re not cry babies here in Philly. You grew up in Philly— you know we don’t cry in Philadelphia!’ There was another guy that was a couple rows behind me who was cursing like crazy. So he calls over the ref and he points over there, ‘Hey— guy’s cursing.’ Now, people might’ve thought that that was me cursing— I have no idea, all I know is that was not me cursing. Well, anyway, we made up and I saw him last night [game 7] when the second half started, they were right in front of me. He spots me when he’s taking his warmups, comes over and gives me a hug. ‘Hey man!’ I say ‘Hey, Philly! We’re gonna kick your ass,’ it’s a fun thing. Now everything’s fine. Now you wanna hear the [Rajon] Rondo story?

LB: I would love to. Was this when we played them in 2012?

AH: Yes. First game of the playoffs.

LB: In the series that eventually went 7.

AH: Game starts. First game. Boston. They’re fanatic fans, they’re crazy there. So I get— from Stubhub— a seat. The same seat I have in Philadelphia, except the Boston Celtics are sitting next to me. So I’m sitting on the court, the players are right there. It started before the game starts, people aren’t too happy-

LB: I can imagine.

AH: -that I’m sitting next to their team. I’m the enemy... We start kicking ass big time. I don’t know if you remember. 10-2, 12-4, whatever it is. It’s the first game. And I’m goin’ f’in nuts. And the whole place is quiet in Boston, the only voice you can hear is me. And all you can see is me, cause the camera’s down on me.

LB: And they’ll go to the bench, and you’re next to the bench.

AH: I’m next to the bench, I’m wearing all the Sixers gear, I’m going crazy, standing up. You can see in the corner of your eye that people aren’t happy about it. Normally, you’re not happy. A guy’s there, he’s right at the bench. I’m embarrassing the organization, because it’s national TV. You can only hear me cheering. I got all these people sitting around me that paid these zillions of dollars for their season tickets— they’re not happy having me there. The players aren’t happy. Nobody’s happy with me. So there’s gotta be a plan— they had a plan on how to get rid of me if possible. You can’t just do it because I’m cheering against them. So here’s how you do that: I’ve learned this— I didn’t know it at the time, and stupid me, I let them do this. Now I’ve learned my lesson. So what did I learn? This is the way you throw somebody out: first thing is you have to give them a warning. You can’t just go up to somebody regardless and say ‘you’re out of here,’ you have to say ‘if this happens again, you’re out of here.’ That’s number 1. Number 2— it’s either physical harm— that you’re doing something physical to a player, or you’re cursing at a player. You can’t be cursing. Anything racial, talk about their parents— anything. That’s the two things. The game’s progressing, and a ball during the game is hit toward my direction, and at the last second, one of the Boston Celtics hits the ball further down toward me to get out of bounds. And another player now jumps— the ball is already out— and jumps to save it and he lands in my lap. Coincidence isn’t it? A ball that’s supposed to go out of bounds up there, ends up going out up here. So all of a sudden I’ve got a player in my lap, and he’s not getting off of me. And I hear laughing. [It’s] Avery Bradley. He’s on top of me. I go ‘Yo! Get off of me, man! Get off of me!’ He’s laughing. They claim I’m hitting him. Nobody knows, they don’t know he’s laughing. They think it’s a regular play. Maybe he’s resting, out of breath. And it looks like I’m throwing him off. But when you hear somebody laughing? You’re gonna react. Now they run down to me— their top security. ‘Listen, this is your one warning, man. One more time, you’re out of here!’ And I’m trying to explain— stupid me. Please. So that’s that. Now the game progresses. I’m still cheering for my team. All of a sudden they have a timeout, maybe 5 minutes after that incident. I stand up during the timeout, I’m standing in front of my chair. They’re over there in the huddle. As they’re walking by, all the tall guys walk together, and Rondo is in between them so you can’t see Rondo because he’s small. And as they’re walking by, they pause for like a split second in front of where I’m standing. Rondo goes like this [he thrusts his shoulder forward]. Shoulder bump. Almost makes me fall— I didn’t fall down in my seat. ‘What the hell was that?’ Then they scatter, and he stands there. So of course I go up to him in his face. ‘What the hell’s that all about?’ And remember, I’m 69 years old at the time. And I get in his face, I’m in his face. And this is natural, I get into like a daze— I’m so mad. And I’m not doing anything with my hands I’m like this [hands behind his back]. And I’m going, ‘Hey, would you do that to your grandfather, man? Were you brought up to be a punk, huh? Just because I’m rooting for a team that you’re not on? And I’m rooting for my team, and you don’t like that, and that causes you to go and try to hurt me?’ And as I’m talking to him, he’s going like this [stepping backwards]. Where do you think he’s going? He’s going on the court.

LB: So you’re inching out.

AH: I’m going on the court with him! I don’t know where the hell I am, all I know is I’m in his face. The guy just pushed me. So now I’m on the court. What do you think people see? What do you think security sees? It looks like I’m ready to kill him! And I just did this elbowing with the other guy and they gave me a warning. Bingo! Boom! They come down there. As they’re taking me out, Adam Aron, who was the president [of the Sixers] back then, met me at the top of the steps— as they’re booing me, trying to throw popcorn and stuff at me— so he meets me at the top and goes, ‘you’re not taking him anywhere. He’s coming with me. I’m taking custody of him.’ To all the security and the police. So they had a choice. Listen: they knew that if they didn’t release [me]— they have to go to Philadelphia. This was the first game in the playoffs. They want to be treated with respect. If it wasn’t for him being there— they were gonna book me!

On The Process

LB: Here’s something I’ve been wondering: when The Process happens, are you pro-Process? Are you a fan of the philosophy?

AH: How could I not be? Look what happened.

LB: In the moment? Are you able to stick with it in the moment?

AH: You wanna see the cancelled checks? [laugh]. That’s very much appreciated. In fact, now, I really reap all the benefits of doing that because Josh and all the guys that are involved in the team— the players, everybody— that’s why i’m so close with everybody. That’s in life— when you stick by whoever it is during bad times and you’re there for the good times, it’s appreciated.

LB: Did you continue going to a bunch of games during those down years?

AH: I was there as much as I am now.

On his favorite memory from courtside

LB: Do you have a favorite memory from those seats? Were you at the McConnell buzzer beater? (Against the Knicks.)

AH: Oh, sure. That was exciting. I can’t remember if his father was with me. You can’t imagine how proud he is. Can you imagine? You’re coaching your son in high school, but you never, in a zillion years, would think he’s gonna make it to the NBA.

LB: He’s an incredible story.

Ah: An incredible story, absolutely. Yeah, that would be the greatest experience I had sitting there. And then he was ringing the bell in the locker room. That’s another thing. When I was in Miami for the playoffs. Do you remember when we pulled off a game there in the playoffs [last year]? Well, I was sitting on the baseline right next to the bench. I’m almost in the huddles. During that game we were losing, and we pulled it out right at the end. All the people were ribbing me the whole time because I’m wearing my gear. I’ve got the ‘SIXTH MAN’ on the back. I’m taking it, taking it. And then all of a sudden we win. So when we won the game, after all the ribbing, it’s just human nature: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah! Come on, give it to me now!’ And they start throwing shit at me. So as they’re throwing shit at me, the players go, ‘You’re coming with me, Alan.’ So I went with them into the locker room.

On the Frosty Freeze-Out

LB: How many times have you redeemed your free frosty?

AH: I’ve never redeemed it.

LB: Never!?

AH: No, but I’ve given the ticket to people to go redeem it.

LB: That’s very magnanimous of you. Do you get into the Frosty Freeze-out? [Robert] Covington used to be really into it.

AH: We always laugh about it. It’s funny you say Covington— whenever I have a cancellation I usually bring one of the [players’] parents to come sit with me. I’ve had Covington’s mother sit with me a few times, Ben Simmons’ mom sits with me, she’s so fun to be with.

On what the Sixers should do this summer

LB: Finally: this is a huge off-season. Where do you want them to go? In terms of their three key free agents and otherwise.

AH: Listen, my whole theory is: if they keep them together the way it is, and they add to that, I think they’re heading toward a championship. You’ve gotta let these guys have a chance to gel.

LB: Do you get the impression that the owners will be willing to go over the tax and do that?

AH: I hope so. I’m gonna do whatever I can to influence them to do it.

My immense thanks to Alan Horwitz for inviting me in to discuss his tremendous breadth of experience as a Sixers fan after what was, no doubt, an incredibly tough night and long trip home.

Mr. Horwitz is on Twitter @76ersSixthman and on Instagram @76ersixthman.

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