It’s hard to even talk about the happy Sixers moments in my life without immediately thinking about the bad ones. Sixers fans of a certain age will rightfully champion Allen Iverson’s Game 1 performance in the 2001 NBA Finals until the end of time. It’s tough though when you have to come to grips with the Sixers losing the next four games and the series itself.
A night I’ll always think about is Game 3 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Raptors. After splitting the first two games in Toronto, the Sixers came back home to the friendly confines of South Philadelphia, where they had been absolute money for the last two seasons. On that night, the Sixers looked like they had the makings of a championship team (though we know how that went...), pulling off a 21-point win to take a 2-1 series lead.
Joel Embiid was electric, dropping 33 points, grabbing 10 boards, dishing out three assists and blocking five shots. He was responsible for the single coolest Sixers move I’ve ever seen live:
The Wells Fargo Center was pure pandemonium after Embiid put them up 26 points with that wild windmill slam in the fourth quarter.
It wasn’t quite Patrick Robinson’s pick-6 for the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game nor was it the final out of Roy Halladay’s playoff no-hitter for the Phillies, but the energy that flowed through me that night was unlike any I’ve ever experienced at a Sixers game.
I thought I was on top of the whole world while riding the subway home after the 116-95 win. Jimmy Butler dropped 22 points. The Sixers were the third seed in the East, but I was sure as anything that they were going to claw their way to the Promised Land.
As much as I had fun attending that game, it’s disheartening at the same time that a single game in a second-round series that the Sixers didn’t even advance from is my favorite moment. I had just turned seven during the 2001 NBA Finals. I have the faintest of faint memories of that run. It doesn’t register in the back of my brain. I’m otherwise left with the last 20 years of Sixers basketball, a period where the franchise has done very little to give me everlasting memories I’ll be talking about when I’m an old man.
Part of the reason that game left an indelible mark on my soul is because of the “What If?” aspect it brings. The Watcher could’ve stepped in and prevented Kawhi Leonard’s infamous shot in Game 7, but Uatu didn’t. The Sixers lost that series. Even though the Sixers ended up with the top seed in the Eastern Conference this past season, 2019 still feels like the best team of this era and their best chance of making a legitimate Finals run. The Sixers have yet to replace Butler’s perimeter play and Simmons’ time in Philadelphia will be done with a single Woj or Shams push notification.
I didn’t mean to get too nihilistic, but, hey, this is the Sixers we’re talking about. It didn’t result in a Finals appearance. Hell, it didn’t even result in an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. I’ll never forget the euphoria I had leaving the arena that day though. It was fleeting, but almost all things are when it comes to the Sixers, so I’ve had to learn how to appreciate those moments.