For a regular season game, the hype of James Harden’s Sixers debut was on par with only a handful of moments in recent Philadelphia sports history. The short list that comes to mind for me is Joel Embiid’s first game after sitting out two seasons due to injury, Cliff Lee taking the mound for the Phillies following a mid-season trade with Cleveland, or Terrell Owens’ debut after forcing a trade to the Eagles earlier that spring and signing a seven-year deal. Friday was unofficially James Harden Day in the City of Brotherly Love.
As it turns out, all of the buzz and anticipation directly translated to eyeballs for NBC Sports Philadelphia:
Last night’s game was the highest-rated 76ers regular season game on NBCSP/NBCSP Plus since 2001.— Ky Carlin (@Ky_Carlin) February 26, 2022
Including postseason games on the network, it tied the third highest-rated 76ers game on record. #Sixers
Wow. I know playoff games go exclusively to national television coverage after the first round, but it’s still wild that last night’s game was among the most-viewed games including postseason for NBCSP. We’re talking any of the recent opening-round series for the Process Era, the upset over the Chicago Bulls, the later-era Iverson teams.
Then, the fact that this dates back to 2001 for the regular season is a nice parallel for the franchise. 2001 was Allen Iverson’s MVP year and the team’s last trip to the NBA Finals. Currently, Joel Embiid is the MVP frontrunner and the Sixers are certainly hoping to return to the Finals this season. James Harden helping propel the team to their most efficient offensive performance of the season in his very first game with the club certainly portends well for the future.
For the masses who tuned in for last night’s game, they had to like what they saw. Harden was every bit as terrific as advertised, scoring 27 points on 12 field-goal attempts, along with 12 assists against just two turnovers. The entire team seemed rejuvenated, in no small part because, as Embiid said after the game, “I really never been wide open like this in my life.”
Joel Embiid on James Harden: "I really never been wide open like this in my life. Seriously. I mean, the passes, like I wasn't even expecting it." pic.twitter.com/w2LZQTrpwH— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) February 26, 2022
Everybody’s on a high right now in Philadelphia, and people want to join in for the ride. We’ll see if the Harden ratings bump continues on a national scale when the Sixers take on the Knicks tomorrow afternoon on ABC.