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By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Andrew Bynum said he was “super excited” when he heard he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Jason Richardson he was “really excited and very happy” to come to the Sixers.
But neither man was prepared for what they saw on Wednesday afternoon at the Philadelphia Constitution Center.
Fans lined the upper level of the center. I can’t tell you for sure how many were there (a thousand maybe?), but they were as loud and excited as Sixers fans have been in a decade. This on a weekday August afternoon in Old City. In what is normally the most quiet time in the NBA off-season.
Fans were there to celebrate more than a return to relevance, something that Doug Collins promised when he became head coach. They were there to celebrate a return to excellence. And it’s been a while.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Bynum said of the reception. He was greeted with high fives, and “And-rew By-num” and “Beat LA” chants as he walked to the podium to begin the press conference. “Hopefully they can match my energy during the season,” he said of the fans.
The looks on the players faces said as much as their words, often times laughing out of disbelief. Richardson mentioned again after the press conference had ended that the welcome they received was unbelievable, and that it gives him even more motivation to prepare for the season.
Andrew Bynum is only under contract for one season, and then he has the opportunity to become a free agent. When asked if he has considered staying with the Sixers, Bynum said “my experience here has been so great, I’m leaning toward making this my home.” The already loud crowd got much, much louder.
You could see the sense of pride on owner Josh Harris and CEO Adam Aron’s faces. “They told us when we bought the team that Philadelphia wasn’t a basketball city, we proved them wrong,” Harris said. “This s just the next chapter in a series of moves that improves our team now and in the future.” For a fan base who felt for years that ownership didn’t care, they’ve now got ownership that does.
As a fan in writer’s clothing, I got chills quite a few times. I was just taking it in.
It. Was. Loud. Though Aron often asked the crowd to quiet down, you could sort of tell that he didn’t really mind that much. He promised a better experience, and eventually a better team. Today he can say he delivered.
Though I’m not sure if I’m supposed to mention this, reaction from many, not all (Gonzo loved it as well) reporters to the public press conference wasn’t positive. Admittedly, it was tough to hear questions and answers through the cheering. But the story today was not what the players and owners said. The story today is that people care about the Sixers. There is genuine excitement. And though it might make it hard for us to hear answers today, it means engaged fans when the season starts. That’s good for all of us.