Michael Conroy is a freelance sportswriter and Flyers fan, and a guest writer for Spike Eskin Dot Com. You can find him on Twitter @MichaelConroyPM.
The Philadelphia 76ers were a pitiful franchise for the better part of the past decade. Basketball fans looked down on the team and Philadelphia fans forgot that they even existed. Down on their luck and struggling to get to .500, the Sixers toiled in futility for an audience of few.
One day, the star-studded Boston Celtics came to Philadelphia. They laid their season and championship aspirations on the line for anyone willing to fight them for it. It was publicized as a means for a “nobody” to become a “somebody”. The underdog 76ers foolishly accepted the open invitation. The Celtics were supposed to dismantle their opponent with ease and build up some good press but someone forgot to tell that to the Sixers, who see this as their only shot at making the “big time”.
Did that sound familiar to you? It should as this city has ridden the “Rocky” narrative into the ground for the past 40+ years. The truth though, is that sports fans here have forgotten what it means to be an underdog. Sure, we’ll play a bit of Mickey’s speech to the crowd when we need a rally at Citizens Bank Park or cue it for the final period of a Flyers playoff game but do we really connect with those ideas anymore? If we did, the Sixers would be our most cherished sports team.
Invoking the Rocky narrative during the final inning of a baseball game when our 173 million dollar team is trying to score a walk-off run against the Pirates tells you all you need to know about the state of things around here. In truth, we have become a “Championship or Bust” town who will quit on a team at the first sign of trouble. If a team legitimately doesn’t have a shot at winning it all, the seats are empty. Philadelphia has become a city of fans who only want to root for Apollo Creed.
I watched our “Dream Team” stumble over themselves to an 8-8 record last year. I’ve been there when the Phillies went out in the first round of the playoffs to the Cardinals as well. What we saw and felt after last week’s win over the Boston Celtics is something I haven’t been a part of in a very long time.
In front of a fickle crowd growing hostile, up against a team determined to put them back in their place, the 76ers were down by 18 points. The team’s very presence in this second round could be attributed directly to injury. Nobody would be surprised if this was how the season ended. Nobody could have expected even this much from the Sixers this year but through all of the punishment, against an opponent clearly more talented, they picked themselves up.
They absorbed blow after blow but kept fighting. Philly counter punched until Boston threw their hands up and exclaimed “Fine, take this round if you want it so bad you stubborn bastard.” Our team won that game not because of some Free Agent acquisition or blockbuster trade paying off. They won because they wanted it. They wanted it even more than the fans did.
The Philadelphia 76ers are probably not going to win a championship this year. If I had to bet money on it, I would not take them to make it out of this round but on that wild night, I didn’t care. I did not care about not having a star scorer. It didn’t matter that the Celtics were old or “let their foot off the gas”, the Sixers won and that was everything. To see Andre Iguodala, our flawed captain finally come through in the clutch, to watch him take in the post-game scene like he wasn’t guaranteed another day in the NBA was special.
This post-season run has provided us with moments I will always remember regardless of the end result and that is what makes sports worthwhile. We put time and energy into a long shot and were rewarded handsomely for it.The 2011-2012 Sixers represent everything that has been missing in Philly sports for years: maximum effort, overcoming adversity, and above all, REAL GROWTH.
We have witnessed the development of young players. They might not have been superstar talents and they may never be but they are ours and they work as hard as any of us at their job. Isn’t that what Philadelphia is supposed to be about?
Up in Boston, on Monday night, the team took yet another rough body blow Aren’t you proud to say you don’t expect them to stay down for the count? The team is 3-3 when trailing in the third quarter this post-season and a whopping 4-0 following a loss. I can’t remember rooting for a team less likely to give in to adversity.
This basketball team has been an underdog all season long but they are still playing. They may not be the favorites and maybe they stand no chance of winning even another game but if you’ll claim that a blue-collar mentality still exists here in Philly; that you share that mentality, the 76ers are your team. Whether they have a single fan rooting for them in the stands, those players will be out on the floor against the best teams in the league, battling, diving for loose balls and picking themselves off of the sweat covered floor until that final bell rings.
Can we still root for an underdog? The Sixers cannot be expected to win but they are determined to go the distance.