5 best debuts by a Philadelphia sports phenom
Basketball fans had to wait nearly half a season for 1st overall pick Zion Williamson to make his NBA debut. Then they had to wait three quarters for the real Zion to show up. But the most hyped basketball prospect since LeBron James did not disappoint, scoring 17 straight points for the Pelicans.
So that got us thinking about the best debut performances by Philadelphia phenoms. Here are the top five (and a couple of honorable mentions).
5. Cole Hamels — May 12, 2006 vs. Reds
By May of 2006, it was clear that the Phillies possessed a postseason-caliber offense. But one question lingered: Could the Phillies get enough pitching to be serious contenders? Cole Hamels represented the best hope in that department. The former first-round pick made his debut in Cincinnati and demonstrated that his potential was real. Hamels pitched five innings and allowed just one hit while striking out seven. More importantly, the Phillies finally had the makings of an ace.
4. Carson Wentz — Sept. 11, 2016 vs. Browns
The Carson Wentz story is one of rapid acceleration. The Eagles made two separate trades to move up from the 13th pick to second overall to draft Wentz. Then, the team moved Wentz from third on the depth chart to first after trading Sam Bradford prior to the season opener. Wentz hit Jordan Matthews for a 19-yard TD strike on the game’s first drive and didn’t look back in a 29-10 victory against the Browns at Lincoln Financial Field. Overall, Wentz went 22-37 for 278 passing yards, 2 TD and a 101.0 passer rating.
3. Eric Lindros — Oct. 6, 1992 vs. Penguins
It’s possible that no rookie has been more hyped in Philadelphia sports history than Eric Lindros. The “Big E” had been labeled “The Next One” for years in Canada, a successor to Wayne Gretzky but with a physical game built for the modern NHL. Lindros faced quite the challenge in his debut — going on the road to face the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the sport’s best player Mario Lemieux.
With the Flyers down 3-1, Lindros scored his first NHL goal just seconds into the third period. The Flyers would earn a tie in a game that marked a new era of Flyers hockey.
2. Chase Utley — April 24, 2003 vs. Rockies
We’re going to take some license here and ignore Chase Utley’s actual MLB debut, a pinch-hit strikeout in the second inning of a 9-1 loss to the Pirates, and instead focus on his first MLB start which came three weeks later against the Rockies. In his second at-bat of that game, the first-round pick out of UCLA stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. He proceeded to turn around an Aaron Cook delivery, sending it into the Phillies bullpen for a grand slam.
Not bad for a first career hit. Utley flew around the bases in 13 seconds and the first chapter of his legend was written.
1. Allen Iverson — Nov. 1, 1996 vs. Bucks
Just like Lindros, Allen Iverson was not just tasked with being great, but with also injecting life into what was a moribund franchise. In the first regular-season NBA game of what was then CoreStates Center, Iverson accomplished both of those goals. The smallest player on the floor provided the largest presence, scoring 30 points on 12-for-19 shooting including a remarkable right-handed throwdown in transition. It was clear on that night that no player had the foot speed to stay in front of him defensively. The Sixers had their first star since trading Charles Barkley four years earlier and a reason to hope.
Honorable mention: Brett Myers — July 24, 2002 vs. Cubs
Brett Myers’s career falls into the “solid” category. He was an important contributor on the 2008 World Series champions. But in 2002, there was hope that he could be a star thanks to an above-average fastball and a knee-buckling curveball. Myers made his debut in late July at Wrigley Field against the Cubs against the backdrop of the team’s best player, Scott Rolen, being just days away from forcing his way to Baseball Heaven.
Phillies fans needed a reason to believe in that moment and Myers delivered. Eight innings, two hits, one earned run while going toe-to-toe with Cubs phenom Mark Prior. The Phillies won that day 4-2. It felt monumental at the time but eventually turned into a footnote.
Honorable mention: Michael Carter-Williams — Oct. 30, 2013 vs. Heat
Michael Carter-Williams never really carried the phenom tag. But his performance in the first game of the Process Era against LeBron James and the champion Heat did alter expectations for a brief moment. MCW notched 22 points (4 for 6 from three), 12 assists, 9 steals(!!!) and 7 rebounds in a Sixers victory. It remains arguably the greatest debut performance in NBA history.