76ers

With basketball on hold for now, what does the sport mean to us?

With basketball on hold for now, what does the sport mean to us?

With the NBA season on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, there are a lot of uncomfortable questions on the table.

Many of them are logistical — whether it will be possible to resume the season, under what conditions doing so would be responsible and how this might impact future seasons. Those issues are small ones, of course, compared to worldwide concerns outside of sports. 

Within sports, we're facing some questions that don't have tangible answers. One of the big ones is simple: What does basketball mean to us? 

A week ago, it probably would have seemed like an obvious, pointless question. It’s a distraction, sure, but far from the only one — watching every episode of The Simpsons or reading Crime and Punishment or learning how to play guitar are other good ones.

The memories are still there, and many of us can draw upon them easily. I can watch Jameer Nelson, Delonte West and St. Joe’s beat Chris Paul and Wake Forest in the 2004 NCAA Tournament and recall the thrill of watching a team from here impress a national audience. I can watch Julius Erving glide and dip and soar and wonder what that would’ve been like to experience firsthand. I can watch Allen Iverson walk into Staples Center in an Eagles jersey and walk off the floor with 48 points, a win in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals and ready to tell the world that “everyone had already counted us out.”

Being a fan is vicarious. We extract happiness when people who wear clothing with a certain logo painted on it accomplish their goals. That’s always been an odd, silly, fundamental part of sports, and the distance between participant and follower has now grown, in a way. There’s no live basketball to follow, so we’re left to remember when there was and how much we enjoyed it. 

Of course, the athletes and coaches and general managers aren’t doing much different from us right now ... other than probably being more diligent about a home exercise routine. Some of the players are watching their own highlights. We’re all just waiting.

The community aspect is another element we’re missing. At four or five Sixers games at Wells Fargo Center this season, they’d struggle against a zone defense or make a bunch of careless turnovers and fall behind. That would prompt a brief conversation on press row about whether they would come back to win. 

The consensus after a while became, “Well, yeah, they will. It’s a home game.”

You can’t quantify it, but the collective energy of around 20,000 people who desperately want the Sixers to win — and will let the players know if their effort isn’t up to standard — matters. There’s something unique about being in that kind of environment where, as a small part of a whole, you feel like you can sway the outcome of something that many other people also care about immensely.

The whole activity doesn't have any inherent meaning but in the moment you believe that, if it can inspire that much passion in that many people, it has to be important. 

Even if you weren’t able to attend games in person or weren’t any good as a player, basketball was such a large world. There were so many avenues into it. You could obsess over the salary cap, study the sets and schemes, get a kick out of the trash talk and bravado. 

Now, we can think about things that basketball had given us a perpetual excuse to avoid, reflect on the role it played in our lives and consider how our relationship to it might change when it returns. 

Or we can just remember that game from 2006 when they kept playing and playing late into the night, Kyle Korver hit a game-tying three at the end of the second overtime and the Sixers eventually beat the Celtics. 

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Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant randomly bought a minority stake in the Philadelphia Union

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USA Today Sports Images/MLS.com

Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant randomly bought a minority stake in the Philadelphia Union

Strange but true: Kevin Durant now owns (part of) the Philadelphia Union.

The NBA megastar reportedly purchased a minority stake in Philly's pro soccer team this week, according to the Sports Business Journal, worth somewhere between 1% and 5%.

Whether Durant purchased the stake himself, or through his Thirty Five Ventures umbrella company, is unclear, according to the SBJ.

Durant was seen meeting with Union ownership this past December, raising eyebrows after the Maryland native tried on more than one occassion to buy a stake in the MLS's D.C. United, according to the SBJ.

I'll say it: Durant buying a stake in the Union feels... super random? 

Trying to buy a stake in D.C. United makes plenty of sense for Durant. He's very proud of his DMV upbringing, so latching on to the local soccer team, in a league that still has plenty of room to grow, is a smart business move with explainable roots.

But Durant opting for the Union, after being turned down by United, is just odd. (Of course, he's no stranger to opting for an easier path.)

Durant joins former teammate and Houston Rockets guard James Harden among the MLS's notable NBA athlete minority owners. Harden holds a minority stake in the league's Houston Dynamo, along with the NWSL's Houston Dash. 

I wonder if we'll see Durant hanging around Chester real casual, before heading over to the newly-named Subaru Park.

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Sixers Talk podcast: What the NBA return format means for Sixers

Sixers Talk podcast: What the NBA return format means for Sixers

On this edition of Sixers Talk, we discuss the NBA's Board of Governors approving a return to play format and what it all means for the Sixers.

(0:27) — 2020 NBA return format
(14:22) — Ideas to pay off teams with home court advantage
(21:52) — The Sixers have to gel together and figure out their rotation
(34:32) — How far can we expect the Sixers to go in the playoffs?
(43:20) — Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons and Sixers being leaders off the court

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