Game 5 of Sixers-Heat on April 24, 2018, was as wild as we’d seen the Wells Fargo Center.
It all started during the day with the news that Philly rapper Meek Mill was being released from prison. The first thoughts on Sixers fans’ minds: Will he come to the game and/or ring the bell?
That put all of us on Meek watch as we all anxiously followed the saga on social media. Thanks to limited partner Michael Rubin, Meek Mill made it to the game before tip-off.
Wells Fargo is about to get litty again.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) April 24, 2018
Meek Mill has entered the building and is greeted warmly after his release from prison earlier today. pic.twitter.com/ES1R3pIU8T
You have to remember that a couple months prior, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz were among Sixers players that visited Meek Mill in prison. They were enormous advocates for him after he was sentenced for two to four years in prison for violating the terms of his probation.
When he arrived to the Sixers’ locker room, it was a hugfest.
When Meek rang the bell in a Joel Embiid jersey, the roar of the crowd was deafening.
The video doesn’t do it justice. You could feel the ground quake even from the press box upstairs.
Game 5 vs. the Heat had a different kind of energy. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/y6gbAoijdg— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) April 10, 2020
As for the game itself … how could the Sixers possibly lose after all that? The only drama left for the night was wondering which opponent they’d get in the second round as the Celtics and Bucks had yet to play their Game 7.
Led by their young stars, the Sixers secured their first playoff series win since 2012 — and looked damn good doing it. They suddenly became a trendy pick to represent the East in the NBA Finals.
Even Dwyane Wade, who looked like vintage D-Wade at times during the series, couldn’t help but be impressed by what he saw.
"They're the future of the NBA," Wade said postgame. "The NBA is in great hands with Ben and Joel and those kind of individuals."
He then went on to heap praise on both the Sixers’ young stars.
"These guys believe it. You can see it in their eyes,” Wade said. “Embiid is not just talk. He's not just a Twitter rat kind of person. He's a player. He's very good.”
"I think the thing that was impressive about him all year, is he just continued to get better and better and better,” Wade said of Simmons. “To the point where it's like that guy in Cleveland [LeBron James]. ... The imprint that [Simmons and James] put on the game is more than just scoring. [Simmons] does so much. The sky is the limit obviously for him and this organization. "
This wasn’t just the first postseason for Simmons and Embiid.
Assistant coach Kevin Young was also experiencing the NBA playoffs for the first time. Young had been with the organization since 2013, the first year of The Process. He was an assistant with the then Delaware 87ers before taking over as head coach for two seasons. Then in 2016, he was given a job on Brett Brown’s staff.
That means Young had seen it all — the injuries to first-round picks, all the losing. The lead up to Game 1 meant a lot to Philadelphia and an awful lot to Young. It was a culmination of The Process and everything that happened before it.
“On a personal level for me, that was my first taste of coaching NBA playoff basketball,” Young said, “so I'll never forget prior to Game 1. We're at home and the gentleman in a wheelchair that sings the national anthem [Ron Brooks] sang the anthem that game. Every time he does it, there's an electric feeling in the building, but that night, it was just 10 times more.
“Another thing that was really cool, and I'm not from Philadelphia, and so being in the city during that time when the Eagles [won the Super Bowl], there was like this energy in the city and it bled into our building. And then that anthem happened and then just the magnitude of the playoffs and it was like all the stuff that happened for years prior to getting to that moment all came to a head at that particular moment. You could just feel that in the building.”
After the disappointment of Game 7 in Toronto and the underperformance of the 2019-20 team, it can be hard to remember all the hope and positive vibes the Sixers’ series win over the Heat provided. This is a "what have you done for me lately" kind of town — and the Sixers hadn't done much this season.
With NBC Sports Philadelphia set to re-air Game 5 Friday night, it gives you a chance to re-live the craziness of Meek Mill ringing the bell, the first playoff run of the Sixers’ two young stars, and that fleeting feeling of hope the city felt with its basketball team.
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