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A Convert's Testament

By Dean Shutt

I am not an NBA fan. Check that, I was not an NBA fan. Actually check that, I am still not an NBA fan, I am a Philadelphia 76ers fan. I'm from Pennsylvania so it was kind of natural that if I followed anyone in basketball it would be the Sixers. I didn't know anything about them, I didn't really watch the games, I vaguely remember a championship when I was growing up and I definitely recall a chubby kid out of the South becoming Sir Charles in the late eighties, but honestly, basketball really wasn't my game. I was too busy playing hockey and cheering my beloved New York Rangers to another disappointing season to really follow the Sixers or any other basketball team, for that matter.

That is all different now. It started in the first round series against the Pacers. I tuned into a game because there was nothing else on and my nominal favorite team was playing. For next couple hours I was transfixed. Here was this little guy, who weighs a buck fifty soaking wet, careening around the court like a 20th round pick trying to make the team. We've all seen these guys, the undrafted rookie, the veteran on a comeback attempt, any guy playing for a job in any sport. It is enjoyable to watch because we can identify with this guy. Quite frankly, for those of us without athletic skill, hustle is the only way we will look good. That's why we do it. But here is the MVP of the league, beating himself to a pulp to win a first round NBA series.

That would have been enough, to be honest. Just Allen Iverson would have been enough to make me a Sixers fan. But he wasn't alone, no, the entire team plays like their family will be shot if they don't win. Watching the 76ers play basketball is like watching the allies play the Nazis in "Victory". It is like watching a team of condemned men playing to avoid 'ol Sparky. It is the singular most important reason I love sports, a team of guys playing out of their heads to attain a goal they would never reach individually.

Add to all that the fact that watching Sixers basketball is like watching "ER". They are not banged up, they are ambulatory. They showed a graphic of Allen Iverson's current injuries with red dots over the areas where he was hurt, he was obscured by red. My girlfriend saw that and asked me where Allen wasn't injured and I responded.. "His shooting hand, but that's really all he needs." And he isn't the only one hurt. It would be enough for a normal team to have their star hurt, but not for the Sixers. No, they have to throw a few more chips on the pile. Eric Snow is playing on a broken ankle. Matt Geiger is playing with a bad knee. Aaron McKie has a problem shoulder (and now a sprained ankle). George Lynch came back to play in the final series on a broken foot. That's right folks, two of the five starters played with broken wheels. That's sick kids, that's admirable no matter how you look at it.

I am hooked friends. I wrote this just after game one of the finals. I nearly had a heart attack watching my newly beloved 76ers bring the Lakers back to reality that first game. By the time you read this the Lakers have won their second straight championship. I suppose that is admirable and they should get for proper respect for their feat. I don't know anything about basketball, to be honest with you. I know I like watching the Sixers play and I enjoyed the finals regardless of the outcome. I know that anyone that tells you there is no such thing as a moral victory wasn't watching basketball last spring.

I listened to all of the experts before the series started. I heard them say the Lakers were too good, the Sixers too hurt, too tired, too one dimensional to even win a game. The Lakers would sweep and would surpass the `83 Sixers' playoff record for fewest losses. I listened and I thought it was wrong. I don't know anything about basketball so I assumed they knew what they were talking about. It didn't really seem right to me. I had watched the Sixers and I watched the Lakers and I had my own opinion. I watched the Lakers waltz through the post season. They swept the overrated Trailblazers, the in-over-their-heads Kings and the roll-over-and-die Spurs and frankly I wasn't impressed. I mean they didn't really show me much in those series. It seemed to me that they got a whole bunch of help from their opponents in those walkovers.

Contrast that with the Sixers, who fought and clawed and scratched through their first three series. They got out of the Pacers series in 4 and that would be the last series that didn't go to the limit. They faced elimination repeatedly and every time they pulled it out. Time and time again their character was tested and time after time that character shone through. It just seemed to me, and again I don't know anything about basketball, but it seemed to me that when Lakers faced the Sixers they would finally would be playing a team that wasn't afraid of them. Not only that, but they would be playing a team that wasn't impressed by them. The Sixers were not going to fold like a cheap suit when the ball was rolled out. In fact, the Sixers were going to come out, smack the Lakers upside the head and say, "Let's see what you got." Turns out that is exactly what happened to the tanned, rested and ready Lakers on their home floor. That's sports folks, that's a champion, that is what hooked me on the 76ers.

As anyone who knows me can tell you, I love the underdog. I am undergoing a crisis of conscience because not only my Red Sox, but also my Colts are quality franchises with a legitimate shot at winning world titles. It's hard for me to get my mind around the fact that I am now cheering for the favorites in 2 out of the 4 major sports. Thank heavens for the 76ers, they have reminded me of why I love sports. It isn't about winning championships, it isn't about dynasties, it is about a bunch of guys that the smart folks have written off coming out and gritting their teeth and getting to work. And in the process, showing us all, even those of us without the talent and the looks and the advantages of playing in a media center, how good we can be. Now IS the time for heroes and the Philadelphia 76ers answered that call. God bless those magnificent bastards.

Dean's House of Pain Joy

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