I'm not from Philly. Never have spent much time there. I don't get the fascination with Philly cheese steaks and never have liked those Philly pretzels.
But I love everything about the Philadelphia 76ers, the way they play, the way they play with bones broken and stuff mangled, the way they feel about themselves and each other. I love that the team is chock full of players so fast and daring and reckless, so completely and utterly without fear.
I love that their building is filled with soulful music and honest noise, like the old Boston Garden and Chicago Stadium. I love the way Allen Iverson cups his hand behind his ear as he looks at the home crowd, effectively saying, "Lemme hear ya!"
I love that invaluable Eric Snow was the fourth-string point guard for the Seattle SuperSonics and that other teams never quite appreciated Aaron McKie. That a guy who came in on a 10-day contract, Raja Bell, was one of the heroes in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals and that Todd MacCulloch, athletically challenged as he is, would have the nerve to take the ball straight at Shaq a half-dozen times Friday night. I love that Larry Brown refers to his players as "kids" and calls Iverson, quite endearingly, "the little kid."
The Philadelphia 76ers are always the guys you wanted to play with, but never against. It's a team that belongs to a tough place such as Philly, seems to fit Philly to a T. Folks there aren't going to like this, but any team this irresistible has to be shared with the masses, out-of-towners and Johnnies-come-lately. The first three rounds of the playoffs were all about the Lakers beating people down, trampling and humiliating them. But the NBA Finals, as the series moves 3,000 miles east for today's Game 3, have become captivating because the 76ers have guts enough that they've turned a coronation into very serious competition.
"If you're just watching the games because it's a championship, you probably don't understand," McKie said. "But if you're a true basketball fan, you can grow to love and appreciate the way that we play because we're going to give 100% every night and you're going to get your money's worth. If you're up 20 points on us with five minutes left, we're going to play until the last whistle. . . . We don't have a lot of big-name guys on our roster. It's hard for a lot of you to figure out how we win. But it's not about the name; it's about the heart."
I wouldn't want to suggest Sacramento's and San Antonio's players don't have heart, but I would submit the 76ers might have more of it, or that they're tougher and more resolute. Maybe that's what having "heart" in the arena of competition really means. The Sixers aren't interested in taking the temperature or knowing the odds or looking at how big the guys are on the other side. They just figure what they've got is enough, and if it isn't, they bring more of it to the next game.
The Lakers, undefeated and undeterred through three rounds and 11 games of the playoffs, learned the hard way in Game 1 of the Finals. And even though the Lakers won Game 2, victory was narrow, and it was gained only after a desperate effort at home.