Canceled NBA tickets don’t even register in the logs of what we’ve all lost to the pandemic, but it was the first thing gone for me, when I got an email from Stubhub explaining that the April 9, 2020, game was canceled.
The pandemic would eventually also claim my then-day job booking travel arrangements for business executives. At least 3.5 million lives have been lost to COVID-19 worldwide, a number that continues to climb. We’ve moved the Olympics a whole year later, seen some American kids go more than a year without setting foot in a classroom, and watched last year’s NBA season end, fan-free, in “the bubble.”
But now, through the miracles of science, we can once again begin to experience life in a way that resembles our pre-pandemic existence.
» READ MORE: Philadelphia is starting to come back
For me, one of those things I missed from pre-pandemic life is attending basketball games. I’m a Sixers fanatic, even before The Process. My roommate Matan and I would watch nearly every Doug Collins-era Sixers game on local TV, falling in love with announcer Marc Zumoff’s bag of reliable catchphrases, like “turning garbage into gold,” “we’re coming in for a landing,” and sometimes just “YES!” We followed the team religiously through Inquirer writer Kate Fagan’s excellent beat reporting, and enjoyed every minute of the scrappy overachievers’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals. I own multiple T-shirts that refer cryptically to former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie. So when I got an email inviting me to buy tickets for Game 2 of the Sixers’ playoff journey, it took about five minutes to make up my mind. I was in.
I invited my friend Dan, another die-hard Sixers fan, and we met at Wells Fargo, determined to savor this first trip to a major event of any kind for either of us in more than a year. Both of us are fully vaccinated, protected by the power of mRNA against infection. While the Sixers haven’t followed the lead of some other teams, and don’t require vaccination, Trusting the Process isn’t just for basketball, it’s for science as well.
Like with any other Sixers game, we had parking lot beers and beers inside. We were so excited, we got more arena food than we’d ever had before. By the third quarter, we were both hoarse, along with much of the crowd. Many of us were clearly out of practice, but all of us were in it together, cheering for the same team, and building on one another’s energy. Even at 50% capacity, the noise and passion did not feel diminished at all. They were back. We were back.
For fans, in-person events are often what sparks their fervor. I always liked watching basketball and the Sixers, but it was seeing Andre Iguodala match up against Kevin Durant after winning courtside seats at work that baptized me into full fandom. There’s just something about being with other people, chanting and cheering for the same thing that speaks to a need deep within ourselves.
At Wednesday night’s game, Wells Fargo will be at 100% capacity. I’ll be at home on my couch, hoping that they win and that there are more games in my near future. Because even though sports are hardly the most important thing in the world, when you watch at home you might even get distracted by your family or other responsibilities. But when you watch in person, it takes up all of your bandwidth. It crowds everything else out. Thanks to Sixers playoff basketball and vaccines, for one night, a fan could ignore the face masks and pretend that the whole last year hadn’t happened.
Daniel Pearson is an opinion staff writer at The Inquirer.