Picture a 400-square-foot apartment, tight quarters for a man and his wife and their cat, always close by. If the 76ers were on television, the man was usually looking at the television. One day, watching the Sixers, he looked at the cat. What if I raise it?
A great and silly Philadelphia sports phenomenon was born.
"This was organic — this was me being bored at home,'' Dennis Grove, a 2013 La Salle graduate, said of the initial cat-raising and selfie-taking in November 2016, in honor of a Sixers victory. The cat-raising subtly paid homage to Ben Simmons, another proud cat owner, as Grove knew from Twitter and Instagram.
At first, raising that cat didn't seem like heavy lifting, a fun thing that might die out quickly. The beginning of last season, the Sixers, holding to recent tradition, didn't win much. An eight-game losing streak carried the team from November into December. Then even the cat may have realized something was up. The Sixers began winning, eight out of 10 from Dec. 30 to Jan. 20.
Each victory, Grove would put his cat-raising celebrations on Twitter and Instagram.
"Sometimes the cat would be blurry, mad, clawing at me,'' Grove said. "If they didn't win this many in a row, this movement wouldn't happen.''
"It turns out there are a lot of Sixers fans who have cats,'' Grove said.
By now, Raise the Cat may be second only to Trust the Process in terms of Sixers-inspired fan phenomenons that began out of thin air and came to life on social media. Last season, Sixers fans raised cats after every Sixers win and snapped photos. Nik Stauskas' father up in Canada raised a cat and Stauskas put it on Instagram after T.J. McConnell hit a game-winner against the Knicks. (It got 4,815 likes.) Grove's favorites include a big dog going up as a substitute — "Yes, that's allowed" — and a cat's ashes being raised.
Simmons himself took notice. On Jan. 21, he tweeted, "Someone tell me how raise the cat started."
"All these people responded, 'It was @GipperGrove. …. It was @GipperGrove … It was @GipperGrove,'" Grove said. "It just went on and on."
The NBA online store tried to put out a shirt with Raise the Cat, but the Sixers' Twitter caught wind of it and folks didn't like the look of the shirt or that Grove received no credit. There were so many insults the NBA took it down, stopped selling the shirt.
Grove had a better idea. Sell a shirt for charity. A friend came through with a design. Grove said he has raised more than $4,600 for Philly PAWS and the Morris Animal Refuge. He also arranged with the Morris Animal Refuge to have a "Yappy Hour,'' a monthly charity event where folks could "drink, eat, and adopt."
"Many other fans have declared that they will adopt as a result and two of my friends adopted cats,'' Grove said.
His cat Izzy, he is quick to point out, came with his wife, Valerie, when they got married. His wife was working during the first couple of cat raisings but soon became a willing partner, often taking photos. They have since moved to a bigger apartment in the area around Temple so Izzy has a little more space, and a rooftop deck.
The raising will continue when a new season starts this week. Last season, it became such a thing that Raise the Cat was runner-up for NBA meme of the year, losing out to Russell Westbrook's wardrobe. The first Twitter response to that news was from Grove himself: "A travesty!!!"
Grove thinks the reason the whole thing was so successful was partly because he would frequently reply to cat-raisers and applaud them on their work. "I'd say, 'Great extension!' or 'That cat has a great coat!' "
A visit to Grove's home the other day revealed a cat who might come down the stairs, see a stranger or two, immediately return upstairs. Izzy didn't put up a fight when Grove raised her for a photo, although she was a little slippery overhead. Photo responsibilities completed, the cat returned to her bed.
A complete history of Raise the Cat should note that Grove tweeted a photo of his sitting cat on Nov. 9, 2016, with the words, "One day I will raise you up." That prophecy got five retweets and 22 likes.
What does the whole ritual say about Sixers fans of a certain age? It's another example of how fans began building their enthusiasm in their own ways, waiting for the on-court product to catch up. Grove had been a Sixers fan growing up in York — he never had pets — and became more devoted to the local squad while at La Salle, where he also experienced his Explorers' getting to the 2013 NCAA Sweet 16.
"I was one of the few kids in my dorm room that would actually watch and enjoy and took the beating from my friends when they wouldn't win,'' Grove said of the Sixers. "I think college was when I first realized this was a process, I'm going to be in for the long haul, this is going to be a grind."
However long his cat gets raised — and however long it takes the Sixers to claw their way to the top — Grove calls himself a "Sixers fan for life."
Give the squad some time. Call it nine lives.
"I'm desperate here,'' Grove said of his original inspiration. "That's how desperate I am. I'm looking for something to smile about."