AS SOMEBODY who has now had the unusual opportunity to cover three of these things, I can tell you that there is always a moment when anybody with a rudimentary ability to read body language understands that the fate of the game has been decided and that the only thing left to do is sit back and watch the suits screw up the recitation of the rites.
In 2001, that moment occurred when a third-year coach who was also a notorious stickler for detail approached a faulty section of the playing surface at Veterans Stadium and scowled as if somebody had snuck into his bedroom and rearranged his sock drawer.
In 2008, it occurred when the infield at Citizens Bank Park began to ripple with the wind that was blowing across it, completing its transition from baseball diamond to federally protected wetland.
On Wednesday night, the moment arrived roughly 20 minutes after the public-address announcer informed the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center that the scheduled game between the Sixers and the Kings would be delayed due to an issue with moisture on the court. A legion of mop-pushing employees had already spent most of the evening attempting to sop up the shimmering slick that had formed on the hardwood, and Robert Covington was now shuffling down the court in his game shoes, testing the traction with repeated jabs of his red rubber soles. As he crossed midcourt, the Sixers swingman paused and turned toward one of the mop men who had been shadowing him. Covington offered a quick shake of the head, and the mop man responded with a shrug. Then, the two men looked around the building for somebody who might be able to answer the only question left to ask.
"Maybe I'll go to Geno's," Kings center DeMarcus Cousins said later as he stood on the side of the court and watched the Wells Fargo Center maintenance staff break down the basketball hoops in preparation for the following night's Five Finger Death Punch concert.
By this point, the Twittersphere had already assumed its role in the proceedings, graciously providing exiting patrons with a livestream of sardonic commentary as they suckled the remnants of their Jack and Cokes. It was one of those nights when you understood why the social-media guys get paid the big bucks: However artfully worded your wisecrack about tanking, the law of large numbers said that somebody else had already tweeted the same thing. And yet, somehow, they persevered. As the Kings' official Twitter feed wondered how Philadelphia could trust The Process but not The Floor, you pictured the followers of that feed punching their computer screens and yelling, "At least they didn't trust Vlade Divac!"
Meanwhile, Sixers CEO Scott O'Neil stood amid a swarm of media and said the only thing he could say now that Sam Hinkie is bald and bearded and living on the West Coast and thus unavailable to blame.
"It was a league decision, but it was pretty unanimous," O'Neil said.
Really, that's all there is to it. You can't hold a basketball game on a wet court, especially when the people playing in that game are worth tens of millions of dollars. The moisture on the court was such that even fans sitting courtside would have been at risk for a slip-and-fall.
"I've never seen a floor in this condition," Cousins said.
The decision to cancel the game had all the hallmarks of a carnival-by-committee, but that's how things tend to unfold when decision time arrives. After all, Bud Selig wasn't walking through that door.
While the cancellation certainly fits a narrative that the Sixers have helped to shape for themselves over the last three-plus seasons, it is hard to hold a tenant responsible for an issue that is clearly their landlord's responsibility. The Sixers do not own the building. They just play there (loosely defined, anyway). The relationship between the two parties has been tumultuous enough that the Sixers for a time refused to even call the building by its official name.
"I've never experienced anything like this," Cousins said. "This is definitely different."
And yet it goes on. Hey, the Eagles went to the NFC Championship Game in 2001, and the Phillies won the World Series in 2008. The Sixers versus the Kings was the kind of matchup that exists to test the maxim that says somebody has to win. Perhaps the legacy of this one will be another of life's mysteries solved.