Fultz pick thrills fans at Sixers' draft party at Piazza
Thousands of fans packed a plaza to watch Markelle Fultz join the Sixers. Some said they expect a playoff berth next season.
On a small TV below an enormous TV inside the Piazza at Schmidt's Commons on Thursday night, the 76ers' new slogan greeted thousands of eager fans awaiting the team's first overall pick: "Welcome to The Moment."
Perhaps this moment, one of unbridled optimism, was one "The Process" has been building toward for years. The fans at the Piazza hope there will be many more, but first there was this night, when commissioner Adam Silver walked to the microphone at the Barclays Center and announced that the Sixers had selected Markelle Fultz.
The support was unanimous. Fans hugged. Music played. Confetti rained. The fan base has experienced nights like this before — four top-five picks before this one, plus draft lotteries earlier in the spring — but none came with as much anticipation as this. There wasn't an official attendance, but team officials said 5,000 tickets were claimed for the event.
Several fans in attendance said they expect a playoff berth next season, and they do not believe that goal is too lofty after the Sixers' 75-253 record in the past four seasons.
"We done with all that," North Philadelphia's Maurice Lopez said. "It's playoffs."
Most fans remained patient for the more distant future, but hope for Thursday had been building since the Sixers secured the No. 1 pick Monday. Within days, the organization sold all of its available season tickets, needing a waiting list for those who signed up later.
"To see where basketball in Philly was two or three years ago, to where it is now … it's special," said Nick Mazzetti, one of those who bought season tickets for this year. "This is a team the city deserves and can be proud of."
Mazzetti declared new optimism for the Sixers' new "core three" — Fultz, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons — and the rest of the Piazza appeared to be on board as well. Embiid's was the most common jersey worn, with Simmons' a close second. One fan had already procured a Sixers jersey with Fultz's name. Another wore a Fultz T-shirt, and still another put on Fultz's University of Washington jersey.
"I think [Fultz is] a franchise-changing pick," said Northeast Philadelphia resident Mike Ziegler. "It's equivalent to the Iverson pick. It's going to help the team for the next 10 or 15 years."
Ziegler said he conducts sleep studies at Thomas Jefferson University during nights but could not sleep all day out of excitement. The line to enter the party stretched down the street almost two hours before the draft started.
At that point, the surrounding area was already buzzing. A man wearing Sixers gear in his car called to a man wearing Sixers gear on the sidewalk and asked where he parked. The man on the sidewalk pointed to a lot down the street and said he had paid $10 in advance for a spot.
Perhaps this fall, he will do so for a spot closer to the Wells Fargo Center to watch the Sixers take the floor. For now, the crowd could only anticipate one such night.