The Sixers recorded their first postseason victory on Tuesday afternoon, and it was one that they had every right to claim. The city of Philadelphia’s decision to allow 50% capacity at the Wells Fargo Center was overdue and didn’t go far enough, but the end result will be a significant home-court advantage once the NBA postseason starts. Not only are the Sixers poised to enter the postseason with more home games than any other team, the city’s new policy means that, at least for the moment, they’ll be playing in front of more fans than most of the rest of the Eastern Conference field.
This was the right move by the city. The fans deserve it, the team deserves it, and the businesses that depend on both of those constituencies deserve it. We’ve reached a point where governments can and should start ceding control of the pandemic to the people who will ultimately be responsible for safeguarding the progress that we’ve made over the last year. You, me, business owners large and small — all of us have the means and incentives to start making our own decisions with regard to our navigation of risk. Demand for the vaccine is dropping. If you want the shot, you can get the shot. If you get the shot, you should get a chance to live your life, and life with Sixers as the No. 1 seed should get you the chance to watch playoff basketball.
If you think that watching basketball is a dumb thing to value, well, lots of valuable things are. We fill our lives with dumb stuff. Make a list of all the things you missed over the last year, and I bet half of it is dumb.
Point is, we’ve got 70, 80, 90 years on this Earth and there’s no sense in whittling away another. It’s what the data says. At this time last year, there was a clear and present danger that necessitated the sacrifice of some of those dumb things. The danger might still be clear, but it is far less present. Most importantly, it has an antidote. Last year, there was no vaccine. There was far less understanding of who was at risk and what those risks were. Times have changed. Progress has been made. Roughly 40% of the city has been vaccinated. Plenty more have already beaten the virus. Nobody should be forced to attend a basketball game. But we’ve reached a point where nobody should be forced to stay home, either.
With any luck, nobody will be forced to do so by the end of this postseason. Talk to people with the Sixers and they’ll tell you that they are supremely confident that they could host a playoff game at 75% capacity just as safely as they host one at 50% capacity. They’ll also tell you that they are hopeful that the city will move closer to allowing full capacity by this time next month. One of the disappointing parts of the plan the city announced on Tuesday was the lack of consideration for the vaccination status of crowds. What better way to encourage the vaccine than to creating clear incentives for doing so? According to a team source, the Sixers independently explored the feasibility of various programs that would have leveraged vaccination status in its attendance policy before shelving the idea due to a variety of obstacles.
“We are thrilled by the city’s decision to increase capacity to 50% in time for the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Our fans have created the most passionate and intense atmosphere in the NBA and it gives us the type of home-court advantage our players can feed off in the postseason,” team president of business operations Chris Heck said in a statement. “We hope this is only the beginning and look forward to welcoming back even more fans throughout the playoffs. We also want to thank our partners at Comcast Spectacor for being on the forefront of best-in-class health and safety standards so that our fans have the opportunity to fuel our playoff run.”
As things stand now, the Sixers will have an interesting advantage over much of the playoff field. Take, for instance, their potential first-round opponents. Down in Washington, D.C., the Wizards will be playing in front of about 5,000 fans, which amounts to 25% of capacity at Capital One Arena. Same goes for the Pacers. The city of Indianapolis has been abiding by Marion County’s public health orders, the most recent of which was issued last week and caps attendance at indoor sporting events at 25%. A first-round series against the Hornets would include a more level playing field — indoor sporting events in the city of Charlotte expanded to 50% capacity starting on April 30.
The story is very much the same for the three teams the Sixers are most likely to face in the conference semifinals. The Hawks recently announced plans to increase attendance to 7,625 fans for the playoffs. Up in New York, the state’s most recent guidelines will allow for 25% capacity at indoor sporting events starting on May 19, which would mean about 5,000 fans allowed at Madison Square Garden for Knicks playoff games. Meanwhile, the Heat are currently allowing 5,700 fans per night, although a team official said that the organization was still developing its game plan for the postseason.
Beyond that, who knows. The Nets and Celtics are both currently operating at 25% capacity. The Bucks are at 50%. But plenty can change between now and the start of the Eastern Conference finals in five weeks.
For now, the Sixers’ top priority is to clinch the top seed in the conference by winning one of their last three games. Priority number two is beating the Heat on Thursday and keeping the Hawks and the Knicks in position to be their second-round opponent. Whatever happens, the upcoming postseason will be a wonderful way to close out a trying year. It’s going to be a fascinating run. If you’re comfortable, I’d recommend attending.