Pat Croce, the ever-exuberant former president of the 76ers during their glory run to the NBA Finals in 2001, was excited to be in playoff mode.
Croce returned to the Wells Fargo Center for Wednesday’s Game 2 of the opening-round Eastern Conference series against the Washington Wizards. He was the celebrity bell-ringer before the game.
Croce served as the Sixers’ team president from 1996-2001. He was not one of those low-profile, button-down executives. Croce wore his emotions on his sleeve, selling the Sixers’ promise everywhere he went.
While Croce, 66, says he brought his two grandsons to a game the year before COVID, this will be his first playoff game since the Sixers’ run to the Finals in 2001.
“It feels great to be here, it feels great,” Croce said in a Zoom interview before the game. “I haven’t been at a playoff game in 20 years.”
Croce stepped down as team president shortly after the Sixers lost in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals.
He said his greatest memory of the 2001 run was one of the iconic moments in Sixers history.
“It was Bubba Chuck, AI [Allen Iverson] stepping over Tyronn Lue,” Croce said. “It is the first image that flashes into my mind because it really sums up the entire series, the entire playoffs ... ”
During the Sixers’ 107-101 overtime win in Los Angeles in Game 1, Iverson increased the lead to 103-99 when he used a killer crossover dribble to get a jumper off over the annoying defense of Lue. After scoring, Iverson stepped over Lue, who is now the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Croce says the biggest similarity between the 2001 team and this year’s edition is that both have big star power.
“I would say the similarities would be the sun, where all the stars circulate around, A.I. and Joel Embiid,” Croce said. “There is a foot difference, but that talent is second to none. Pound for pound, size for size, I think that would be the only similarity.”
Croce says he doesn’t have any relationship or interaction with current Sixers managing partner Josh Harris, but he remains a big fan of the team.
He feels the Sixers can win a championship if ...
“They play together as a team, especially on defense, giving their best on every possessions,” he said. “And [No.] 2, which they can’t control, is their health, if they stay healthy.”
Rivers practicing what he preaches
Sixers coach Doc Rivers is attempting to get his message out to the right people. He is publicly urging politicians to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which addresses a wide range of policies and issues regarding policing practices and law enforcement accountability.
May 25 was the one-year anniversary of Floyd, an unarmed and handcuffed Black man, being killed by since-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white.
On Tuesday, during his press availability, Rivers wore a black T-shirt with white letters that read “CALL YOUR SENATORS.” There was smaller print on the T-shirt that read “GEORGE FLOYD JUSTICE IN POLICING ACT” with a phone number.
Before Wednesday’s game with the Wizards, Rivers says he has indeed contacted politicians about the bill.
“I have talked to several [politicians, including, Rep.] Karen Bass [D-Calif.] , who is really the originator of the George Floyd bill, I’ve been on Zoom with her and several conversations with [U.S. Senator] Corey Booker [D-N.J.] as well,” Rivers said. “I have talked to the coalition so we’re talking to a lot of people including, Senator [Bob] Casey [Jr., D-Pa.] here ... It’s been really nice they will listen; the next thing is we got to the them to push that vote.”