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To hell and back: my trip to Philadelphia

Wayne Spooney details his eventful trip to catch the Celtics play the Sixers.

Philadelphia 76ers (117) Vs. Boston Celtics (126) at TD Garden Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

I suddenly felt a dull pain in my left pec. I was walking home from dinner in South Philadelphia back to the house of a friend my wife and I were staying with for the night. My senses dulled from the glasses of wine at dinner. I belatedly looked down to see a familiar clear viscous liquid covering my jacket. My wife began to laugh, and between sharp inhales she said, “Michael, someone just hit you with an egg!”

I looked down at my jacket again and, for the first time, noticed small white bits of eggshell flaked on the front. I had been in Philadelphia for no more than 4 hours, and someone had already accosted me with produce. It was official: I was deep in enemy territory.

Allow me to give you a bit of context. I no longer live in Massachusetts, but my wife and I try to catch one game a year when the C's play somewhere close by. Last year we were in the building for Jayson Tatum hanging 50 on the lowly Washington Wizards. I love Washington.

This year, a good friend of mine that lives in Philly convinced us to go there instead. Until I was struck with an egg, I was quite excited for the experience. Naturally now, I hate Philadelphia.

We have a few sets of friends in Philly, and Saturday morning we said goodbye to our gracious host in South Philly and headed across the bridge into New Jersey to meet up with the couple we’d be going to the game with. We gave them a play-by-play of our eventful walk home and the ensuing need for me to wash my jacket. They enjoyed hearing the story far more than I enjoyed experiencing it.

We took it pretty easy Saturday and grabbed some takeout at a local New Jersey spot before gametime. Around 7, it was time to infiltrate the Death Star.

The ride over the bridge from Jersey back into Philly is actually quite idyllic. You get a lovely view of the illuminated skyline and can really take in the enormity of a modern metropolis. It’s one of the few charming things about Philadelphia. All the stadiums are also located on the outside of downtown, right next to each other. It’s quite convenient, so I was confident we could make a quick escape if necessary.

I was a mix of giddy and nervous as we walked into the stadium. Part of me wishes I could talk about how awful the accommodations were, or how terrible the Philly fans treated me since it would make for a more interesting story, but I can’t. Wells Fargo was a familiar lifeless loop of generically named food vendors and memorabilia. The Philly fans didn’t say a word to me or any other Celtics fan in my vicinity as we made our way into the stadium and seats -- a welcome surprise.

Once we found our seats, we settled in for the pre-game intros. Somehow, I wasn’t aware of the Philly tradition of screaming “SUCKS!” after every player from the opposing team is introduced. It becomes a rhythmic chorus of rudeness, quintessential Philadelphia.

“Al Horford.”


“Roberts Williams.”


I couldn’t help but chuckle. The Philly fans were engaged and loud all game. It was a far cry from being in Washington where Celtics fans outnumbered the Wizards faithful.

I have immense difficulty watching the game with a critical or analytical eye when I’m there in person. I wish I could give you some in-depth strategic takeaways from being there live, but I can’t. Instead, here’s a random smattering of thoughts and experiences that came to me while I watched.

  • This was my first time seeing Joel Embiid in person. Seeing him on TV doesn’t do his size justice. Just an absolute monster of a human being.
  • Lest we forget we were in Philadelphia, the woman sitting next to us puked on the ground while sitting in her seat because she was so drunk. It was 3 minutes into the first quarter. I flagged down an usher who said he’d get custodial. They never showed up, and the woman stayed for the entire rest of the game.
  • Tobias Harris must be the most frustrating player to root for. He looked like the best player on the court for the first 12 minutes, then I can’t remember a single thing he did the rest of the way.
  • Smart and Grant didn’t stop barking at the refs all game. Every commercial break, one of them ran up to Mark Davis to complain. The C's got a horrible whistle all game, but it’s pretty easy to see why.
  • Seriously though, some of those fouls were ridiculous. I got the sense Philly fans knew they were getting the calls because there was almost a guilty and knowing hush that came over the crowd when Embiid or Harden flailed for two free throws.
  • Harden hasn’t lost a step. He’s lost two. His rim attacks, if you can even call them that, are slow plodding affairs in which primary objective is to grift two free throws. He’s not even looking at the rim anymore. Not scared of this dude in a playoff series.
  • Not sure we appreciate how absurdly good Tatum’s handle is for a guy that’s 6’9”. Not many players in NBA history at his size have the ball on a string like he does.
  • Embiid was incredibly gassed, to the point that when a teammate was shooting free throws, he was staying in the Sixers’ defensive paint with hands on his hips, bent over, gasping for air. He held this stance during basically every break as well. It’s all the more impressive he was able to score effectively in crunch time.
  • I had a perfect view of Tatum’s game winner; we were in the corner with Tatum coming almost right at us. It was a great design by Mazzulla and an incredible move by Tatum to create space. Melton did well to get back and contest, but what a shot. The silence of the Philly fans combined with the scattered screams of my Celtics brethren was something I’ll remember for a very long time.
  • I also had a great view of Embiid’s would-be game tying shot. When it was mid-air, I breathed out “looks good,” and still couldn’t believe it went down. I was also endlessly screaming “he didn’t get it off,” but was drowned out by the excited screams of the Philly fans. Embiid didn’t even celebrate, so he must have known it wouldn’t count. The groan that followed when the replay was shown was delightful.

As we got up to leave, the couple in front of me kindly told me to “eff myself,” and the guy raised one particular finger in my direction. It was good natured, and the walk back to the car is perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had at a sporting event. There was a grown man screaming “We’ll never beat them!!!” over and over on his way out. Eventually, that just turned into to him howling and shrieking like a someone trying to fight of turning into a werewolf during a full moon. I heard at least 3 different people just scream “TATUM!” like he was the evil villain in an action movie about to get away with his scheme. Jayson Tatum has done irreparable harm to the psyche of the city of Philadelphia, and I’m just glad I got to be a little part of it.

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