It’s been two long years since the famous “Battle of I-95,” but on Saturday, the Palestra was buzzing with NBA action once again.
In an event that bumped up against the Red and Blue Crew’s select-a-seat event for the Penn men’s basketball season, the Philadelphia 76ers held an open scrimmage at the historic arena, giving fans a rare free glimpse at one of the NBA’s youngest rosters.
Many predict the Sixers to finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference this year, but that didn’t deter 1,000 or so red-and-blue-clad fans from showing up.
Mixed in were a few enthusiastic fans of the Quakers, some of whom showed up for both the scrimmage and select-a-seat event.
Students were quick to embrace the Palestra’s new temporary tenants.
“I think this [is] awesome,” said Wharton freshman Austin Tedesco, who had attended to see both the Sixers and pick out his Penn basketball seats. “It’s not as good as seeing the Heat play — which is where I’m from, south Florida — but I’ll take what I can get.”
While the 76ers began their practice at 11 a.m., the Red and Blue Crew did not begin their select-a-seat event until noon, leading to the curious sight of Penn students steadily filing in and out of the student section to select their seats for the year, seemingly oblivious to the action going on behind them.
While the Red and Blue Crew event had been heavily promoted on the organization’s Twitter and Facebook pages for weeks, the 76ers practice was not publicly announced until earlier this week, leading to some confusion when the two events got underway.
The Red and Blue Crew and the 76ers manned different entrances into the Palestra, and non-Penn students were barred from entering the student section, which inevitably led to Sixers fans being ushered away from the section by security.
“It was nice to combine the events to get more people out here,” Red and Blue Crew member Jordan Holmes said. According to Holmes, 111 students had registered for the select-a-seat event, “but [the 76ers practice] might have created some confusion.”
On the court, the 76ers looked plenty confused as well.
Top draft pick Nerlens Noel — out until at least January while he recovers from a torn ACL he suffered while playing at Kentucky — was sidelined for most of practice, dribbling a basketball on the bench forlornly while his teammates were scrimmaging and only stepping onto the court to shoot jumpers during stoppages.
Veterans Kwame Brown and Jason Richardson were held out of practice as well, resulting in the Sixers trotting out an exceptionally young roster onto the Palestra hardwood.
Playing in Brown’s place, center Daniel Orton received significant minutes during the team’s 5-on-5 scrimmage, while Richardson’s absence enabled former Temple star Khalif Wyatt to make his case for a roster spot on a familiar court.
Not even a malfunctioning shot clock during the team’s five-on-five scrimmage could dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm, as fans eagerly clustered for autographs after the practice’s conclusion.
And for Penn athletics, enthusiasm is ultimately all that matters.
“I think [the practice] was a good way to get some people out here,” Holmes said. “Obviously the Philadelphia community came out, and they saw Penn spirit as well, so that’s kind of nice that we’re being recognized for what we’re doing.”