It was a Game 6 in Philadelphia, a long time ago. It was one of the first times they let me out of the office. It was to go to the airport and chase down the Los Angeles Lakers as they arrived for what they hoped would be their NBA Finals-clincher against the Sixers. It was so long ago that professional teams actually, you know, flew commercial.
Center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was hurt. The question for coach Paul Westhead was, well, how would you configure things in Kareem's absence? It was 1980 -- again, so long ago that there was no airport security that I can remember, no nothing, you just went to the gate and hung out. And when people found out that the Lakers were on the flight, dozens of people were suddenly hanging out.
Walking backward, trying to get in a few questions, Westhead said that he might just play rookie Magic Johnson at center. He laughed, everybody laughed. I was fairly incredulous because, well, I was 22 and incredulous was pretty much more normal state of being. But I put it all in the paper and, what do you know, Magic Johnson played center in Game 6 at the Spectrum and played great and booted the Sixers out of the tournament.
Which brings us to Marcin Gortat. He is the fella who will likely play a bunch in this Game 6 in Philadelphia, Orlando at Sixers, in the absence of suspended Dwight Howard. Marcin is not Earvin. The Sixers need to go right at him; duh. Even if the Magic pack it in and dare them to shoot three-pointers, the Sixers need to take it right to the Polish Prince (one of his real Wikipedia-approved nicknames, along with the Warlock, the Polish Machine and the Polish Hammer). He cannot possibly be as intimidating inside as Howard and he isn't as likely to be as menacing on the double-team that the Magic have thrown at Andre Iguodala the last couple of games every time he bounces the ball.
Howard's elbow-induced suspension provides the Sixers with an opportunity, yes, but also a responsibility. (And we haven't even brought up the injury to Courtney Lee.) There is no excuse for not winning this game. Everybody has spent the last few months tempering their expectations for the Sixers, who don't have Elton Brand and really are a year away from knowing what they really are, but even with those tempered expectations, they need to win this one. To lose in Game 6 would cost the Sixers whatever credibility they have begun to earn in this series so far.