A few days ago, when the Flyers were still in the playoffs and the Sixers had just taken a 3-1 lead in their series against the Miami Heat, I was feeling so overjoyed by this year of Philly sports success that I wondered on my Facebook page: “What is God going to ask in exchange for this? Hide the firstborn sons.”
On Tuesday night, God called in his chips on my (purely hypothetical) firstborn.
Despite years of die-hard Philly sports fandom, I am no longer rooting for a home team in the playoffs.
By allowing Meek Mill, just hours after his release from prison, to ring the bell in their pivotal game against the Heat, the Sixers did something that was unnecessary, irrelevant to the sport, and designed to alienate the simple, crazy, decades-loyal fans like me. And now, as Michael Corleone would have put it, they are dead to me.
Some may ask how I square my anger at the Sixers with my very public, very proud support for the Eagles, considering that players like Malcolm Jenkins have supported Mill by attending rallies in his honor and playing his music in the locker room. My answer is this: While individual Eagles may support him, the team itself didn’t take a position. (Yes, I know that Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie sat with Mill at the Sixers game Tuesday night. I maintain that he is an individual. If every Eagles player and front-office staffer had been there, I’d be having a different conversation with myself.)
The Eagles didn’t shove Mill down the throats of fans. The Sixers did. They gave him a very high-profile platform. They glorified him. And by doing so, they endorsed his behavior — and I’m just not cool with that.
Some may argue that true fans support the players. They will speculate that the players may have had no say in the move, and that it was a PR stunt from the suits in the front office. But that doesn’t matter, because how a team presents itself is just as important as how it plays on the court.
These optics are more horrifying than a marathon of The Walking Dead. The fact that a team that I have loved and supported would give a platform to a convicted felon who has whined his way to freedom on a night when they should have been thinking of the fans who have embraced them for long, winless seasons is profoundly offensive.
I’m sure that more than a few Sixers fans were happy to see Mill’s cat-ate-the-canary smile flashing from his courtside seats. There are plenty of people who believe he got a raw deal.
But I’ve followed the Meek Mill saga for more than seven years, and I believe that instead of glad-handing with celebrities and politicians at the Wells Fargo Center, he should be viewing the playoffs from a rec room while seated next to his orange-suited peers. The fact that he has the ability to speak in syncopated rhymes does not give him the right to be treated more leniently than other parole violators.
But special treatment is exactly what Mill wanted. And he got just that, first from District Attorney Larry Krasner, who campaigned on emptying the jails. Then from Mayor Kenney, who spent an hour visiting this one convicted felon in prison. (Has he visited any other inmate for that long?)
And then, unbelievably, Mill got it from the Sixers, a basketball franchise that should have been worried about winning a championship but instead sent a message to all the law-abiding Philadelphians who worked hard to pay for their playoff tickets that they were fools and chumps. The felon got courtside seating. The rest of us work 9-to-5 to afford a few hours of joy.
The bell that Mill rang on Tuesday night was the death knell for my Sixers fandom.