This article was originally published in the Daily News on June 16, 2001.
And so this is how the journey ends: Not with the bang we all wanted, but certainly not with a whimper.
The Sixers fought to the end. Did we expect anything less?
Be sad that the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Sixers last night, 108-96, to win their second consecutive NBA title, but don't be disappointed.
Disappointment conveys a sense that the Sixers somehow let us down, and nothing could be further from the truth.
The Sixers don't have the championship, but they are worthy champions.
In Philadelphia, we celebrate effort and courage and commitment and drive and determination. And these Sixers never sold us short on any of that.
"I've been thinking about this moment and being in this environment for long time, playing for an NBA championship," said Sixers coach Larry Brown, who made his first Finals in his 18th NBA season. "The effort my guys put forth against a phenomenal team was terrific.
"Even if we would have won, I don't think I could have been more prouder than my guys. That may sound strange to a lot of outside people, but when a team lays it on the line the way my guys did, you can't feel any prouder than that. "
So when I think about this season, I won't think about the fact that we didn't get the fairy-tale ending. I'll think about the magic and the joy that the Sixers gave us along the way.
I'll remember the remarkable transformation of Allen Iverson from a talented kid to a mature team leader worthy and deserving of being the league's Most Valuable Player.
I'll remember Brown and Iverson dismissing their differences, instead concentrating on the common goal to elevate the Sixers to a championship-level team.
I'll remember that special Sunday evening in February when it all came together for this oddest of couples with Iverson being named MVP of the 2001 All-Star Game and yelling in the microphone, "Where's my coach? "
I'll remember the courage of Eric Snow, how the hard-nosed point guard jumped out to that terrific start only to have his season ruined by that right ankle stress fracture that cost him 32 games.
I'll remember Snow valiantly coming back and playing through the pain of that surgically repaired ankle. And of course, I'll never forget Snow suffering another break in the same ankle, yet still going out in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals and scoring 18 points to help the Sixers to a crucial victory over the Bucks.
I'll remember the heart of hometown hero Aaron McKie, how the kid from North Philly,
Simon Gratz and Temple placed the very essence of Philadelphia into the Sixers with his heart and professionalism.
I'll remember McKie playing through injury, illness and fatigue, yet never complaining when the Sixers asked him to answer the call one more time.
I'll remember the class of Dikembe Mutombo, who shouldered the awesome pressure of being the most scrutinized man in Philadelphia after the league-leading Sixers traded All-Star Theo Ratliff to the Atlanta Hawks for him.
I'll remember Mutombo working every day to expand his offensive game so that by the time the Sixers reached the Finals, he could give Shaquille O'Neal more of a battle than the Lakers' big man ever dreamed of.
I'll remember George Lynch and Tyrone Hill and Jumaine Jones and Raja Bell and every Sixer, each of whom gave us at least one special moment to cherish.
I'll remember the 10-0 start and how the magic began in the very first game - that 101-72 Halloween night blowout of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
I'll remember the night the Sixers exorcised the demon of the Indiana Pacers with that 88-85 series-clinching victory in Conseco Fieldhouse.
I'll remember the seven-game war with the Toronto Raptors - the dazzling duel between Iverson and Vince Carter that ended with "The Answer" dishing 16 assists in the finale and "Air Canada" shooting an inch too long at the buzzer.
I'll remember Game 7 against Milwaukee, and how an entire season of struggle and resiliency exploded in a stunning release of emotion as the Sixers crushed the Bucks, 108-91, to return to the Finals for the first time since 1983.
And I'll remember you, the fans, who fell in love with the 9-to-5 effort of your basketball team and turned the 2000-2001 season into a 105-game celebration of Philadelphia pride and enthusiasm.
Man, it was a fun and thrilling ride.
So, we can be sad the Sixers are not the NBA champions. But after a season like this, how can we be disappointed?