They gathered at the end line of the Wachovia Center court, 20 to 25 youths from Detroit wearing T-shirts that included the No. 33 of their hometown hero, 76ers guard Willie Green.
Together with his church in Detroit, the Greater Grace Temple, Green chose the boys, who range in age from 8 to 16. He chartered a bus that took them from Detroit to Philadelphia for three days of sightseeing, Sixers basketball and fun.
"We put them in a hotel and allowed them to see the culture of Philly - the Liberty Bell, the museums, and things of that nature," Green said. "Sometimes, these kids don't get a chance to get out of their boundaries, and I just wanted to give them that opportunity to see somebody that's successful and let them know they can also be successful."
The children, who returned home yesterday, watched Green help the Sixers take control of their game Wednesday night against the New York Knicks in the second quarter. Green hit all four of his shots as the Sixers outscored New York, 35-16, to turn an 11-point first-quarter deficit into a 15-point halftime lead.
They had to be impressed. After the Sixers' win, they walked onto the court and met with Green.
"I just talked to them a little bit about what happened this week," Green said after yesterday's practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "I told them that they can do all the things they want to do in life. If they want to use me as an example, cool. But if not, it's tons of other things that you can do in life and be successful. I just wanted to point that out to them."
It's important for Green to do that. He was born and raised in Detroit and played high school and college basketball there, earning his way into the NBA, where he is spending his fourth season with the Sixers. He wants the youths to know that they can be successful with hard work and does not mind being a role model.
Green probably felt just as good that he played well in the Sixers' 104-84 win. He had eight points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in less than 11 minutes of action.
Green had been struggling. In his nine games before the all-star break, all in a reserve role, he had averaged just 3.9 points and shot 28.1 percent from the field. His play had led to speculation that his left knee, which was surgically repaired in the summer of 2005, was bothering him.
But Green said yesterday the knee was fine.
"It's not bothering me at all," he said. "When I sat out earlier this year [for three games], it was just sore. Ever since then it's been feeling fine. So there's no problem there."
Green said the key for him was to stay aggressive offensively. And despite his recent problems with his shot, he is pleased to be where he is since his surgery.
"I'm very happy with how far I've come since the injury," he said. "Of course, the competitiveness in me would like to be better. But I think I'm averaging a career high [10.3 points] right now. I'm just trying to get better.
"There's always room for improvement. I'm trying to get healthier. I'm feeling fine but I want to be better in all aspects so I can allow myself to be the best player I can be."
On the road again. The Sixers play back-to-back road games tonight at Charlotte against the Bobcats and tomorrow night at Milwaukee against the Bucks. They have split two earlier meetings against each team.