Drumlines, Frostys, and the song: Why Philly has the best home-court advantage in the NBA

With the best record in the Eastern Conference, the Sixers can take advantage of fans and traditions at the Wells Fargo Center.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

Base image: Matt Slocum / AP Photo
robbybrod

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For the first time in 20 years, the Philadelphia 76ers have locked up the No. 1 seed heading into the postseason. This is more than just a cool number — it means they have home-court advantage no matter who they meet on the path to the NBA Finals.

Virtually every professional sports team plays better at home. This is not a new phenomenon. Players wake up in their own beds. At the game, they’re met by cheers, not jeers.

But the Sixers do it better than most.

Before the NBA shut down for COVID last year, Philly was 29-2 at home. This year they won 80% of games played on their own turf.

“Going back to last season, we are amazing at home,” star center and MVP candidate Joel Embiid said in April. “When you play in Philly, they’re gonna push you, they’re gonna get on you, they’re gonna boo you. You got to come out and give on 110%.”

What is it about the Wells Fargo Center — and the fans that fill it — that gives Philadelphia the best home-court advantage in the league? Here’s five prime reasons.

A neighborhood drumline leads the cheers

One of the first things fans finding their seats and players warming up on the court will hear at the South Philly arena is the team drumline, who call themselves the “Stixers.”

The Stixers are unique compared to other drumming troupes in the league.

Instead of being just an accompaniment to team dancers and the mascot, the Stixers are deeply integrated with neighborhood culture, with performers part of a Philadelphia community organization called the West Powelton Drummers.

The group was founded 30 years ago by the West Powelton Concerned Community Council, when founder Elsie Wise “strapped a couple drums onto girls from the neighborhood” and eventually was responsible for drawing many young men in Philadelphia off the streets, with peak membership reaching triple digits.

After Wise died last year, one member said she and the drumline singlehandedly “…kept [him] out of the graveyard and kept [him] out the jail cell.”

The West Powelton Drumline has won multiple national, state, and world championship competitions, and have been the official 76ers official drumline for home games since 2014.

Opposing teams start with boos

Before the ball even tips off, fans get an early opportunity to express themselves during team intros, acting as a Greek chorus condemning the opposing team before they take a single shot.

The script is easy to follow, but effective:

P.A. announcer Matt Cord: [lackadaisically reads off opposing player’s height, weight, college, and name]

Sixers fans: “SUCKS!!!”

(Repeat for every player in the lineup, and, yes, make sure to tell the coach he sucks too.)

Sixers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey earlier this week said this tradition was what he was most excited for with fans back in attendance.

Welcoming back most fans in Eastern Conference

Speaking of fans in the stands, relaxation of COVID mitigation rules is coming at an opportune time for the championship-seeking Sixers.

During the first round, the Wells Fargo Center will allow 50% capacity at the 19,500-seat Wells Fargo Center. The Milwaukee Bucks will also seat 50% of their fans, but because of the size of their arena, it’ll be about a thousand fewer people.

No other team is yet slated to back more than 45% of their fans, though some are expected to make changes before the postseason begins.

Sixers President Chris Heck said the team was “thrilled by the city’s decision” to allow more fans in attendance, noting the obvious:

“Our fans have created the most passionate and intense atmosphere in the NBA, and that gives us the type of home-court advantage our players can feed off in the postseason.”

Free throw misses = tasty treats

Then there’s the free throw prizes. During the second half of Sixers games, shots from the charity stripe take on an increased significance.

If an opposing player misses two in a row at Wells Fargo Center during the 3rd or 4th quarter, everybody who goes to a Wendy’s in the “Philadelphia Tri State Area” the next day gets a free Frosty dessert shake.

This seemingly cheesy promotion has become intrinsic to Process lore. It went viral in 2019, when a fan in the stands flipped him double middle fingers during then-Wizards point guard Isaiah Thomas’ free throws and told him “f*ck you” three times.

Thomas later confronted the fan about his perceived disrespect. The man responded, “Sorry, I just wanted a Frosty.”

Over the years, various Sixers have taken up the mantle of “Freeze Out Guy,” hyping fans to get loud enough to cause the opponent to miss free throws.

The role once belonged to former Sixer Robert Covington, who during his first game back to Philly after a trade was asked if he’d miss two free throws on purpose to get the fans their Frosty.

“If we were up big, and I was about to go out, and it came down to it, would I do it?” Covington said in 2019. “Probably. Ok, probably.”

This season, the job has fallen on the extremely large shoulders of Dwight Howard, whose infectious enthusiasm and ability to connect with fans made him the promotion’s perfect successor.

🎵 10-9-8-76ers 🎵

Lastly, there’s the song. Whenever the Sixers get a home win, fans in the arena are treated to possibly the greatest bad tune ever written.

“Here Come the 76ers!” is a disco-inspired track written for the team in 1975, the tempo set by the dribble of a basketball, heavily centered around multiple octaves of a piano plunking an E natural over and over and over.

The song is both braggadocious and twee, declaring the Sixers the “team of the year,” telling fans to “clap their hands/stomp their feet” for the team, and then leading the crowd in a countdown (10, 9, 8, 76ers… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… 6ers.) The entire thing shimmers with milquetoast 70s production that would make Phil Spector rip his hair out.

Nevertheless, the song has become a classic for Sixers fans, who routinely sing along at games after wins and completely lean into the song’s corniness.

After his first game in Philly in 2018, former Sixer Jimmy Butler praised the catchiness of the song. “Y’all have one of the catchiest things in the whole ‘1-2-3-4-5 Sixers’ deal,” he said. “When I was the away team, I was always singing it, so it’s still stuck in my head.”

The song was even played at the wedding of Process legend and former Sixers point guard, T.J. McConnell, whose family surprised him with it. “I actually play it all the time,” McConnell said. “My friends will be like, ‘Let me hear the song!’ And I’ll put it on.”

The song had a mini viral moment at the start of this year’s season when local teen Sadie Smith began posting videos of herself playing along to the tune after each win, earning the team’s appreciation and the moniker “Piano Girl.” The song has also been covered by punk bands, and even Opera Philadelphia.

The Sixers themselves have even co-opted the song’s chorus for this year’s Twitter hashtag: #HereTheyCome.

Here they come, indeed, right into the top seed of the playoffs with thousands of energized fans eagerly awaiting their chance to cheer the team on, boo whoever is unlucky enough to draw the Sixers as opponents, and sing along in victory as the team looks to win Philly’s first NBA championship since 1983.

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