A Grand Honor
“The lights go out, and Matt Cord, our PA announcer, starts the intro read. As soon as he says ‘Joi Hooper,’ the ovation… you have to be here to see it.”
-Derrick Hayes, 76ers Director of Game Presentation
The production surrounding the 76ers’ Game 2 victory over the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday began with a very powerful voice.
That voice belongs to Joi Hooper’s, the 76ers’ Payroll Coordinator, who doubles as one of the league’s premier national anthem singers, and a beloved Philadelphia fan favorite.
Born and raised in West Philadelphia, Hooper joined the 76ers’ finance department in 2016. It wasn’t until 2018, though, that the Sixers learned she could sing.
“We had bring your child to work today, and one of the questions that was asked of the children was to tell a fun fact about your parent,” Hooper recalls of that day, which she spent with her daughter Morgan, now age 12.
“So my daughter was asked, ‘Tell us something interesting or fun about your mom.’ And she says, ‘My mom has a beautiful voice.’”
The rest is history.
After auditioning in front of her colleagues, Hooper made her anthem debut on Jan. 11, 2019 against - fittingly enough - the Atlanta Hawks.
That same night, the Sixers were honoring former Chief Financial Officer Andy Speiser for his retirement, giving Hooper’s performance extra meaning for the finance department and Sixers organization alike.
With her powerful voice, infectious smile, and signature Sixer blue sweater, Hooper became an immediate fan-favorite, garnering attention from Sixers, fans, and opponents alike.
It was later that season when then-Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers heard Hooper sing for the first time.
“I remember years back, when she sang, and I walked over to the scorers table, and asked someone, ‘Who is that lady? She’s great!’” Rivers said recently.
Hayes, who has been with the Sixers since 2001, filled Rivers in.
“I was like, ‘Yes, she works in our [finance] department!” Hayes recalls. “It was really cool.”
Now, with Rivers and Hooper on the same team, the head coach has a renewed appreciation for his colleague:
“I think people are always inspired when it’s somebody from home singing the national anthem. I think it’s great.”
But singing the anthem isn’t just a performance for Hooper, it’s a responsibility, one that she takes seriously.
“I really try to focus on what we’re honoring, which is the men and women who have served our country. I have a lot of family that’s military. I also realize that this is something that we do to honor them.
“I want to honor them in a way that’s grand.”
Music is a grand tradition in Hooper’s family. Singing has, literally, been part of Hooper’s DNA since the womb.
“I come from a family of singers. My mom sings, my dad sings, my grandfather sings, my aunt sings, we have cousins that sing and play instruments.
“[My mom] always tells this story - she announced her pregnancy in a concert. She and my dad were doing a concert, and they’re singing, and she announced that she was pregnant with me.”
A couple years later, Hooper was already performing.
“I grew up in church, so singing is a big part of that. I think I was about two or three, when my dad stood me on top of a box in the middle of a church, and I sang my first solo.”
Fast forward, and family remains an integral part of Hooper’s performances. Her Mom, Robin, is still her mentor.
“She’s like my singing coach. She comes to the games, she’ll tell me what I did well, she’ll tell me where I can be better. She’s like my biggest fan, outside of my daughter and my husband.”
Hooper’s ever-growing fan club now finally once again includes a full-capacity crowd at The Center.
After performing frequently during the fan-less games during the pandemic, she’s now performing in the playoffs for the first time, and embracing each moment.
“The playoffs are unbelievable… I try not to focus on it, because my nerves are absolutely horrible,” Hooper said with a laugh. “I just take each game, and each moment as it comes, and I look back when it’s over and say, ‘I can’t believe I did that.’”
Hooper also boasts an excellent track record:
The Sixers have only lost three times when Hooper sings the anthem.
“She’s getting a lot more wins under her belt, because she’s a good luck charm for us,” Hayes said.
“It’s unbelievable, I feel like I’m living in a dream,” Hooper said. “It doesn’t always seem real. It’s an amazing opportunity. I’m so grateful.”
That gratitude runs many ways.
“We are all so proud to have her as our colleague, and incredibly grateful that she shares her voice with us,” 76ers President Chris Heck said. “The energy and spirit she brings ahead of each game inspires and uplifts our team and our fans.”
A common theme among those who have heard Hooper sing? Chills.
“As soon as Joi starts to sing - when I see her grab that mic and bring it close to her face - immediately, I get chills,” Hayes said.
“Joi is one of the most talented singers I’ve ever heard,” Heck said. “Her voice brings me chills every single time she sings the anthem at The Center.”
Additional inspiration for Hooper comes from Sixers players themselves. She wants to match the passion they bring to the court.
“I have to bring that same level of excellence every time I get up there - take that deep breath, and just go for it.”