On the Beat: Planetarium Trip Highlights Brown's Big Picture Approach

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

NEW YORK - New York is a big place.  There are lots of “Things to Do,” which is one of the official labels that TripAdvisor has assigned to the various subcategories of activities available in the city.  

Checking in at #35 out of nearly 950 similarly listed attractions is the American Museum of Natural History, a respectable ranking that falls within the top four percent.

Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the American Museum of Natural History has earned acclaim for many reasons, one being that it houses the Hayden Planetarium.  

Opened in 1935, the planetarium is the third-oldest in the United States, but Monday, the distinct building, which now exists in the shape of a sphere, experienced a first.  It received a visit from a professional sports team.  That team happened to be the 76ers, which arrived in town a day in advance of Tuesday’s tilt with the Brooklyn Nets.

“It’s awesome, it’s amazing, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Hollis Thompson, now in his third season with the Sixers.  “It’s not something you get to do everyday, so I’m just grateful that we had the opportunity.”  

Thompson, himself “really into astronomy, the stars, space, the future, and stuff like that,” estimated the Sixers spent about two hours at Hayden Planetarium.  The team was joined by coaches, trainers, President of Basketball Operations Sam Hinkie, and other front office and support staffers.

The main draw was the face of the facility, its director and famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

A 57-year old New York City native, Tyson is one of the most decorated and recognizable people in his field.  In 2004, he received NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal for his work.  Since then, Tyson has hosted the FOX multi-part mini-series Cosmos, which aired in June of 2014.  He currently has his own show on the National Geographic channel called Star Talk, which is based on the popular podcast he created.

“From time to time, when you go to different places, you see different things,” said Brett Brown after the Sixers’ shootaround on Tuesday morning.  The worldly head coach described himself as someone who’s “always been a fan” of Tyson.   “I like taking our guys to see different things.  We just sort of timed it where we had [public relations director] Mike [Preston] reach out and say, ‘This is who we are.’”

“Out of the blue, he was incredibly receptive, and sent us e-mails, and I got into an e-mail exchange with him,” Brown said of his correspondence with Tyson. “He was just incredibly hospitable, and so incredibly gifted.  He dumbs it down where it’s not astrophysicist speak, and it’s just amazing. You start going through what’s the difference in a comet, an asteroid, a meteor, planet, universes, galaxies, stars, moons, and he zooms out and he zooms in, and you’re sitting there in this unbelievable planetarium with him just talking to us.”

After watching a video about the universe, the Sixers’ traveling party had the chance to take part in a “town hall” style question and answer session with the affable, accessible Tyson.

“All types of stuff,” said Thompson about the topics he and players posed to Tyson via Elton Brand, who was designated as the club’s spokesman.  “Quantum mechanics versus Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  He talked to us about literally about how vast the universe is, what we know, what we don’t know about the universe, dark matter, anti-matter, tons of stuff.”

Thompson (right) was already familiar with Tyson (middle), having watched him on television, and read some of his work.

“You could just ask him whatever you wanted,” Brown said.  “It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had.  People might not know who he is.  I bet lots of people have seen him that wouldn’t know his name.  He was just incredibly humble, down to earth, fun, funny, explained it like we’d all want it to be explained, and I just enjoy sharing that experience with our young guys.”

Tyson has more Twitter followers, five million, than reigning NBA MVP and title-winner  Steph Curry.

“I think in small doses, it all adds up, experiences like that,” said Brown.  “It lets us share another unique opportunity, and unique experience and hear from somebody that’s world class, that’s world renown for his area of expertise.  

“For me, it was a reminder that when we listened to him, he had amazing passion, he spoke with amazing personality and charisma, and you could tell he loved what he does.  When you heard me talk about following Bruce Springsteen, I think somebody like that has amazing passion, and just charisma, and passion, loves what they do.   That’s one of the links, I just think to successful people.  Do you have that passion and love what you do?  And so all over the place, there’s opportunities to tie it into what we do, there’s opportunities just to hang together as a team.”

One player who was not able to attend Monday’s stop at the American Museum of Natural History was Jahlil Okafor.  Brown disclosed Tuesday that the big man, sidelined for the rest of the season with a small tear in his right meniscus, is back in Philadelphia, battling the flu.  

Brown also indicated that Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, and Richaun Holmes will be missing in action against the Nets, although the three accompanied the club to New York.  Covington and Grant continue to go through NBA-mandated concussion protocol.  Grant could be cleared as soon as this weekend.  Holmes is not expected to return to action until the Sixers’ three-game Western Conference trek next week.

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