A Fan From Birth, by Ryan Phillippe

For the latest submission to our Circle of Stars first-person written series, we hear from Ryan Phillippe, the award winning actor who grew up in New Castle, Delaware. While Phillippe's career has taken him all over the world, he's always kept the 76ers close to hear, going to whatever means necessary to follow one of his favorite local teams. Previous installments in our Circle of Stars written series have featured pieces by director M. Night Shyamalan, and decorated soccer player Carli Lloyd.

A Fan From Birth

Pressure.

In acting, it comes with the territory. 

I've been acting my whole life, and while the type of pressure you experience may change based on circumstance, it's still always there. 

Take stunts, for instance. As I moved along in my career, from daytime TV to feature films, stunts became more complicated. You pretty much have to nail them in one take. 

Now if, let's say, pyrotechnics are involved, look out. It takes hours for crews to set up an explosion, and if you - the actor - screw up, that screws up the whole day of shooting. Those situations are pretty high-intensity. 

Another high-pressure situation, at least for me, was presenting at the Oscars, because you know there's an audience of oh about a billion people watching. And when I presented in 2002, I opted to go off script, which is completely forbidden.

I improvised a joke that got a laugh, so that was nice. Still, there was pressure.

I've been a Philadelphia 76ers fan essentially since birth, through my father. He did a lot of shiftwork when I was growing up in New Castle, and wasn't around a lot. But it did seem like relatively often, when he was off work, the Sixers were on television. We would always watch games together. 

My dad was a decent basketball player, loved the sport. I know he played all through high school before going into the service. Beyond that, he didn't play much. When I was a kid, though, it was a lot of fun because he would beat all my friends in basketball when we played in our driveway. My dad always rocked the hook shot - old school, Kareem style. He got all my friends with that skyhook. 

The household of my youth was female-dominant. I have three sisters, plus my mom, and my dad was out of the house working quite often. For he and I to watch sports, we'd usually have to go down into our basement and watch Sixers games there, because we'd be overruled upstairs by the rest of the crew. But we watched, and also went to quite a few games. 

So yeah, you can say my history of rooting for the team goes back a long ways. 

Imagine, then, getting a call from your favorite franchise to take part in a ritual that - while still relatively new - has become extremely popular (viral even?) and important to hyping up the crowd to set the tone for a game. That right there absolutely is pressure!

Don't get me wrong. Being a Bell Ringer is an absolute honor. You feel you're representing the team, and you get to play a role in trying to kick off the night in the right fashion. There's a lot of speculation about who the Bell Ringer is going to be, which former Philly athlete should do it for specific games, etc. And people might not know this, but there is a lot of underground discussion in certain circles about getting asked to ring the bell. There are a lot of people who covet the position, too - ancillary sort of Philly "personalities" who'd really love to be a Bell Ringer. It is a covetous position for sure.

But as I said, there's an element of pressure that comes with ringing the bell. It can be a heavy thing to carry with you, especially on Sixers Twitter, and especially if the team loses. Last season, I rang the bell before a game against Cleveland. Things didn't go so well on the scoreboard, and I heard about it in my mentions. Sixers Twitter then told me I wasn't allowed to ring the bell ever again: "You don't ring that bell!" 

Fast forward to this season, and our game against Sacramento the night before Thanksgiving. I was back for my second bell ringing, and I told myself I was never going to ring the bell ever again, no matter what, if we lost the game. I was going to retire. 

That night, not only did we end up getting a nice bounce-back win, something else made the bell ringing special. I got to do it with my son, Deacon. 

When I was young, my dad and I forged a bond by watching Sixers game. That same type of bond has now been passed on to me and my son. 

Unlike me, Deacon wasn't born and raised in the Delaware Valley. I definitely didn't push the Sixers on him, because I know the heartbreak that comes with being a Philadelphia sports fan. I said to him, 'Dude, you were born in Los Angeles. You can choose whatever team you want. You don't have to be a Philly sports fan.' But he was like, 'No Dad! I love the Sixers!' It's stayed that way. He's really into the history of it all.

[At the moment, we're both really big Matisse Thybulle fans. I think for Christmas, Deacon is going to get a Thybulle jersey. It was a bummer to see him get injured the other game.]

The night Deacon and I rang the bell together, we practiced a bit in the back of the arena. The stuff that worries you is just wanting to get it right, particularly when two people are involved. You have bell attendants telling you when they're going to tap your leg to hit the bell to ring it. Then there's the sound effects of the hardwood cracking, so you want to make sure you're on rhythm. But this most recent time with Deacon, I was just more concerned about him. I didn't want him to be too nervous or freeze up. 

It ended up being awesome. He was grinning ear-to-ear the whole night, sent the video to all his friends. They couldn't believe he got to ring the bell. And, we won the game! I know it was a highlight for him, and certainly for me. 

When I think about being a lifelong Sixers fan, I'm filled with so many memories, present and past. I was really, really young, but I still remember watching Dr. J. He was such a big persona. Even if you were a little kid, you knew who Dr. J was. Everyone had an affinity for him. 

During my high school years, it was the heyday of Charles Barkley. I remember running out and buying his shoes - remember his black Air Max CBs and the Nike cartoon commercials? That was a huge point of focus for me back then, Barkley and that team. One of my most memorable moments as a Sixers fan was actually a loss, when my dad and I saw Michael Jordan drop 50 points at the Spectrum against Barkley and the Sixers. 

The more acting work I started to get, the more obstacles there were to follow the team. Back then, in the mid 1990s and early 2000s, when I did movies out of the country, there weren't streaming services that allowed you to watch games, so it was hard to stay on top of everything. I had to call up friends and find out what happened. These days, it's so easy. Sixers Twitter. There are some really dedicated people out there. If I'm out of town or at an event, that's how I'll follow the games. Check out Twitter and find out what's going on. 

The best instance, of course, of being a Sixers fan and living in Los Angeles was obviously during the 2001 Finals. When it started to look like there was a pretty good chance the Sixers and Lakers would meet in the Finals, I was calling in every favor I possibly could in advance to make sure I could get a ticket. Sure enough, the game I got into was Game 1.

Every prognostication was that the Lakers were going to sweep us. Especially Game 1, in L.A.? People thought we had no chance! 

I went to Game 1 with some friends of mine who were Lakers fans. I wasn't sitting courtside - probably two rows back. But I was sitting opposite from where the Stepover happened. In the moment, I'm not sure if anyone sensed its magnitude, or its potential to become arguably the defining move of a Hall of Famer's career. At least I didn't. I think the play became more vivid thanks to highlights, all the replays turning it into what it is now. 

After that game, I thought we had a shot to win the series. I thought the Lakers didn't have an answer for Allen, and that Shaq played a really poor game and was looking kind of slow at the end of a long season. It seemed like the Lakers might have been worn out, and that the Sixers had more energy. I thought that could carry over into subsequent games in the series, but it didn't happen. 

Who knows, though? Maybe now we're arriving at our time. The Sixers are a fun team to watch. The personalities are great. When my son Deacon and I talk about the team, he's all in on Joel Embiid - loves his playfulness. Embiid is absolutely one of his favorites. It's also been fun to see someone like Al Horford join the squad after we've spent so many years admiring his game. We've really embraced the fact that we have Horford on our side now. I think it's a good balance for a young team. 

Across the board, the start of the season has been really promising. Given how many guys have gone in and out of the lineup, we think the best is still to come. Here's to hoping for a storybook ride the rest of the way. 

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