My A10: Sean Princivalle looks at The Palestra and the Tradition that is Philadelphia Basketball

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As I walked off the train on 30th Street Station in Philadelphia and began the short trek across Drexel and Penn Universities campuses, excitement overtook my body. For the first time since I could remember, two Philly Big 5 basketball games were being played on the same night as a doubleheader. I grew up  watching college basketball, and have been to dozens of games at the Palestra, but nothing like this. For those unfamiliar with the Big 5, it is a group of 5 Division 1 Philly area teams which include Saint Joseph’s, Villanova, Penn, La Salle and Temple. The first game  featured Temple and La Salle and the second game of the night featured Penn and St. Joseph’s. I walked through campus with one of my friends, most ecstatic about the energy and amount of fans that were going to be in the building. As I arrived to the famous Palestra I saw a group of six of my friends from high school, with each one responding to my hello, with a “This is going to be awesome, there are going to be so many people here.”

As I got my ticket scanned and walked into the building,  there was ten minutes until the first game. There were people in the building, but it wasn’t full. A little disappointed in the amount of fans, I waited. About 5 minutes into the first game, The Palestra was beginning to fill. Ten minutes in, fans from all four schools filled the building,  where  a total of 8,030 fan were not watching Philly hoops. Fans were brilliant throughout the game, whether it be the student sections of each team taking shots at one another with the roll outs or the whole Palestra raising to their feet to honor members of Big 5 teams from each century since the birth of the Big 5 in the 1950’s, fans were excited to have the doubleheader back. For the first time since 2004, a crowd was able to see back to back games in a building that means everything to Philadelphia basketball fans.

The night lived up to its expectations, as players and coaches after each game recognized the honor of playing games in the Palestra. The atmosphere was something I, as a Philly basketball fan, was happy to be apart of. Adults who grew up watching these doubleheaders made their way back to the Palestra to again relive what was once a great Philadelphia basketball tradition. For the students at their respective schools, who were between the ages of 8-12 last time the doubleheader was held in the Palestra, too took notice in the tradition that is Philly hoops in the Palestra. Each student sections first roll out sign displayed something along the lines of, “The Palestra, the greatest tradition in Philly basketball.” Although years have passed since the last doubleheader between Philadelphia Big 5 schools, the memories and the known importance of the night was evident in the students.

I for one recognized just how historic these matchups Wednesday night were, as I bought my ticket for both games and stayed until the final buzzer of what was an easy win for St. Joseph’s over Penn. Others, unfortunately, did not. After the first game, multiple students from the La Salle student section began to head for the exits. One fan from a section stood up and yelled at the students saying, “Where are you going! What are you doing? I’m a La Salle fan and I’m staying around to watch the second game! Don’t you understand the tradition?” This fan made a good point in his quick shout, something that stuck with me throughout the night. For those who were leaving, it may have been because they, as the man suggested, did not understand the tradition. Whatever the reason may be, the love for Big 5 basketball is always strong in the city, but some people forget. The thought of watching back to back Big 5 games could be played in the Palestra is something that I, and  the rest of the city of Philadelphia, who worships college basketball, should not have to wait over ten years to see again.

When reading articles on the doubleheader Thursday morning, headlines read, ” Big 5  Teams Celebrate Milestone with Throwback Doubleheader” and ” Doubleheader Brings Back Memories and Legends.” These headlines, although great, should not be headlines at all. Doubleheaders at the Palestra shouldn’t be a throwback of any sorts, rather  should remain a staple in the history of Philadelphia basketball. Maybe those who left were not cultured on Philadelphia basketball and did not take advantage to the beautiful event that honored 60 years of the Big 5 Wednesday night, but that should not be the case. Philadelphia basketball is important to me and important to the city. The historic rivalries between Big 5 teams needs to be recognized once again and brought back to the weekly sell out crowds the Palestra hosted years ago. Philly basketball is one of the greatest traditions in sports, but it has to recapture the love that was possibly lost in the ten year gap between doubleheaders.

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3 Comments

  1. Great article Sean and right on point! I lived at the Palestra on the weekends in the early 70’s and saw some of the greatest Big 5 games ever played and you have re-captured the spirit around the Big 5 in that era. It’s a little hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it but you painted a great picture.
    Well done!

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