PHILADELPHIA — He heard the roar from hundreds of Philadelphia 76ers fans chanting “An-drew By-num! An-drew By-num!” the moment he stepped into the National Constitution Center.
Andrew Bynum instantly felt at home in Philadelphia.
He enjoyed his first days in the city so much, Bynum made it clear he wouldn’t mind playing in that No. 33 Sixers jersey for more than a season.
“My first experiences here have been so great,” Bynum said, “I’m really leaning toward making this my home.”
With that proclamation, Sixers fans erupted.
The superstar the organization and their fans craved since Allen Iverson split actually loved them back.
Imagine the sounds he’ll hear after some clutch fourth-quarter buckets over a deep playoff run.
Wearing a Sixers T-shirt, Bynum made his first appearance Wednesday since he was acquired last week from the Los Angeles Lakers as part of a four-team megadeal. Former Philadelphia All-Star Andre Iguodala landed in Denver and Orlando shipped Dwight Howard to the Lakers as part of the trades.
The Sixers scrapped the usual ho-hum news conference and turned Bynum’s arrival into a full-blown pep rally that included moving the location from their arena to just a few hundred feet away from the Liberty Bell. The event was open to the public and fans arrived early to greet Bynum and Jason Richardson — and plunk down $30 bucks for some hot-off-the-presses Bynum T-shirts.
“It makes me super-excited,” said Bynum, who never stopped smiling.
The Sixers have every reason to feel giddy over this deal and what this means for the long-term future of the franchise. For years, Philadelphia has been mired in the middle of the Eastern Conference, only busting out last season under new ownership to advance to the second round for the first time in nine years.
But the glow of that achievement soon faded once management realized the team had maxed out with veterans Iguodala, Elton Brand and Lou Williams. Iguodala was traded, Brand was amnestied and Williams was allowed to walk in free-agency, freeing up some needed dollars to make a move this big.
Bynum is the All-Star, the franchise player, expected to soon help the Sixers win their first championship since 1983.
Only 24, the New Jersey native won two championships with the Lakers. But in Los Angeles, the offense ran through Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
Bynum is The Man for the Sixers.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of pressure,” Bynum said. “I want to be ready for it.”
Consider this: Until last week, Kwame Brown was listed as Philadelphia’s starting center.
That’s called an upgrade.
But once the hoopla and “Beat L.A.!” chants quieted down, two questions loomed in the building that honors the U.S. Constitution: Would Bynum put his John Hancock on a possible-five year contract extension; and how will his achy knees respond to treatment next month in Germany?
Bynum is set to make $16.1 million this season in the final year of his deal. If he waits until after the season, Bynum can sign a five-year deal worth nearly $102 million. No other team could offer Bynum as many years or as much money.
“I enjoy Philly, I’m from here, I don’t see anything wrong,” Bynum said. “I don’t see any problem why I wouldn’t want to stay here.”
Bynum is set to have injections of plasma-rich platelets that supposedly stimulate healing in arthritis-affected areas in both of his knees. Bryant, his former teammate, has credited the therapy with dramatic improvement in his own troublesome right knees and an injured left ankle.
Sixers president Rod Thorn said Bynum and his surgically repaired knees checked out fine after a lengthy physical Tuesday.
“You’ve got to take calculated risks sometimes,” Thorn said. “Players of his level don’t come on the market every day.”
Bynum is coming off his best NBA season after averaging career highs with 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds while making his first All-Star team, starting for the West. He was the NBA’s third-leading rebounder and 20th-leading scorer, while also ranking sixth in the league with 1.93 blocked shots per game.
Bynum also avoided the injuries that have dogged him throughout a seven-year career since the Lakers made the New Jersey high schooler the youngest player ever drafted in 2005. Bynum played in 60 of the Lakers’ 66 regular-season games, missing four due to suspension.
Ah yes, that suspension.
Bynum may be the best center in the East, but he brings a touch of baggage that shouldered him with a reputation as being a handful, as well as a monster rebounder. He was busted three years ago partying at the Playboy Mansion posing with a girl on his shoulders during his rehab from a torn knee ligament.
Bynum served a four-game suspension this season for his vicious fouls against J.J. Barea in the Lakers’ final playoff game last spring.
He’s has declined to participate in certain team huddles, sitting down the bench by himself. He once slapped hands with opposing fans while taking a long time to leave the court after he was ejected from a game last season in Houston.
“I think somewhere along the line, maybe he said a couple of immature things here and there, but everybody has,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said. “I’m sure he’d be the first one step up and say, ‘Hey, I messed up.' The unfortunate thing in life, when you make a mistake like that, it’s one video replay from living it again.”
The Sixers would prefer more replays of Bynum’s 30-rebound game like he had last season against San Antonio.
Except for some minor tinkering with the deep bench players, the Sixers should be finished with their roster overhaul. They added Bynum, Richardson, Brown, Royal Ivey, Dorell Wright and Nick Young to a team counting on returners Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young to help make that second-round exit the start of something big, not a one-season wonder.
With one season left on his deal, Thorn is still calling the shots, even as the organization spent the summer interviewing general manager candidates. Thorn will remain with the team next season as a consultant and the Sixers would like to have a succession plan in place.
“That will happen over the next year but it’s going to depend on who we can to terms with and who’s out there,” owner Joshua Harris said. “There’s nothing imminent right now. Rod’s still the GM of the team.”
Thorn drafted Michael Jordan in Chicago. He’s the executive who traded for Jason Kidd in New Jersey and turned the Nets into winners.
His boldest move with the Sixers is his best one yet.