Emotional N.Y. visit for Sixers Despite a dismal 98-67 loss, a pregame stop to a local fire station made the trip worthwhile.

Posted: October 14, 2001

NEW YORK — If the 76ers did not know before yesterday that sports are just a diversion, not life or death, do or die, they do now.

Yesterday, after their shootaround and before their preseason exhibition against the New York Knicks, the Sixers visited a fire station in midtown Manhattan. The department's entire morning crew was lost on Sept. 11. The crew members did not return from the World Trade Center site the morning terrorists drove two airplanes into the towers.

"It was really emotional," Eric Snow said before tipoff. "You know how tough and hard it is for those guys and their families. All kinds of different things go through your mind. Guys getting queasy. It's an amazing sight to go in there. It affected everyone on our team instantly. Guys were just at a loss for words."

The Sixers opted not to go to ground zero.

Outside Madison Square Garden last night, the streets were eerily quiet. There were no horns honking, precious few people talking. More than a month has passed.

"No one in New York cares about sports," one Knicks staffer said. "No one cares."

Indeed, the Garden was half empty last night for the Knicks' 98-67 win over the Sixers. Those in attendance probably could not recognize the defending Eastern Conference champs. Not one starter from last season's team played last night, and Allen Iverson and George Lynch did not even make the trip.

Dikembe Mutombo missed the game with leg fatigue. Aaron McKie continues to rehabilitate his shoulder. Snow dressed for the game, but did not play on his surgically repaired right ankle.

So the Sixers started Speedy Claxton and Raja Bell in the backcourt, Matt Harpring, Robert Traylor and Matt Geiger in the frontcourt. The results were not good.

The Sixers fell behind 8-0 before Traylor made a hook shot. It was the team's only field goal of the quarter. Geiger missed six attempts. Bell missed two. Claxton missed three. Harpring didn't take a shot, but accumulated three fouls in the quarter, and played only six minutes.

"I'm glad it's over," coach Larry Brown said of the game. "But I kind of expected that. I look out at who he's playing, and who we're playing. I didn't expect us to go 1 for 19 and not shoot much better in the first five minutes of the second quarter. . . . But I don't know if many of these guys are going to be playing minutes for us who are playing now, and I know the [veterans] we have, they'll be ready to play."

Overall, the Sixers missed 19 of 20 shots for a dismal 5 percent shooting in the first quarter. Allan Houston scored more points than the Sixers, contributing 10 points to help the Knicks to a 32-8 lead.

The second quarter was not much better.

Cedric Henderson scored five points, all from free throws, to lead the Sixers at the half. Traylor and Corey Benjamin added four; Geiger, Bell and Claxton had three apiece. Harpring had four fouls by halftime, and the Sixers trailed 54-27.

The Sixers lost their second game of the preseason, this time without the inspired rally that cut a 27-point deficit to the Mavericks down to nine points in the end.

Benjamin and Bell led the Sixers with 11 points apiece. Geiger finished 3 of 14 from the field, Claxton 2 of 9, and Bell 4 of 11. As a team, the Sixers shot 29.6 percent.

Houston had 17 to lead the Knicks.

Despite the loss, it was not a wasted trip to New York.

"We got more out of it than they did," Brown said of the Sixers' fire station visit, "but they seemed like they enjoyed us being there. Our players, I know, loved it."

"It wasn't so much a wake-up call as a reality check," McKie said. "Us living in Philadelphia, and not really being in the mix of it all, I think we all got the opportunity to see this is reality. In actuality, there are still people trapped in the building, and the rubble was still burning."

Perhaps the diversion of a game was good for the people in attendance last night. There were men and women dressed in Army fatigues, many people in FDNY shirts, NYPD hats.

During a first-half timeout, a fan along one baseline appeared on the scoreboard's big-screen television. He turned around, and bent in front of the camera. On the back of his T-shirt was the date, Sept. 11, and the words "Never forget." The crowd roared.

Ashley McGeachy's e-mail address is amcgeachy@phillynews.com.

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