PHILADELPHIA – Ben Simmons has put Philadelphia on the map for many Australians and his presence in the City of Brotherly Love is providing a boost for a local footy club.
The Philadelphia Hawks, Philadelphia’s resident Australian rules football team, will be showcased when the Philadelphia 76ers celebrate all things Australia by hosting “Australian Heritage Night” on Thursday, February 21.
The event marks the second successive season in which the Sixers have celebrated Australian Heritage Night. Last year’s festivities featured a meat pie eating contest, retired Collingwood AFL champion Dane Swan ringing the Sixers ceremonial Liberty Bell prior to tip-off and an AFL demonstration from the Hawks.
Jon Loring, who is the Hawks’ head coach, spoke with The Pick and Roll to explain the origins of the club’s involvement with the Sixers.
“The Philadelphia 76ers reached out to our club last year when they asked for our involvement in their first annual Australian Heritage Night, to help celebrate the native country of their star point guard Ben Simmons.
“We were allowed to do a pregame display of our skills on the court in our uniforms and we also had an area in the concourse to help promote our club before and during the game. We were also allowed to enter a few players in the meat pie-eating contest during half time of the basketball game and we were invited back this year to do the same.”
The Hawks will again take to the Wells Fargo Center floor on February 21st to spruik the game of Australian rules football. While the event is used to celebrate all things Australiana, it also doubles as a key fundraiser for the Hawks, with a portion of all tickets sold through the club’s website (tickets can be purchased here) being donated back into funding the club’s operations.
The Philadelphia Hawks, who were founded in 1998 and compete in the USAFL, have enjoyed much success since the Sixers drafted Simmons in 2016. Their female side, the Lady Hawks, took home the Division II Premiership in 2017 and not to be outdone, their male counterparts claimed the Division III Premiership in October of last year.
“The sport of AFL is very popular amongst the few who know about the sport in the USA,” Loring said. “But in comparison to other sports, most people in the USA don't know about this amazing sport of Aussie Rules.
“Our league, the USAFL, has about 35-40 teams across the nation and the league was founded in 1997. There are more and more women's teams every year in comparison to when the league was first founded. You will find that most players, male or female, in the US absolutely love the sport, once they try it and get a game under their belt.”
Philadelphia isn’t the first NBA franchise to devote an evening to celebrating Australia. The Milwaukee Bucks hilariously celebrated Australia Day in 2017, while the Cleveland Cavaliers had an Australia-themed game night in 2016. Each prior event was held in the days leading up to Australia Day. While the Sixers will be breaking with tradition this season and holding their event much later in the year, it comes at the perfect time given Simmons will be just days removed from becoming Australia’s first NBA All-Star.
“I believe that the local fans love him and are excited to have Ben Simmons [as] a part of the Sixers for a long time,” Loring says of Simmons.
As for the Hawks, they are always looking for new players and supporters to join their ranks and grow Australian football in Philadelphia. The majority of their current members are Americans and Australian expats, plus they have had players from Ireland, Canada, and Guyana, among others, join the club over the preceding years.
“Anyone who wants to participate in this awesome sport of Aussie Rules or knows someone who might want to play can reach out to our club at any time of the year,” Loring said.
“We have social events if people want to just hang out and have a beer with our members or if they want to come out to training each week to help stay active then all are welcome to be apart of the Philly Hawks in any way they want.
Last year’s Australian Heritage Night also included a foam boomerang giveaway, an interactive Australian spider exhibit courtesy of the Philadelphia Insectarium, an Australian flag pickup station and an Australian-themed kid’s coloring station. In 2017, the Sixers announced Four’N Twenty as their first international corporate partner in franchise history.
Tickets to Australian Heritage Night at Wells Fargo Center on February 21st can be purchased from the Philadelphia Hawks website available at this link. A portion of all proceeds will be donated back into the club.
Additionally, if there are any Australian expats across America who would like to learn more about the Hawks or the USAFL, you can find more information on the league at www.usafl.com or contact the Hawks directly via their Facebook page.