15 Years Ago Today, Sixers Fans Booed Beyoncé
What began as a promising NBA Finals was looking pretty bleak by halftime of Game 4.
The Sixers — bruised and battered, led by NBA MVP Allen Iverson in his finest season — had clawed out of deficits in their first three series to win the Eastern Conference. They rallied to beat the Lakers, previously unbeaten in the playoffs, in Game 1. But the Sixers dropped a winnable Game 2 when they missed some late free throws, then lost Game 3 back in Philadelphia as well. Now they were down 14 at halftime of Game 4. Sixers fans could forget about any chance at a comeback if the Lakers went up 3 games to 1. The incredible playoff run of 2001 looked like it was coming to an end.
And out on the court at the then-First Union Center stepped Beyoncé, the biggest pop star in the world. Her performance was widely booed throughout. Really.
She wasn’t the biggest pop star in the world at the time. She was still Beyoncé Knowles, lead singer of Houston girl-group Destiny’s Child. Two years before, it had a breakthrough with its second album. The Writing’s on the Wall went eight-times platinum, there were major lineup shakeups. By June 2001, Destiny’s Child was a trio.
The year Destiny’s Child played at the NBA Finals, the group was starting to get huge. Earlier that year it had released Survior, which spawned two smash-hit singles: “Independent Women” and “Survivor.” And that night, members of Destiny’s Child were clad in NBA gear: Kelly Rowland was in a Sixers jersey and Michelle Williams in a Lakers jersey. Beyoncé had logos for both teams on her outfit.
The boos began almost immediately as the group began “Survivor.” They echoed around the arena when Williams was shown on the big screen in a Lakers jersey. As the screen continued to show Williams — plus Beyoncé’s outfit with both teams on it — the boos got louder and louder.
The crowd completely turned during the second song, the new single “Bootylicious.” You can really hear the boos as the song ends, the crowd in an all-out revolt against the performance. Beyonce raised her microphone to the fans, as if to give them the middle finger. Beyoncé’s younger sister, Solange, was a backup dancer that night. She shouted back at the crowd.
“They is where I got in so much trouble for poppin’ off,” Solange later said. “They booed us. At the end I put my hands up and was like, ‘Boooooo back at y’all.’” ESPN reported the group was crying in the arena’s basement afterward.
Sixers fans weren’t having it. “It doesn’t matter that they had 76ers gear on too. To wear the enemy’s shit in our house is straight-up disrespectful, and people were pissed,” Jason Green, then a 23-year-old Sixers fan, told MTV after the game. “It’s like coming into a Buddhist temple with a shirt that says ‘Jesus Saves.’”
A publicist for Columbia Records released a statement, claiming the NBA forced the outfits on Destiny’s Child. “Destiny’s Child agreed to wear the gear as a way of showing support for both teams and celebrating the spirit of the NBA championship series,” Yvette Noel-Schure said. But the NBA told MTV the league made no such request of the group.
The stage was set for another crowd incident at Game 5. Sugar Ray — a band from Southern California — were set to perform a song titled “When It’s Over” at halftime of the game that would clinch the Lakers the NBA Championship. But they didn’t wear any Lakers gear, and had then-Sixers President Pat Croce introduce them before the song. Unlike the previous game, the crowd was respectful.
Unlike many other incidents in Philadelphia sports lore, the incident has largely been forgotten. But it was big news at the time. Media Matters for America writer Eric Boehlert, then at Salon, wrote that he loved the scene:
Yet there was something refreshing and unusually authentic about the debacle. At a time when prime-time pop culture is so programmed, when everyone is supposedly in complete agreement that this is how mainstream entertainment synergy works today — you will enjoy, you will play along, you will help us sell records, you will be extras in our music marketing camping, you will blindly follow as we try to save our television ratings — Sixers fans, who’d been waiting for nearly two decades for their team to reach the finals, had an answer: “Like hell. Do it on your own time; our team is here to play ball.”
Beyoncé’s face was priceless. They immediately cut to commercial… I loved it. Just the look of shock. Like, “Do you think you’re above this?” It’s just, you have a hit song and everybody’s loving you and you go out there and get that. Like, her performance did not deserve that booing. But, Philly fans don’t give a shit.
As it so happens, I was there with my mom that night. My hair was dyed Sixers red and blue, and I was just as down as the rest of the fans in the crowd that night. And I can admit it: I booed Beyoncé. Though I believe in 2016 she rightfully holds the title of Most Important Pop Star in the World Right Now, my mom is having none of it. She still doesn’t like Beyoncé — based off one performance at halftime 15 years ago.
Since that halftime show, Beyoncé has gone on to become the biggest star in the world — not just a pop star but a beloved figure whose latest album was a shared cultural moment. Meanwhile, the Sixers have won just two playoff rounds since reaching the 2001 NBA Finals. Their latest rebuilding plan has yet to produce a superstar, and the architect of that rebuild quit the team with a fake Abe Lincoln quote earlier this year.
This got me thinking: Could the Sixers possibly be suffering from the Curse of the Beyoncé? Not to excuse Sixers management over the last decade and a half, but I think this could explain the team’s lack of success. If anyone has any suggestions on how to break it, please, let me know. We could use winning basketball in this town again.
Follow @dhm on Twitter.