The Wells Fargo Center opened its doors early to the local youth on Wednesday. Prior to the Philadelphia 76ers' matchup against the Miami Heat, the organization hosted another game before the main event to offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to children who have been negatively impacted by an unjust probation system.
Over 25 kids packed the court donning custom Sixers-Esque jerseys. Just moments before tipping off for a game of their own, Sixers' in-arena announcer Matt Cord introduced the celebrity guest players, which included Sixers Co-Partner Michael Rubin, recording artist and Philadelphia native Meek Mill, Sixers' Managing Partner Josh Harris, Grammy-nominated recording artist Lil Baby, and Tik Tok sensations Charli and Dixie D’Amelio.
Through the REFORM Alliance, Wednesday's event served two purposes.
"One, we got to give these kids literally the best day of their life," Rubin told Sports Illustrated's All76ers. "They're here with Baby, Meek Mill, Charlie, and Dixie D’Amelio, you know, playing on the Sixers court. We're going to watch our shootaround, they're going to meet with our coach, they're going to sit courtside. We want them to literally have the best day of their life."
"Second thing we want to do is use that to bring attention to this issue," he continued. "I mean, we can not be putting people in prison who don't commit crimes. And that's how I learned about this issue when Meek went to prison for not committing a crime. He popped a wheelie on a motorcycle, got a traffic ticket, and he got sent to prison for two to four years. So, this about taking the same thing that affected him and how do we fix the underlying laws on a state-by-state basis?"
While the REFORM Alliance still has a lot of work to do, their progress leading up to Wednesday's event has been a success so far. As Rubin explained, they've helped fix "underlying laws" in eight states by helping change 13 laws.
"Upfront I'm not sure people really understood the issue," said Rubin. "On the basketball side, the Sixers were behind it from day one. Not everyone understands this from day one. It's an issue you have to learn about. Once people understand, they say, 'Wow, this isn't fair, it doesn't make sense.' And they want to make a difference. So, you know, I think now everyone around me is so behind it, because I learned from Meek's experience, and then they learned from what I went through with Meek's experience, and I think people behind it are making a big difference."
REFORM Alliance night at the Wells Fargo Center served several important purposes, but ultimately, the first and foremost goal was a success as the real guests of honor seemingly had a great time playing basketball on the Wells Fargo Center's court before participating in a Q&A with 76ers coach Doc Rivers and then sitting courtside for Philly's matchup against the Miami Heat.
"It's our pleasure to use our platform to help them out," said Sixers' Co-Managing Partner Josh Harris. "Listen, the Sixers are part of this community, and you need to take care of everyone in the community and try to make their life better. I think this is one of the many ways we're doing that. You know, the fact that Michael stepped up and showed leadership is great. When you see the smiles out there, that's great payback. We want to do as much as we can. Life has thrown them a curveball. So, if we can help make it a little better we're all in. It's easy and I'm so glad we can do it."
Overall, the event was a success as the kids made memories that could last a lifetime. But Rubin, Meek Mill, and the REFORM Alliance will keep their eyes on the bigger picture going beyond Wednesday night as their mission continues.
"We're making progress," Rubin finished. "But it's never good enough. It's never enough. We gotta keep pushing. It's no different than business."
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.