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Why the yeshiva world is rooting against the Philadelphia 76ers this week

A big game might get in the way of a big party

Even when they’re good, it’s historically been a safe bet that the Philadelphia 76ers won’t make the NBA Finals. Perhaps that’s what the higher-ups at Lakewood yeshiva Beth Medrash Govoha were thinking when they booked the team’s arena for the biggest yeshiva world gathering of the year in early June.

But the Sixers’ astonishing blowout road victory over the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Tuesday has raised the possibility — and by one measurement, the likelihood — of a scheduling conflict.

According to FiveThirtyEight, which calculates live sports probabilities, the Sixers’ win gave them a 51% chance of making the finals. The second game of the finals, which would be played at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia regardless of the 76ers’ opponent, is scheduled for June 4 — which is the date of Adirei HaTorah, an annual religious bash that draws thousands of men for live music, dancing, prayer and speeches from leaders of the Haredi community.

A source familiar with the situation, who asked to remain anonymous because he did not want to jeopardize relationships at Beth Medrash Govoha, said the yeshiva was looking at the Prudential Center in Newark as a backup plan. Beth Medrash Govoha did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent through its website Wednesday.

The possible conflict was first reported by Kol HaOlam, a Twitter news source for the yeshiva world.

Last year’s Adirei HaTorah — which means, roughly, the strongmen of Torah — was the first such gathering, intended to celebrate the yeshiva’s students, who usually attend after completing high school and study in Israel. The yeshiva originally booked Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton, New Jersey, before overselling its 7,600-seat capacity, forcing a switch to the Wells Fargo Center, a venue about three times the size.

According to, an Orthodox outlet, some 25,000 people attended the event, although the arena’s official capacity is 21,000. Videos of the gathering, which stretched nearly five hours, show attendees all in matching yeshiva men’s garb of white shirt with black coat, black pants and black hat.

Founded in 1943 by Rabbi Aharon Kotler, Beth Medrash Govoha, meaning High House of Learning, is considered the spiritual and academic center of the yeshiva world in the diaspora, with several thousand students spread out across four campuses in Lakewood, the heavily Orthodox New Jersey township. 

The 76ers, who are majority-owned by Jewish businessmen Josh Harris and David Blitzer, are still five wins away from the finals. If they were to finish off Boston, a team that has had Philadelphia’s number in recent years, they would hold home-court advantage over the winner of the series between the New York Knicks-Miami Heat series. Miami currently leads that series 3-1.

The Sixers can finish the Celtics off Thursday in Game 6.

NBA fans in Lakewood are more likely to root for the Knicks or Nets because of its proximity to New York, perhaps making rooting against the 76ers a natural instinct.

Philadelphia has not made an NBA Finals since 2001, when a team led by Allen Iverson was defeated by a Los Angeles Lakers team led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Like that year’s team, this year’s roster is anchored by a recently crowned most valuable player, Joel Embiid.

Last summer, Embiid attended the Jewish wedding of Michael Ratner, where he danced the hora and was lifted on a chair.

This wouldn’t be the first time a surprising playoff run created a scheduling conflict. Last year, fans of the band Phish hoped the Knicks would miss the playoffs to prevent an April 20 concert cancellation. No change was ultimately needed.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the date of Game 6 of the Sixers-Celtics series. It is Thursday, May 11.

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