New Sixers Owners
Joshua Harris and Adam Aron came to Philadelphia last week, defibrillation paddles in hand, and brought back to life the corpse of the 76ers. The new owners are everything the old owners weren’t – people who care about basketball and have an actual plan on how to revive it here.
Even more interesting was what their debut revealed about the owners we already have: likeable Dave Montgomery, outdated Ed Snider and elitist Jeff Lurie. Billionaire businessman Harris and resorts entrepreneur Aron unwittingly said a great deal about all of those owners, and, in so doing, a great deal about themselves, too.
The new management face of the Sixers is Aron, who grew up in Abington immersed in the world of Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and the greatest public-address announcer of all time, Dave Zinkoff. Aron can rattle off some of Zinkoff’s old lines effortlessly, and he doesn’t need much prodding to do it. The CEO and co-owner is one of us – a fan – with two Harvard degrees and an undefeated record in business.
The first thing Harris and Aron did upon their arrival was to slash the ticket prices on over 9,000 seats, some by 50 percent or more. If they had rented a neon billboard calling the previous owners clueless, the message would not have been any clearer. Comcast and Ed Snider are gone, and so is the clueless way they ran the Sixers. Hallelujah.
Less tangible but just as impressive was the way Harris and Aron took a page from Montgomery’s manual and built an immediate bond with the fans. They made their new ownership about the people, setting up a website (newsixersowner.com) where fans have direct contact with the bosses. They even reached out for advice from former president Pat Croce, a man who knows more about fan bonding than anyone.
In the process of their introduction to the city, Harris and Aron showed us a quality that we all undervalue in the high-stakes, cut-throat world of professional sports. They showed people skills – something the Phillies have in abundance and something the Eagles don’t have at all.
During separate interviews with both Harris and Aron, I pinned them down on their accessibility to fans. Specifically, I asked them if they’d be as available after a five-game losing streak as they were last week. Of course, they both said they would be, but then they proved it – at least to me – by adding that it’s their responsibility to talk to the fans. It’s their job. Meanwhile, the Eagles bosses, Lurie and Joe Banner, remained unavailable for a seventh straight week.
Just two days after the impressive debut of the new Sixers owners, talks broke down again in the NBA lockout. For the first time in memory, I actually gave a damn. I’m disappointed that we’ll have to wait longer – maybe a lot longer – to see the new Sixers. Congratulations to the new guys for starting to make us care again.
An alarming thought occurred to me last week after reading and hearing for the umpteenth time how the Eagles had saved their season against Washington. The general theme after that shaky 20-13 win was that the Birds would be fine now, that they had survived the premature demise of their promising season.
What if the Eagles won that game not because of their newly redesigned defense but because of the dreadful performance of Rex Grossman? What if the Eagles are spending this bye week deluding themselves into thinking again that they’re better than they really are? What if – perish the thought – Tony Romo exposes them on Sunday night?
These Eagles are never very good at dealing with reality, but here’s a dose of it for them anyway. Kurt Coleman is not going to make three interceptions in a game again this season; he probably will not get three more this season. The linebackers still aren’t big enough or fast enough to scare anybody. The heralded cornerbacks can’t tackle. The defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo, still has shown little evidence that he knows what he’s doing.
And that’s just on defense. Michael Vick is still getting hit way too much, the big-play offense is not making anywhere near enough big plays, the placekicker is not trusted in big situations and Andy Reid is still the coach.
The Eagles saved the season in Washington, you say? I doubt it. I have a really bad feeling that the only thing they actually did is prolong the agony of a lost cause.
Ruben Amaro Jr. did a brilliant job of building the 102-win Phillies, but we now can finally see what his team lacked the most. It’s the ultimate intangible in sports. Luck.
Just go back to the ninth inning of Game 2 of the World Series last Thursday. The Cardinals were leading 1-0 at the time, with the top Texas hitters due to bat. Does that situation call to mind any recent moment for the Phillies? Like, say, the ninth inning of Game 5 of the division series, same score, big hitters scheduled to hit?
In St. Louis, Ian Kinsler led off by blooping a base hit into left field, triggering a two-run rally that tied the series. In Philadelphia, Chase Utley crushed a ball to the base of the center-field wall, where it died in the glove of John Jay. Kinsler hit the ball 200 feet. Utley hit it 400. Kinsler won the game. Utley lost the season.
I was talking to coach Peter Laviollette last week after his Flyers had lost to the Capitals, 5-2, on four deflected goals. He said he hadn’t slept much the night after that game. He kept seeing the puck snake through a throng of skaters and ping-pong into the net. Three of the four tainted goals had actually struck Flyers on their way in.
You can’t coach luck, he said. And you can’t general manage it, either. You can put together one of the best starting rotations in history, but you can’t tell the ball where to land with the game – and the season – on the line.
Idle thoughts . . . .
• The Phillies have already made their first mistake of the off-season. They retained hitting coach Greg Gross for another year. Ruben Amaro and Charlie Manuel both said they didn’t like the approach of the hitters last season. And then Gross got rehired? It makes no sense.
• When is a trade a matter of life and death? When the player is Jerome Harrison and his physical right after the deal turns up a brain tumor. Bravo to the Eagles medical staff for catching the problem early, and even to Ronnie Brown for making the dumb play that saved Harrison’s life.
• A recent poll shows that two out of three fans want Sixers mascot Hip Hop bounced. In a city with the incomparable Phanatic, there’s just no room for a far inferior mascot. Boil the water. It’s time for some rabbit stew.
• Paul Holmgren stopped the housecleaning one player too soon. The Flyers GM should have dumped Scott Hartnell along with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Hartnell already has a reduced role, and if he makes a few more plays like that giveaway against Washington, he’ll have no role at all.
• After his third straight benching in three seasons, Donovan McNabb said he has “a lot more football to play.” Is this why he was seen in the front row of a Lingerie Football League game recently? Is he looking for his next job already?