Sixers owners continue their overhaul
He should have been on a plane bound for Singapore. That didn’t happen. Instead, he flew back to Philadelphia for an extended layover.
Adam Aron didn’t mind. As problems go, it was a nice one to have. The Sixers’ CEO was in London for the Olympics. The plan was to leave there and head to Asia for a vacation with his family. Then the plan changed. When the Sixers got involved in a monster four-team trade that brought center Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia, Aron realized his holiday would be put on hold.
“I was definitely not complaining when I looked in the mirror and told myself that I needed to head back home,” Aron said.
While the rest of the world was busy watching archery and badminton and fencing, the NBA was basically using London as a summit for off-season trade talks. Front office executives and owners from all around the league were in England under the guise of witnessing quadrennial international competition. Doug Collins was there moonlighting as color commentator for the Olympic basketball tournament, but like the rest of the Sixers executives, he was secretly engaged in the complex negotiations.
“He was up to his neck in it. Everyone was,” Aron said. “[President] Rod [Thorn] and [senior vice president] Tony [DiLeo] were driving the action with the other teams, because that’s their role, but Rod and Tony were in constant communication with Josh Harris, with Doug and with myself. And in turn, Josh and I were in constant communication with them and each other. It was an intense time.”
That’s hardly surprising. Harris and Aron – along with the other members of their cabal – have officially owned the Sixers for about 10 months now. It has been an eventful stretch for the team and the town.
A year ago, the Sixers were a directionless mess. The roster was swollen with aging players and bad contracts. As a result, the franchise was all but ignored – a group of large professional athletes who were essentially hidden in plain sight. That is hard to do, and harder still to fix.
If some people fear change, the new owners aren’t among them. For years the Sixers were a major project – the equivalent of an unfinished property in a desirable neighborhood, a structure that had potential but needed to be gutted and rebuilt. There was a lot of heavy lifting to do.
Almost immediately, the Sixers' owners slashed ticket prices, stripped away the mascot, installed an in-house national anthem singer and half-time entertainment, gussied up the place with a few confetti cannons, and then invited all the neighbors over through an increased social media presence. That was a lot, but it still wouldn’t have been enough to make people interested in stopping by if the on-court product wasn’t polished.
After nearly reaching the Eastern Conference finals, the Sixers overhauled the roster. Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Lou Williams, Jodie Meeks, Nikola Vucevic and others have been replaced. When the preseason begins, Bynum and seven other new players will replace them. The Sixers may or may not be better, but they will certainly be different. For a franchise that had the same facade for years, it was a necessary and long-overdue facelift.
“We work hard, long hours,” Aron said. “I’m on the phone or e-mailing with Josh Harris at one in the morning, two in the morning, six in the morning, sometimes because we’re staying up late, sometimes because we’re getting up early, sometimes because we never went to bed. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Sunday, a holiday, there are no days off. We’re as happy about the Sixers as the fans are. If you’re going to put in that much effort, you might as well get a return for doing something.”
What they’ve gotten in return is renewed interest from the fans and the media. Last week, hundreds of Sixers fans packed the National Constitution Center for a makeshift pep rally/press conference to welcome Bynum and Jason Richardson to Philadelphia. It was a crazy scene, a kind of mid-week carnival that would have been impossible to pull off a year earlier. In previous seasons, it was tough enough to get people to attend actual games. It has been a swift and dramatic course-correction for the Sixers.
“If you define engagement by whether people are coming out and attending games, by whether the media is actively covering the team, by whether the average fan is talking about the Sixers on talk radio or with their friends around the city, we knew that the team that we bought was almost an afterthought,” Aron said. “It wasn’t always that way. This is one of the great teams in the history of the NBA. … We knew we were the fourth team in a four-sports team town. When we took on the task, we thought it could take three or four years to turn the team around in fan interest and enthusiasm. It took three or four weeks. We’ve had down moments, but we’ve had a tremendous amount of up moments.
“Here it is – June, July, August – when no one would be talking about the NBA, and there’s buzz about the Sixers.” E-mail John Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org