By Justin Diaz
For years, the Sixers organization was a mere afterthought to its owners. At best a secondary concern to the Flyers-crazed Ed Snider, we saw the franchise stagnate in mediocrity for a decade following the Finals appearance of 2001. We sw flashes of optimism; Andre Miller led a fast-paced and exciting offense until he walked away to Portland, and last year the Sixers played some great basketball down the stretch before bowing out to the Heat.
The fact of the matter, however, was that the Sixers were never going to revisit those early-decade successes and realize the glories of yesteryear without a major organizational overhaul. As fans, it can be difficult to be passionate for a product that is not passionately formed. The Sixers were just that for so many years after former president Pat Croce left; Snider and the like were not in touch with us whatsoever. The Sixers played second fiddle in their own building, and team success and attendance reflected that.
What we needed for the organization to take the next step from an operative perspective was exactly what we needed on the court last season. Doug Collins was brought in for two main reasons; his ability to turn teams around and his understanding of Philly. He made it clear from day one; "This is going to be a team Philadelphia can be proud of." And indeed it was; without question I was more "proud" of the Sixers at season's end than I was of the Eagles, Flyers, or (this still hurts to write) Phillies. It was a team I could be proud of, but not quite an organization.
That changed Tuesday morning.
Tuesday morning the ownership swap that had been rumored for months became official as Comcast-Spectacor turned over team operations to Apollo Management Inc., headed by Joshua Harris. He, in turn, named Adam Aron the team's CEO.
Without even listening to a word either of Harris or Aron said, one thing is plainly obvious; these are Philly guys. Harris graduated magna cum laude from Penn's famous Wharton School of Business. Aron attended Abington High School, mere minutes away from the Wells Fargo Center. They grew up watching the Sixers, just like we did, so they know full well the passion we bear for our teams and how that passion can be harvested into on-court success.
Their introductory press conference further confirmed and even enhanced this notion. They tied everything back to this team's history, and how important it is to them. These days a lot of people seem to forget that the Sixers are, by most standards, the third greatest franchise in league history behind the Lakers and Celtics. We trail only the Celtics and Lakers in wins and championship appearances, and while the Bulls, Spurs, and Pistons have managed to win more championships, their successes were concentrated into one era while the Sixers have withstood the test of time. That is something for us to be proud of, yet people have let it slip from their minds that Sixers basketball is more than a team; it is a legacy. As Aron rattled off the great achievements and players we have had, it became clear that he will not let us forget about that.
These are not just guys that are in-tune with our past, however. They have already begun to directly influence the team as it relates to us today in a very positive manner. The most clear of these initiatives was the slashing of ticket prices; notably, the 9,000 seats which comprise the lower bowl of the Wells Fargo Center have been cut nearly in half. The cheapest lower-level seats are now $29 as opposed to $55, and Aron made it clear that "this is not a promotion. These are our new prices." It is so extremely refreshing to see ownership which sympathizes with the fan in these economic times instead of taking every penny possible. From people like me as a college student to the father trying to take his son to a game, this is a great move for all Philly fans.
They have even reached out to us in a more direct way. The new ownership has encouraged Sixers fans to go to www.newsixersowner.com to send in their ideas on how to best improve the in-game experience. Think Jrue should take the shots in the clutch? Write it in. Think Iggy needs to work on his jumper? Think Marreese needs a big man coach, perhaps Moses Malone, to maximize his potential? Write it in. Think Hip-Hop needs to go? Write it in. New management will read every single submission. The 1,776 (if you need me to explain that number, you can go root for another team) fans whose submissions they like the most will receive a free ticket to a future game. To quote radio announcer Tom McGinnis, "are you kiddin me?" That they are even accepting fan feedback is great, but they're providing an incentive to do so? That's how you win over a fan base.
Now, the media is going to hype how Will and Jada Pinkett Smith are now minority owners of the team, and while that's great from a marketing point-of-view, it is essentially irrelevant from an operative one. Smith can show up courtside, take in the games, and that will certainly attract positive press for the team. But the big news today is clearly about Harris and Aron. They will lead us into this new era of Sixers basketball, they will harvest our passion, intensity, and pride as Philly fans, and they will use that harvest to create a contender. Last season's conclusion gave us on-court, short-term hope. Tuesday's developments give us long-term hope, and without a doubt the best has yet to come. While the team was previously an afterthought to Snider, Aron stated it very plainly.
"This isn't our team. This is Philadelphia's team. It is your team."