Will new Sixers owners succeed where others have failed?

The Sixers have the most fickle fan base of the local teams, and it's always been that way.
The Sixers have the most fickle fan base of the local teams, and it's always been that way.
Posted: June 08, 2011

"I, as an individual, was unable or did not desire to continue funding our losses at the gate. My only regret is, we couldn't bring a championship to Philadelphia. We tried hard. It was . . . elusive, shall we say. We came close . . . but we didn't win the title."

- F. Eugene Dixon, 1981

An owner's lament

ED SNIDER is leaving to do what he does best, make money running arenas and dream about touching the silver one more time. Comcast is leaving, too, so busy gobbling up NBC and the telecast rights to the next few Olympics, so focused on its desire to conquer the world.

They leave, and a billionaire named Joshua Harris arrives; this week, next week, soon. With that, we can call the roll of owners of the Philadelphia professional basketball team: Pete Tyrell, Eddie Gottlieb, Irv Kosloff and Ike Richman, Fitz Dixon, Harold Katz, Snider and Comcast.

This will be the seventh ownership transaction, in the seventh decade, for the second NBA franchise in town - and, in the end, all of them failed to find what they were looking for.

Some got rich, some didn't.

Some won championships, some didn't.

But none of the people who owned these teams, the Warriors and then the 76ers, has been able to find the secret to ongoing excellence. Even worse, they have been unable to decipher the key to consistent relevance.

The Phillies are in the fiber here (even during their down times), and the Eagles are in the blood (at all times). The Flyers have captured a passionate, unwavering segment of the marketplace, and the Big 5 has always owned a portion of the city's memory, and its heart.

In there, somewhere, wandering, are the Sixers.

Showyaluv. Anyone?

It is a basketball city, and this is a fact that everyone acknowledges, yet when it comes to the Sixers, people fall in and out of love with the franchise with a head-spinning rapidity. Every one of the owners on that list had an attendance problem most of the time, and it is still true today. That has been the constant, the seats you'll never sit in.

But it isn't just that. The Sixers had a likable, young team in 2010-11, and they had a new coach who was widely admired, and they exceeded expectations and made the playoffs, and their television ratings took a significant jump upward - but the Flyers still drew 50 percent more viewers than the Sixers did on an average night on Comcast SportsNet. Fifty percent. Think about that.

It is what Joshua Harris is walking into - 7 decades of opening the doors and working like crazy in marketing and promotions and hoping someone shows up.

And heaven forbid that collective bargaining breaks down this summer and the NBA has a long lockout. Try selling that to this fan base.

It has been 10 years since this town was really, really excited about the Sixers. It was a season of love and there is no other way to describe it - Allen Iverson, Larry Brown, Pat Croce rappelling from bridges, Eric Snow playing on a broken leg, car flags whipping in the breeze. It was a time that both showed the potential of this franchise and betrayed the fickleness of that promise.

That this is a long time between embraces goes without saying. People will say it is simply about winning, but it is more complicated than that. Other people will say that it is more about how screwed up the NBA is, and how people here really won't embrace you if you don't have a glimmer of a chance of winning it all, and how the NBA limits that opportunity in a way that no other league does.

That is all part of it, but there is something else going on. It is a phenomenon that needs to be studied by a sociologist sometime.

The Flyers haven't won the Cup in forever, yet they have been essentially sold out forever. Eagles, same thing. The Phillies had some lean years back in the Veterans Stadium days, but that seems like a long time ago at this point. The Sixers are the only team where the fans vote with their feet, for better or worse, seemingly every year.

It is always season-to-season for them, and sometimes month-to-month, and no owner has been able to change it. The Warriors had Wilt, and it didn't matter. The Sixers had Doctor J, and it didn't matter. When they won the championship in 1983, the most memorable part of the postparade ceremonies came when Katz chided fans for not buying enough tickets. In the fallow years since, only Iverson was a draw, and only for a while.

That complex history is what Joshua Harris is buying, even if there is no line item on the balance sheet to explain it.

Send email to

hofmanr@phillynews.com,

or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

www.philly.com/TheIdleRich.

For recent columns go to

www.philly.com/RichHofmann.

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