Inside the Sixers: New Sixers owners need to make a couple of immediate off-court improvements

Hip-Hop, the 76ers' mascot, is part of the stale in-game entertainment at the Wells Fargo Center. The new owners have promised changes.
Hip-Hop, the 76ers' mascot, is part of the stale in-game entertainment at the Wells Fargo Center. The new owners have promised changes. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 23, 2011

Perhaps it's a disguised blessing that the NBA is locked inside meeting rooms instead of filling up arenas because refurbishing the 76ers image isn't a one-afternoon kind of job.

Comcast-Spectacor no longer owns the Sixers. New York billionaire Joshua Harris and a long list of co-owners - including Philly's own Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith - officially purchased the city's struggling basketball team Tuesday.

And although basketball diehards just want the team on the court, the NBA lockout might provide this new ownership, and chief executive officer Adam Aron, enough time to marry the in-game experience with the on-court product instead of trying to hop into the car while it's speeding past.

The team's current vibe and the arena's in-game experience doesn't reflect youngsters Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner: It reflects the teams from the late 1990s and early 2000s, teams whose presence revolved almost entirely around Allen Iverson. During a time when being an hour behind the news is the equivalent of missing it entirely, it's been particularly confusing to watch an NBA team present a decade-old version of itself.

The minute after LeBron James announced he was "taking his talents to South Beach," the Cleveland Cavaliers revamped their in-game experience: from the home of the King to the land of the underdogs. Meanwhile the Sixers can't seem to pull themselves away from the Iverson era, a truth that was highlighted during the 2009-10 season, when they actually re-signed Iverson.

There are thousands of basketball purists who couldn't care less what the franchise's marketing team does to fill a timeout. But there are another thousand fans watching the mascot (fingers crossed it's no longer Hip Hop) while Doug Collins is deciding which lineup to send back onto the court.

Winning games is paramount, but with basketball buried under lawyerly jargon, the new owners can address two crucial off-court elements:

Drag the team's in-game experience into 2012. The show inside the Wells Fargo Center has been stale for years. The in-game entertainment isn't creative, it's merely a compilation of copied bits from across the league: the kiss cam, the airline ticket giveaway, the between-quarters dance-a-thon. The team's mascot, Hip Hop, reflects absolutely nothing about the team - or the city. And the Sixers' most marketable assets - namely, Collins, Holiday, and the youth movement - are lost within a swirl of insanely loud music and twice-baked bits.

Aron has promised changes to the team's in-game experience.

It must be fresh, creative, and interactive: history and technology as enthusiastic as one of Holiday's left-handed jams.

The team's practice facility. The Sixers practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine on City Avenue, about 11 miles from the Wells Fargo Center in South Philly. Some NBA teams' facilities might be more inconvenient, but none come to mind.

The Portland Trail Blazers practice center is a beautifully situated, stand-alone compound just outside Portland; the Phoenix Suns' practice court is about six steps, one cement hallway, from their game-day floor; and you could park in the same lot and walk to either the Sacramento Kings' practice facility or into their arena.

In the free-agent sweepstakes, these things matter. Just like it matters to a high school recruit when he walks into the University of Texas locker room and sees a flat-screen TV sparkling inside a locker. Players around the league talk to one another and players know which teams have nicely appointed facilities - and which teams don't.

Nothing illustrates this point better than the movie Just Wright. In it, Sixers power forward Elton Brand makes an appearance as himself, outside the Sixers' practice facility. Except it isn't the team's actual practice facility. It's a much nicer, much sleeker, imaginary practice facility.

There are a dozen possible reasons for this, most likely having to do with the fact Brand was in Los Angeles and the shoot was in L.A.

But the point remains: The team's current practice facility isn't the kind of place you'd want for a movie shoot.

Harris, Aron & Company have made promises. The team's future depends on their follow-through.


Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at kfagan@phillynews.com or @DeepSixer3 on Twitter. Read her blog, "Deep Sixer," at www.philly.com/deepsixer

 

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