This is, for me, the most interesting article I've ever written.
After the Sixers win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, I went on 610 WIP to talk basketball with Spike Eskin as I had done a few weeks ago. With the trade deadline passed, Spike and I went over what the Sixers chances were the rest of the season. I essentially reiterated what we've already agreed upon: the Sixers are a talented but flawed team with very little chance of getting past the second round of the playoffs.
It was about halfway into my block that Spike interrupted me, apologizing for having to cut me off short because an impromptu call was coming in. The CEO of the Sixers, Adam Aron, was calling in. Happy to get bounced, I was put on hold while Spike addressed Adam. The 57-year-old businessman then did something I wasn't expecting. He told Spike to put me back on the air until my segment was done, and he'd go once I had finished.
That's pretty awesome. What happened afterwards was less so.
First off, that's amazing of Adam. As Justin put it on Twitter: "The CEO of a major sports organization asked to be put on hold so a talk show radio host can finish a conversation with a blogger. Four or five years ago that would have been laughable." Thanks to Adam for both calling in and letting a much less important person do his business while waiting on hold. Giving the rest of that interview knowing Adam was on the line was pretty surreal, and I'd love a chance to interview him personally to discuss things further.
When Adam did come on, most of the things he was saying (or not saying, in places) were startling. Not at first though. He and Josh Harris had "caught the winning bug" and "really want to see the Sixers become an elite team in the league". Sure. Both harmless enough. As a CEO, it's what you expect him to say. But then, things went awry.
In responding to what I was saying about having a championship goal in mind, even if it's not until 2015, Adam laughed it off. The idea that a fanbase would be appeased by being told a championship will be won in three years was a joke to him. Fans want to win now. They don't want to hear excuses, and anything other than the immediate is discounted.
This is how the Sixers new ownership thinks. Apparently he has forgotten that the Sixers haven't won a title in 29 years.
Adam repeated countless times (literally, I couldn't count that high) the Sixers are "an exciting young team". When Spike brought up the Atlanta Hawks as a team that used to be exciting and young but are now middle of the road and 29, Adam dismissed it. Yes, they've thought about that possibility, but they're first in the Atlantic Division! Most guys are under 25! They're an exciting young team! Actual quote:
We should revel and enjoy all the progress that's been made. We're playing in a full arena where everybody is screaming their heads off. And even in the home games that we've lost, people have walked out saying 'I saw a great ballgame'
He went on to wax about how, back in December, NO ONE cared about the Sixers (we had 84K siteviews in a mostly basketball-less month - clearly some of you cared) and now, they're the talk of the town. People are excited about the team, attendance is up, and the Sixers win more often than not. Their goal is to improve every year. To keep being exciting and producing a winner.
For the less narcissistic, these comments are innocent. Excitement is good. Winning games - also good. But what this tells me and, I think, most of my peers who were listening, is that the Sixers goal is not to win a championship.
Of course they'd love to win a championship. Merchandise and excitement would be at an all-time high. Money would be rolling in. Smiles abound. The ownership just isn't willing to make the sacrifices to do what it will take to build a championship basketball team. They're completely, overwhelmingly content with the 28-22 basketball team that hasn't beaten a legitimately great team since beating the Lakers almost two months ago. A championship is positively secondary to attendance numbers and fan excitement.
And that's eye-opening.
Yes, basketball is a business. i know that. You know that. We're not exactly idealists here. Ownership is in this to make money, and lots of it. Anything else, while nice in theory, is gravy. It's always assumed that owners think this way but to have it said essentially to me directly was a wakeup call of sorts. I'm still reeling from how obvious it was.
Going from "we've caught the winning bug" to clapping each other on the back and sounding satisfied with where they are does not correlate. He should say: "Our only goal is to win a championship. From a management standpoint, we will do whatever it takes to bring a title to Philadelphia. We know it's not going to happen right away, but I assure you that every single move we make is with a world championship in mind."
But he didn't. He's a standup guy, and an extremely polite one at that, but at the end of the day is nothing more than a cheerleader. He doesn't have a basketball background so it's obviously expected, but he's a big part of the Sixers brain trust and everything he says reflects their interior thinking.
They didn't want to blow up the team before the season because "it would have been a colossal mistake". Why, exactly? Because the team would have been worse in the short term and the fans wouldn't show up. Understandable from a new ownership - but is it the right call? At this point, no it's not. This team, while marginally better than last year's team, has not made any great strides in pressing on towards legitimate contention. Yes they're young. That doesn't mean they're talented enough to win a title. As of now, they're a bunch of second fiddles trying to harmonize without a melody to lead them.
I'd love to ask Adam what he thinks about tanking. What the Blazers have done. They've made their moves with their fanbase in mind, not because the fans don't want a winner, but because they want a championship. The crop wasn't working, so they scrapped it and started over. It's admirable. The Sixers weren't willing to do that. Now they're looking at a likely first round exit and a few crucial personnel moves in Louis Williams, Spencer Hawes, and Elton Brand. Thaddeus Young has already been paid fairly big money to maintain the status quo on the bench.
Ownership can "you never know!" us until they're blue in the face but the team is not a contender. They will not be a contender unless Dwight Howard comes here or a superstar big man falls into their laps. It's the nature of the NBA these days that mediocre is a much worse place to be than terrible. While Aron and the Sixers are shaking their pom-poms and waving everyone's birth certificate for attendance now, the team will age. It remains to be seen how much better they'll get. Though as long as they make the Playoffs and seats are filled, the owners thumbs will be firmly up.
Adam finished his conversation with Spike by asking him if he thought the Sixers would beat the Wizards on Friday. The Wizards. Because that win would make all the difference and be a sign of things to come.
On its face, winning is good. But philosophically, not all winning is equal. Adam Aron revealed that they're positively happy to stay pretty good for a while. After all, only one team wins a title. Why should they risk losing the casual fan to put themselves up against those small odds?