To his credit, Snider admits he’s largely responsible for the team’s failures. “The buck stops here,” he says. “I’m the guy that hired the people that made the decisions. I’m very much embarrassed about last year. I wouldn’t sit here and tell you that I’ve done a fabulous job. I don’t think I have. But I can tell you this — I’ve tried.” He insists he has the same desire to win in basketball that he does in hockey. But Sixers basketball is a second language for Snider; hockey is instinctual. With the Flyers, he not only understands the fan base; he created it — like Frankenstein’s monster, raised up through the roof of the Spectrum and brought to life by back-to-back Stanley Cups in the ’70s.
When it comes to inspiring Sixers fans — something Croce did naturally — Snider seems befuddled. “It’s a difficult situation,” he says. “I have to be honest with you — if Flyers fans only came out when they thought we could win a championship, we wouldn’t be the strong organization we are today. They love to watch hockey. I don’t know what the situation is with basketball. We don’t have a large, loyal following.” His confusion extends to running a hoops franchise in a league that, unlike the NHL, leaves little room for error. “Even if you blow up the team,” he says, “that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a superstar or a top-notch free agent. Miami did it this year. Boston did it a few years back. There’s 30 teams in the league. The rest couldn’t do it. So it’s a tough situation. I haven’t been able to figure it out.”
Last season, Snider took his usual seat inside the Wachovia Center for game two of the Flyers’ conference finals against the Montréal Canadiens. About 100 miles away, in a North Jersey television studio, his other team awaited a decision that could determine its fate for the next decade. The Sixers were expected to win the sixth pick in the NBA draft. But as the lottery results were revealed, the team kept moving up the board.
Inside his luxury suite, Snider barely seemed to notice the lottery results on a nearby flat-screen. Someone told him the Sixers had just landed the second pick — a gift from the basketball gods, considering they’d had just a six percent chance of moving up so high. Snider took a moment to celebrate, looking over at a smiling Roberts and pumping his fist. A few seconds later, the chairman turned his attention back to the ice.
TWO YEARS AGO in Las Vegas, Mike Krzyzewski was looking for someone to motivate the USA men’s basketball team before its members flew to Beijing for the Summer Olympics. He asked Doug Collins to do it.