Don’t Do Anything Jeffrey Lurie Would Do

A guide for the Sixers new owners

By the time the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Eagles-Patriots disaster neared its merciful conclusion, the CBS cameras had long ceased showing any camera angles that gave viewers an idea of how few people remained at Lincoln Financial Field. Even when the network chose an aerial shot as it returned from a commercial, the camera zoomed in on the field, refusing to give a complete view of the stadium. It’s not good business to show a ton of empty seats.

Speaking of empty seats, the Sixers should be back in business within the next month, and that’s great news for the dozens of fans in this town who were clamoring for the return of NBA basketball. If the team is looking for a way to boost attendance for the truncated 2011-12 season—after finishing 25th in the league last season—it might want to look into offering shelter to the 99-Percenters who will be booted from their City Hall locale later this week. An “Occupy Wells Fargo Center” campaign might just work.

While there was no real professional basketball activity in this city since the Sixers’ first-round playoff loss to the Heat last spring—save the sweaty, fun Palestra duel between local heroes and the Carmelo/LeBron All Stars–there has been plenty of off-the-court action. It began, of course, with the announcement that LBO king Joshua Harris and his gang of partners had bought the Sixers on the cheap (about $50 mil below Forbes’ $330 million valuation of the club) from Mr. Snider. The latest news was the mercy killing of Hip Hop, perhaps the world’s worst mascot. The “official” line was that the gangsta rabbit had retired to the country to start a family, but the smart money is on his being part of the foundation of the next Stephen Starr restaurant in town.

As basketball starts up again in town, it would be instructive for Harris to pay attention to what’s happening with the Eagles and refrain from making some of the mistakes that have led to the current treatment of the franchise, its management, coaches and players. That way, Harris will avoid becoming an outcast in town, much as Jeffrey Lurie is. If Harris follows a few simple rules, he will engender goodwill from the fan base, and should he actually win a championship, become beloved.

Avoid Precious Metals References. Harris’s firm, Apollo Global Management, invested in Metals USA earlier this century, but that company deals mostly in steel. So, if Harris wants to talk about his goals for the Sixers, he would be advised to avoid references to silver, gold, rhodium, iridium or platinum. That way, should the team struggle, no one will be able to remind Harris that the “Osmium Standard” does not include five consecutive trips to the NBA lottery. Harris should stick to what he knows. No fan would be upset if the Sixers are as tough or versatile as steel.

Don’t Give the Coach Absolute Power. A big reason why Bill Parcells ended his tenure with the New England Patriots was what he considered insufficient input in personnel decisions. His famous quotation, “If you want me to cook the meal, you should let me buy the groceries” summed up his desire to choose the players he was going to coach. During the last several years, Andy Reid has designed the menu, shopped for the ingredients and then cooked it up. This season, the result has been a road kill stew with whipped cream, peanut butter and carp. Were he on Iron Chef, Big Red would have been sent off weeks ago. The scary part for Eagles fans is that he could be concocting awful recipes for the next season or so, thanks to a contract that has two more years on it. Harris must understand that team president Rod Thorn is a proven builder of contenders and should be left alone to do his job—with limited meddling from coach Doug Collins and very little input from Harris, his pickup hoops skills notwithstanding.

Listen to the Fans. One of the smartest things Pat Croce did as president of the Sixers was call a season-ticketholder summit after his first season with the team and listen to fans’ frustrations. The overwhelming sentiment was that the GM/coach combination of Brad Greenberg and Johnny Davis wasn’t working. After realizing the fans were right, Croce dumped the duo and hired Larry Brown. A trip to the Finals followed. Making day-to-day decisions based on the whims of fans is bad business, but when apathy and anger arise from front-office decisions, it’s best to hear what the paying customers have to say.

Be Available to the Media. One of the things that angers fans most about Lurie and Joe Banner is their unwillingness to speak about issues regarding the team. Lurie gives a once-a-year “state of the team” address that is largely a Pollyanna view of the club, while Banner saves his proclamations for controlled settings, most often with broadcast partners or non-threatening scribes. Speaking to the media, especially during tough times, removes the feeling that management is aloof and disengaged. Harris can’t be afraid to answer difficult questions, the better to let fans know he cares. He shouldn’t be self-serving about it, but he must step up and show some toughness and understanding of the fans’ concerns. It will go a long way.

Don’t Be Afraid to Change. When things aren’t working, and it’s clear they’re not working, change course. Quickly. Having strength of convictions is great, but an unwillingness to make a switch when trouble arises is the hallmark of a stubborn, ineffective leader. Just because the coffers remain full in the short run doesn’t mean they’ll overflow long-term. The longer an owner tries to hold on to a strategy that is clearly failing, the more likely he is to bottom out. Harris must be able to recognize when a previously successful approach is no longer effective and act to prevent a big collapse.

There is no guarantee that following these maxims will guarantee a championship, but adhering to them will help Harris develop a positive relationship with fans that will serve him when times are tough. Now that the NBA has decided to play ball again, it will be interesting to see whether the Sixers’ new owner charts a course different from that taken by Lurie or if he repeats the mistakes that have made the Eagles’ boss so unpopular.


  • Thanks for stopping by, DeSean Jackson. That alligator-armed attempt on the goal line just about sealed his fate in this town. All that was missing was a post-game “For who? For what?” declaration. Have fun in Tennessee, Jacksonville or wherever they’re willing to pay you for your talents—and personality defects.
  • Jim Boeheim needs to resign. Today. His backpedal on the Bernie Fine situation was disturbing and insulting to those Fine allegedly abused. He tied himself to Fine from the beginning and the taped phone conversation from the accuser and Fine’s wife is damning evidence against the Syracuse assistant. Boeheim’s statement yesterday did not trump his initial defiance So long, Jim.
  • R.I.P. Vasily Alekseyev. Even though the U.S. and USSR were locked in Cold War battles during Alekseyev’s time as the world’s strongest man, it was always entertaining to watch him lift more and more weight over his head. The sad thing was that he received bonuses for each record he broke, so he never cut loose and lifted all he could, the better to pave the way for more records and payments. A true giant of sport is gone.