The New Sixers Owners Have All the Right Moves

Killing Hip-Hop was the first of many ways that Adam Aron and his partners have made fans excited for basketball again

I didn’t think I’d miss the NBA. Professional basketball hadn’t appealed to me in quite a while. There’s not enough defense, rebounding, sharing or mid-range jumpers for my liking and I was getting sick of the LeBron jokes. The Sixers hadn’t been (seriously) relevant since the 2000-2001 season and hadn’t touted a legitimate, marquee player since Iverson’s value tapered and he was sent to Denver. Far too often, playoff series are highly predictable and the Clippers aren’t televised enough for Blake Griffin to draw me in.

But, I was wrong. I did miss the NBA—and not just because I was looking for something to watch during the intermissions of Flyers games.

I remembered how exciting the NBA was when I was in middle school. I remembered how mesmerized the region was when the team ripped off 10 wins to open the ’00-01 season, how we gasped when Iverson stepped over Tyron Lue and how I used no fewer than a dozen fist pumps to express my elation when Eric Snow hit that runner in Game 1 of the finals. My friends and I used to debate bench minutes and analyze draft selections. We used to be able to talk intelligently about Aaron McKie’s statistics, breaking down how a team could succeed with guys like Matt Harpring and Keith Van Horn playing integral roles in winning games.

Then our adoration with the Sixers began to wither. Our passion for professional basketball in Philadelphia emaciated as Pat Croce stopped climbing bridges and left the team to go play his real-life version of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Iverson was shipped out of town, Larry Brown resigned (just long enough to take an offer from another team) and the Sixers turned the reins over to fringe stars, role players, and inexperienced coaches as Ed Snider and company continued to coddle the Belle-of-the-ball Flyers as their red-headed step-child Sixers struggled to make the playoffs in front of  dozens of fans.

This summer, Joshua Harris—a 46-year-old New York billionaire who made his fortune in private equities—and a group of investors (including the Fresh Prince) snatched up the Sixers at a garage sale price while the NBA was fighting to stave off a lockout.

The new regime took over and didn’t waste much time before ushering in some much-needed changes. Vowing to grant fans a more integral role in team decisions, they started a website to open discussions about what could be done to improve the team’s presence in the city. Then ticket prices were slashed and a juiced-up bunny settled down in the ‘burbs.

Adam Aron—the team’s CEO—and company didn’t mess around when tasked with replacing Hip-Hop, either. They hired the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to develop possible mascots for the squad and then posted the candidates to the Internet so that the fans could decide. And when a 23-year-old recent college grad scooped up Twitter handles for two of the hypothetical mascots the Sixers reached out to the guy, offered him season tickets in exchange for control of the handles and then hired him full-time as the team’s social media coordinator. A potential PR disaster—that might have caused the team to take legal action against a kid barely out of college—turned into a great opportunity for an aspirational young man and an organization looking to win the hearts of a city still too focused on WHIP and WAR (68 days until pitchers and catchers report, by the way) to give a damn about basketball.

In a sports world—where owners are typically scene as ominous overseers leering down from their boxes as the peasants cheer for gladiators toiling in the fields—the Sixers are pulling pages from a new book. While I was first starting to follow the NBA lockout and watching the league battle with players, I never thought I’d miss professional basketball. I was wrong.

Adam Aron has been interacting with fans commenting on 700 Level and stayed up until 4 a.m. one night last month to bid on all of Dr. J’s memorabilia on eBay.Plus, Jrue Holliday and company are back to practice and the city is deciding between a founding father, a dogg and a moose to represent the team. I didn’t think I’d say this, but I love this game.