Doug Collins, Sixer Savior

How did he turn around the most wretched sports franchise in town? All it took was one four-letter word

The way he does that is through texting.

“It’s the way these guys communicate,” he says. “They don’t want me calling them. I’ll text something real short,”—Great leadership tonight, for example, or You did yourself proud—“let them know I’m thinking about them, and they’ll text back. I’m usually the third or fourth voice in their lives. They don’t want or need me getting deep into their business. If they do for some reason, they know I’m here.”

Tonight, the Sixers will play the conference-leading Boston Celtics; it’s a game Collins would love to win, a contest that will undoubtedly harken back to the Celtics/Sixers glory days when the franchise was the hottest ticket in town.

But at the moment, Collins’s players are still dealing with a dispiriting loss two nights earlier against Oklahoma City, when Kevin Durant scored five points in the final 37 seconds, turning what had looked to be a big win into an overtime defeat. “This would be a very silly time for me to get on the players,” Collins says when I ask him about the loss in his Wells Fargo Center office right after the team’s morning shootaround. “What would that do? I tell them I’m proud of them, win or lose, and I mean it. This is a big game tonight. This is a time to give them love.”

The mention of love—inevitable, of course—provides me with the perfect opening. I’ve come to the coach’s office in the midst of this most crushing part of the season not to talk about how Elton Brand has become a first-rate player, or how Andre Iguodala can now carry the team in the final minutes of close games, or even how the young guys, like Holiday and Evan Turner, are learning the value of patience.

No, I want to talk to Collins about love—love and aging.

WE’RE CLOSE IN age, Collins and I, and maybe I could learn a few things about this whole “getting older” thing. Would that be so awful?

Seriously, what’s the deal, Coach? You really love these guys? Or is this love talk all because you’re about to turn 60 and feeling vulnerable? What’s causing you to turn all squishy on us?

But before I ask him any of that, I first ask if he liked to write as a kid.

“I did, now that you mention it.”

I ask because, in a city where the pro-football coach stonewalls any attempt at insight and the baseball manager speaks in a peculiar tongue, Collins’s postgame analyses are oratorical masterpieces, storytelling at its finest, narratives that combine emotion, an unerring eye for detail, a mastery of stats, and a clear understanding of what must be improved, replete with metaphors and colorful imagery. Instead of saying a player had a great game, he’ll thump his chest and say, “Elton Brand’s got a lion’s heart, and you can’t put a price on that.” Or he’ll succinctly nail just what first-year player Turner will become: “Evan is a Philly guy, meaning he’s never going to be a splashy guy. Evan’s going to be a player who plays well, just not spectacularly well.”