Doug Collins, Sixer Savior

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

“I’d like to keep coaching this team,” he says. “To keep taking it up a level, to keep building, that’s where the fun is for me now. I find joy in hearing these players find their own voices, in watching them grow as players and men.”

Before accepting the head coaching job with the Sixers, Collins sought the blessing of his family, which largely meant the approval of his wife, Kathy, to whom he’s been married for 37 years.

Yes, she told him, take the job, but only if you promise to have fun doing it.

One can only imagine the dark nights of the soul he went through to convince himself and his family that he would lower the intensity a notch and expand his concept of fun to include more than just winning basketball games.

But changes were made, substantial ones, thanks to the company of his grandkids and the setting of new rules.

For one, Collins says, he no longer watches basketball on television when he gets home—except on rare occasions when Duke is playing, and only because his son Chris is an associate head coach there. “I can’t watch basketball at night because my mind starts to whirl, which is why watching tapes of games is also very negative for an active mind like mine. Once my mind gets to whirling, I can’t make it stop and I don’t sleep. A lot of times I come home and do crossword puzzles instead.”

But maybe the biggest change is that he no longer feels that he has to be the only voice his players hear on the court. “My assistants help with the practices, all the drills. I trust them,” he says. “I don’t need all the control. That comes with getting older.”

TWELVE HOURS LATER, Doug Collins is standing at the podium, soaking wet, a clear sign that plenty of the old intensity remains intact.

His team has just beaten the Celtics in dramatic fashion, and for once, his usual eloquence has gone missing. Emotions are high—even higher than usual—and his sentences are running together. “I’m having a blast,” he says. He says he won’t even need an airplane to fly to Milwaukee for the next game. And by the way, in case you didn’t know, the team you just saw beat the Celtics is the nicest group of men he’s ever been around.

“I love them,” he says. “I love being around them. I love being with my guys, win or lose.”