My favorite Ed Snider story is from 2003. The University of North Carolina had just fired Matt Doherty as its head basketball coach, and Larry Brown was in a dither over the vacancy. Brown desperately wanted to coach at his alma mater, despite the fact that he was under contract with the 76ers through the 2004-05 season for an average salary of $6 million a year.
At halftime of a Sixers game, I tracked down "Mr. Snider," as Brown referred to him, and asked what he thought about his head coach flirting with going to North Carolina.
"He'd be out of his [expletive] mind," Snider told me.
That was my initial reaction when the news broke Tuesday morning that a billionaire from New York City, Joshua Harris, was leading a group trying to buy the 76ers from Comcast-Spectacor. According to an ESPN.com report that was confirmed by The Inquirer's Kate Fagan, Harris and his outfit would own the team, but Comcast-Spectacor would continue to own and operate, and profit from, the Wells Fargo Center. Harris' Sixers would simply be a tenant paying rent.
On the surface, that seems like a win for Comcast-Spectacor. The company would drop a team it hasn't exactly returned to prominence but would still make money off of it, assuming the new ownership group would keep the team in Philadelphia.
Anything is possible, including that the deal ultimately does not get done. It is also possible that Harris, who made his money as a leveraged buyout specialist, simply would be buying the franchise in order to flip it.
But if Harris, who Forbes reported earlier this year is worth $1.5 billion, would be in the game for the long haul, he would have a franchise that, at least basketball-wise, finally has started to move in the right direction, thanks to the brilliance of Doug Collins.
Collins is everything you want in a head coach. He is eternally optimistic, upbeat, and positive. He is at an age at which he understands his weaknesses, that in the past have included overcoaching his players to the point that they tune him out, and has made adjustments to play to his strengths. He lets his assistants work individually with the players to deliver his message, which allows his voice to stay fresh and carry weight.
When the Sixers started the season 3-13, they did not panic. Collins kept the players mentally in the game when they easily could have fallen back on their past failures. If winning breeds confidence, losing repels it, but Collins understood that his roster was made up of mostly young, hungry players who wanted to do the right thing. And they wanted to win.
Having Collins at the helm is not the only positive asset Harris would have. While he would have a lot of work to do to energize the fan base to the level of the Allen Iverson heyday, the fans are there. They are understandably skeptical and disillusioned, and they are notoriously hard to impress, but they are still there, lying dormant, waiting for a reason to plop down their money on tickets and merchandise.
Build a winner, and they will come. You started to see it in the playoffs. For the two home games of the Sixers' first-round series against the Miami Heat, the building was raucous. It was not packed, and some people attended because they were Heat fans, but there was more energy than there had been there in years.
Collins was particularly giddy after the Sixers won Game 4 because the crowd had been so into it. He understands better than most the history of the franchise and its place in the National Basketball Association. Only the Lakers and Celtics have won more games.
The Sixers are likable, young, and with plenty of upside. They are still rebuilding, still at least two big pieces away from being a real player in the Eastern Conference. But with young talent such as Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young, and Evan Turner, there is potential to develop.
There is no doubt the Sixers will try to move Andre Iguodala and the three years and $42 million that remain on his bloated contract. Maybe they will work out a deal for Golden State's Monta Ellis. If not him, maybe someone else. They need another scorer. They also need a big man. And then they will need time.
An ownership change could buy time. Everyone will watch the new guy, see how he operates, see how he spends, and then decide if the buzz Collins has created will explode into a roar.
After years of mediocrity, it will be a hard sell, but it can be done. The pieces are there. But not owning the building or getting a slice of the parking and concessions on game nights would be a huge negative for the new owner.
Harris has made a ridiculous amount of money in his career buying and selling things. Presumably he would know what he was doing if he indeed were to buy the Sixers.