It's the age-old question in Philadelphia: Can this really become a pro basketball town? Are the Sixers doomed to always be fourth among pro teams in the fans' hearts?
We took that question to the new Sixers majority owner and, as you would expect, he answered with a resounding no! And given Josh Harris' incredible success in the business world, you can't discount his answer.
Harris turned Wall Street on its head and made a boatload of money at a very young age. He seized an opportunity and left an established Wall Street firm, taking the significant risk of joining a start-up. That start-up became known as BlackRock, which became the gold standard of hedge funds.
Harris is doing it again. He's taking another risk, although the Sixers are not exactly a start-up. They have some very good young players and a "great coach," according to Harris, but for 30 years they have been No. 4 among Philly sports fans, with the possible exception of one brief shining moment in 2001 when they reached the NBA Finals. But Harris is not a naive risk-taker when it comes to hoops. He was a Washington Bullets fan at age 10 when they had a very good team with Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes. Seven years later, he came to Penn and fell in love with the world champion Sixers of Julius Erving and Moses Malone. He saw a ton of college games at the Palestra and watched the city go crazy, not only in 1983 for the Sixers, but also in 1985 for Villanova's NCAA championship. He told me he believes Philly is "a great basketball town" that will respond to a good, contending team. He thinks the Sixers can contend without a dominant big man, citing the Celtics over the past few seasons and last year's Mavericks. He also believes the Sixers can be a viable economic entity if they connect with the fan base by playing winning basketball and providing a great fan experience.
I believe Harris and CEO Adam Aron will achieve both of these goals, but they did stumble out of the gate. They summarily dismissed their mascot Hip Hop, a martial arts-trained rabbit on steroids whom nobody will miss. OK, that was a good start, but then they hired a consultant who produced three potential replacements, which were so stunning that they should sue the consultant for malpractice. It's hard to decide who was worse: Big Ben (Franklin), dull as dishwater; B. Franklin Dogg, a McGruff knockoff in a gruesome Colonial outfit; and the leading contender, Phil E. Moose, a wacky moose in the same Colonial outfit and Pilgrim shoes. (Egad a moose! The nearest moose sighting was several hundred miles from City Avenue.)
No doubt Harris and Aron were reeling from the fan reaction to the Big 3 would-be mascots. They almost made us yearn for Hip Hop's return. The Philly papers rode to the rescue by soliciting fans' opinions. I did the same thing when I was mayor and I asked the Daily News to run a contest for a new city slogan. We eventually got a great one ("Enjoy our past, experience our future") but along the way we got some "colorful" ones, too: "Welcome to Philadelphia, we're better than Camden"; "Welcome to Philadelphia, lock and load"; and "Welcome to Philadelphia, watch your wallet." In response to the mascot vacancy, the fans did it again - "Manute Bol Weevil;" a rooster called "John Han Cock;" and "Mobster Lobster" with a sidekick called "Crab Fries" (from Chickie's & Pete's, I presume). There were a few good ones, too - a dancing cheesesteak, "Billy Penguin," and my favorite, "Crocky," a crocodile with boxing gloves dancing to . . . what else? The theme from "Rocky," of course.
Despite the mascot debacle, which still can be rescued, I predict Philadelphia, and especially Sixers fans, will love having Harris as an owner.
First, because he has clearly said all basketball decisions will be made by Doug Collins and Rod Thorn. Second, because he told me he will spend money "for value." Third, because he will become a great citizen of Philadelphia. And lastly, and perhaps most important, because he simply doesn't know how to lose!