(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Monday, June 24, 2013

The 76ers Have Fired CEO Adam Aron -- Hold the Phone -- Perhaps Not

I posted the following yesterday after seeing a tweet from local sports media honcho Howard Eskin that he had two sources that told him this happened; the morning papers on June 25 report that the firing didn't take place but opened the door that Aron's role might change.  The original headline was that they fired Aron, and I apologize for jumping on this without letting it marinate.  Eskin has broken some big stories before, but this time either he was ahead of the competition or, upon learning of Eskin's early learning of the story, the 76ers retreated.  In any event, here's what I wrote, and despite the uncertainty for the 76ers and Aron, I'll leave it up for consideration.

Philadelphia area guy. 

Went to Harvard.

Had success in business.

Probably figured that a good way to end a business career would be for a long ride helping bring the hometown basketball team -- in a basketball town -- back to prominence. 

Went to work for a guy with four kids, a hedge fund billionaire, a Wharton grad who made his entry into sports ownership by purchasing a once-storied but now struggling basketball team.  Probably figured it would be a safe bet, working for and with this Wharton guy.  Probably figured that he'd have some rope in helping bring the team back into prominence.

Sure, there would be pressure.  The pressure that comes from the Celtics and Knicks and the  upstart Nets, with their Russian oligarch owner and their somewhat fashionable address in Brooklyn.  They made the big deal, it bombed, the seats didn't fill, and the GM went.  A GM who had spent years in a system that had consistently failed to find gems from among foreign players or overlooked U.S. players playing overseas.   So did the head coach, who was a luxury, a great basketball mind and man coaching an also ran with only a few good players.  His potential for success was doomed when the big guy's knee balked and then balked again. 

So now the third thing happened.  The CEO is gone.  Perhaps owner Josh Harris is taking a page out of one-time "owner" Pat Croce's book (Croce called himself "owner" but owned only a tiny sliver of the team; yet, he was the face of the franchise) by parting company with most of his front office after only one season. 

The coach, a legend for the team as a player, is gone.  The GM, a Big Five hoopster with a son playing in the Big Five (albeit for a different school), is gone.  The local kid who went to Harvard is gone.

Wonder whether Adam Aron still thinks it was a wise move to exit the travel business for the glitz of professional sports? 

I had contemplated a career in it, too, only to have friends talk me out of it because they offered that I could do something more important in my life than watch games and that dealing with athletes -- actually meeting them -- would prove to be a major disappointment .  (I once met Willie Mays, and it was hard for him in person to live up to his legend as a player).  At any rate, what the business people find is that sports is a raw business in terms of sales.  What I mean by that is that you can probably sell a like good to a customer who is considering other like goods.  There are different features and price points, but you probably could sell something to just about everyone.  In sports, though, the won-loss record is so raw that people won't go to a palace to watch an also ran; they will go to a barnyard to watch a champion.  There is so much competition for the entertainment dollar -- cable TV, iPods, iPhones, Netflix, Cable TV, cell phones, gourmet restaurants, other sports -- that if you cannot field a winning team, unless somehow the generation that blows its money on hanging out finds your arena cool, you are doomed.  You don't need to be a Wharton or Harvard grad to figure that much out.  You need a good product -- not a DJ for a P.A. announcer who can't carry half of Dave Zinkoff's microphone, not dancing girls of all ages, not men jumping on trampolines dunking basketballs. 

You need a team that can contend.  You need a front office -- the way Jack McMahon did it finding player after player for the Sixers in the 80's (including, among others, Andrew "The Boston Strangler" Toney) -- that the fan base has confidence in will go to all corners of the earth to find the next great player. 

The owners don't have to be Wharton alums, the CEO doesn't have to be a Harvard grad, and the coach doesn't have to be a Hall of Famer and former Olympian.  It's not that formulaic, but it's pretty obvious what you need -- players, and players whose will to win is so fierce that the money doesn't become a deterrent, that guaranteed money doesn't reduce their will to win.  Capture that talent and that will in a bottle, and you will win a championship.  Signing a guy with a tendency to change haircuts and go bowling while nursing an injured knee might just not cut it.  Sure, he could be a bright guy, but you're looking for the guy who loves winning and hates losing. 

So, the front office parts ways with CEO Adam Aron, making it a hat trick in terms of cleaning out upper management.  The owner doesn't fire players or himself. 

And, the thing of it was, had Andrew Bynum been health and played up to his potential, Adam Aron, Tony DiLeo and Doug Collins all might still be at the Wachovia Center. 

Perhaps looking for just one more piece to make an even deeper run into the playoffs.

So, bright kids everywhere, be careful what you wish for.  Sports is a big business, and it's much easier to tell whether you're performing well or not.  It's both the won-lost record, your revenues and your earnings.  They typically correlate. 

You don't need a Wharton or Harvard degree to figure that out.

And while the product might be a fun thing, it's still a business.


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