NBA Needs Strong Sixer Season


Feb 7, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; A Philadelphia 76ers dancer performs during the fourth quarter of the game against the Charlotte Hornets at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers beat the Hornets 89-81. Mandatory Credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Needs Strong Sixer Season

The NBA needs a strong Sixer season. Why? Drama.

Drama equals ratings.  Ratings equals attendance.  Attendance equals merchandise sales, product endorsements, headlines, media buzz, which all takes us back to … drama.

The NBA needs a strong Philadelphia season.  We know the excitement caused in the NBA by the ever unpredictability of Philadelphia 76er president and general manager Sam Hinkie.   While it has all been a by-product of the process, the media reacted to his plan because the design is so unique and unfamiliar to the status quo.  It is that very unpredictability – the intentional delay of rewards in a “win today” atmosphere that has created an enigma about Sam Hinkie’s plan.  The enigma means…. DRAMA.  It creates public awareness and interest.  That presents the team, and the NBA, with an opportunity to cash in the chips of public interest by generating success at the apex of that interest, that drama.

But somewhere there is the disconnect.  You see, drama was supposed to equal ratings.   Ratings drives attendance.  Attendance drives the NBA marketing.  The Sixers have forgotten one component in the formula.  Success.  The have failed miserably for two seasons.  For two years, much of the talk in the NBA, and almost entirely of Philadelphia basketball fans has skewed almost entirely towards the question: “I wonder what Sam Hinkie is going to do this year?”.  Over that same period, the Sixers have won a total of 37 out of 164 games.    If the team won that many in one season, it would remain a disappointing sub-.500 season.  But somehow, this Sixers team has managed to generate buzz and excitement out of a mirage of tomorrow that is greater than the reality of today.

One way or another, that ends in the 2015-2016 season.

The Philadelphia 76ers have been, are, and will be a very strong franchise for the NBA.   They had won the NBA championship in 1983 and in 1967.  They have appeared in the NBA championship in 1977, 1980, 1982, and in 2001.  But the once proud NBA franchise is in a bit of a slump, and not just in the standings.  In 2015, the Sixers franchise was ranked 27th out of 30 teams with a net worth of $700 Million.  This is a plummet from the rankings just four years earlier, when the 76ers were ranked at 17th out of 30 teams with a net worth of $330 Million.   Back in 2008, the Philadelphia 76ers were ranked 13th out of 30 teams with a net worth of $360 Million.

So what?

It’s the challenge all professional sports leagues face.  Parity.  Parity creates uncertainty of who will win.  That creates… drama.  Why is drama so important?  We love to “discover” a team and relate to its success.  Some of identify with a team when it begins in obscurity, and then boast loudly and proudly when the team achieves the success we so dearly hoped for.  Other fans identify with a winner only when they consistently remain in the top.  But dollars change hands when the teams change their success patterns.   Teams that “get hot” tap into new markets of fans who now crowd the stadiums, snatch up jerseys, banners, posters, programs, and coffee mugs in support of that team.  The Philadelphia 76ers is such a team, whose fans are ready willing and able to jump into the bleachers, and onto the shelves snatching up memorabilia of this team.

But only if the team shows some fire.

We’ve talked about the 2016 season and the reality that in that year the team will likely add as many as six new first round caliber faces to the roster of fifteen.  We’ve talked how players this season are essentially auditioning for the right to be included in the 2016 roster.  The team needs to win now.

Fan support is waning.  Money can only do so much.  At the heart of every NBA player is the desire to play before a packed house of cheering fans.  Even though the Sixers have the youngest team in the NBA, they need to improve and mature each year.  After fan support wanes, player support will follow shortly thereafter.  There are plenty of reasons to believe in the team having better success this season.  For the first time in three years, the team will enjoy the play of their first round draft pick, Jahlil Okafor, in the year of his selection.  He should be a very good one, already having garnered votes by incoming rookies to be projected at the most likely Rookie of the Year.

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They have added the services of 2014 first round draft selection Nik Stauskas in a trade with the Sacramento Kings at nearly no cost to the team.  Stauskas, who did not make a great first impression with the Kings, should have an easier path to success under the tutelage of head coach Brett Brown.    They will also have the return to the court for a sophomore season from Nerlens Noel, who should thrive in a front court alongside Okafor.  They have Robert Covington, who could factor in a big way this season.

The problem with losing so deeply for two seasons is the tremendous climb that lies before the team to get back to playing .500 ball.   The most optimistic person I know, myself, can defend no more that a season with 34 wins.  That number of wins would be a tremendous boost to a team whose decline betrays the legends of  “Dr. J” Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney, Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins, Allen Iverson, and more.

This is a proud and historically significant franchise for the NBA.  The Philadelphia 76ers were one of the most exciting basketball teams of the NBA.  But that history, that story, remains held for ransom until this team congeals to find its own path to success.  It would be nice to hold this Sixer team up in comparison with the great teams of her history.   It would be nice for Philadelphia.  Even more, it would be nice for the NBA.