Philadelphia, PA – The Sixers were the last NBA team to open the home portion of their schedule Friday night and it was a little more special than usual.
New ownership led by billionaire investor Joshua Harris has taken over the team from hockey-obsessed Comcast-Spectatcor. The new brass came in with a number of fan friendly initiatives in an effort to get people back in the building in what has become a very crowded and competitive Philadelphia sports market.
Across the street in South Philly at Citizens Bank Park the Phillies have turned into the National League's version of the Yankees, a contender every year that's not afraid to open the pocket book. Cross Broad Street to enter Lincoln Financial Field and you will find the Eagles, the NFL's Gold Standard -- just ask them. Hop over 11th street back to Wells Fargo Center and you are in Flyers territory, a serial contender with rabid fans.
Well they have just been kind of there, floating along in the NBA's version of purgatory that rests right around .500 with 13,000 fans in the building.
Harris and his new CEO, the media friendly Adam Aron, pulled out all the stops to fill the building against the Detroit Pistons and came awfully close, packing 19,408 into the Big House thanks to thousands of discounted tickets as well as giveaways.
Gone was the heavily-muscled mascot, Hip-Hop and his Hare-Raisers, who were rebranded as "The Flight Team" without their goofy leader. Meanwhile, the Sixers' dancers also got a new name, "The Dream Team," but as long as Annie was coming back, that wasn't going to be a problem -- just ask Mike Bibby.
To be honest, the "new Sixers experience" was virtually all smoke and mirrors.
Fans went home happy because the team eventually ran Detroit out of the building, 96-73, behind a brilliant fourth quarter by Jodie Meeks. But the Pistons, a pedestrian bunch at full strength, were playing without guards Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey.
Accentuated in-game elements like a new anthem performance, new team introductions and enhanced video elements were nice but they aren't bringing fans back to this building on a consistent basis.
Winning is the only thing that can do that.
There were a lot of great Sixers in the building but unfortunately none of them played. Julius Erving held court in the media room alongside Moses Malone and Bobby Jones at halftime. Doug Collins was of course roaming the sidelines and the new ownership even got "The Boston Strangler," Andrew Toney to come back.
The current version of the Sixers has a lot of good players, contributors like defensive stalwart Andre Iguodala, emerging point guard Jrue Holiday and energetic Sixth Man of the Year Candidate Thaddeus Young. But this is a team whose top pure offensive threat is Lou Williams, another skilled but flawed bench player.
Contrary to what you have been spoon-fed for years, Philly is not a basketball town filled with smart fans that can appreciate the intricacies of a solid role player.
You saw that in the third quarter tonight when the crowd started chanting "Spencer Hawes" while booing Iguodala. Sure, Hawes has been one of the two or three most improved players in the NBA so far this season but at the risk of alienating Cris Carter -- "C'mon Man."
Now Holiday, who was a dismal 2-for-9 against the Pistons, in the "star."
I'm pretty sure that's not going to be good enough.