With their lone two NBA championship banners as a backdrop, a new era of Sixers basketball got under way yesterday at center court of the Palestra.
That’s where 46-year-old Joshua Harris, a Penn grad, took over the reins of a franchise that hasn’t produced a winning season since 2005. Harris is a part of an ownership group that includes 14 other investors, including actors Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. The reported sale price is approximately $280 million.
While they vow their sole purpose is to return the Sixers to glory, there is one immediate roadblock: the NBA lockout, which has already led to cancellation of the first two weeks of the season, while leaving the entire season in limbo.
Yet Harris and new Sixers CEO Adam Aron, who grew up in Abington, don’t seem fazed by it.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Harris. “We need to make a lot of positive changes. Improve the fan experience. The fact that the external situation could be a little tougher than we would like, that’s not something we can control. But what we can control what we do.”
Aron announced the Sixers will be slashing ticket prices on nearly 9,000 seats in the Wells Fargo Center, ranging as high as 56 percent for some mezzanine seats (down from $45 to $20). Seats in the lower bowl that went for $54 will go for $29. Season ticket holders were already getting a reduced rate and won’t reap any benefits.
“We are getting a storied franchise at a time where we were able to get what we think is an appropriate deal for the team,” Harris said. “We think we are able to participate in breathing new life in to the team.”
First step: Stefanski out as GM
Joshua Harris and Adam Aron refused to discuss the lockout, but did reveal they were cutting ties with GM Ed Stefanski.
That means team president Rod Thorn will be in charge of day-to-day operations, with Doug Collins in charge of basketball.
But for both Harris and Aron, the key to success is two-fold.
“I’ve been involved with the turnaround of three companies,” said Aron, 57, former chairman and CEO of Vail Ski Resorts and former president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines. “The common bond that turned it around was that in each case management was focused 100 percent on two things: their customers, in our case the fans, and making the product excellent.”