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Could Sixers leave Philadelphia in wake of New Jersey Devils sale?


Is it a stretch to say one of our sports teams in Philadelphia faces a realistic possibility of leaving town?


 Of course, we might might be jumping the gun a little bit here, but maybe not. But just when the initial reaction sets in that Sixers’ owner Joshua Harris is most likely the new owner of The New Jersey Devils, you can’t help but wonder 1. Why the owner of a Philadelphia sports team would want to associate himself so closely with a cross state rival (albeit a different sport), and 2. If he buys the Devils (which looks very likely), the deal would most likely also include an arena that he would own. An arena that could be home to a (ahem) basketball team that he would own. Harris’ ownership group does not hold any ownership percentage of the Wells Fargo Center. Photo: Forbes.com


Fan’s haven’t dealt with this possibility since Norman (The guy in France) Braman bought the Eagles shortly after previous owner Leonard Tose’s debt resulted in him having a handshake agreement to move the team to Arizona  


From a fan’s perspective, Harris putting in a bid to buy the Devils stinks. It’s almost the equivalent of David Montgomery and co. wanting to buy the Yankees or Jeffrey Lurie wanting to own the Patriots (he kind of does already). It’s like your best friend asking out your ex-girlfriend out when she did you dirty. You just take a step back and ask “Really? Out of ALL the girls out there?”


Well Joshua, of ALL the four major sports teams in North America, you had to go for the Devils? You have Philly roots to some degree. Are you aware of the rivalry between the Flyers and this team- who prevented the orange and black from advancing to two (and potentially another) Stanley Cup Finals over the last eighteen years? If the Devils start winning Stanley Cups again while the Sixers continue to struggle, it’s going to get ugly, and it would probably be advantageous for Harris to not show his face around town. At all.


On the other side, this is a business decision, and Joshua Harris is a businessman.  It’s certainly not the popular thing to do and it won’t earn him any new fans, but his main concern is what will get him the most bang for his buck. Even though fans in Philadelphia will generally be outraged over this, will it affect his bottom line? Possibly, but not really. Have you seen the attendance at Sixers games?  Let’s face it: the New Jersey Devils are in dire straits. Owner Jeff Vanderbeek (not to be confused with James) is rumored to be some $230 million in debt (I’ll bet you HE was playing the lottery Wednesday night). It’s a classic business move: buy low and potentially sell high. Though nothing is official yet about the details of the deal, it would almost certainly include the Prudential Center, where the Devils play (more on that later). So even though Harris might be aware that his actions could draw the ire of the Phillly fans, in the end he probably could care less.


Think about it. Harris is valued at $2.1 billion dollars. He didn't get that rich by being stupid. Why would he entertain the idea of buying the Sixers without owning the building where his team would play in the first place? You would think that puts him in a precarious position- unless he had bigger plans down the road and wasn’t planning to keep the team in Philadelphia anyway.  Although the Sixers’ lease with the Wells Fargo Center is in the range of close to 20 years, money talks. It will most likely be a hefty bill, but Harris and the ownership might possibly be able to buy out their lease if there are provisions in their agreement.



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Then there’s the other side of the coin. If Harris were to get out of the lease at Wells Fargo, where exactly could a new local arena be built for the Sixers? Camden? Doubtful. Put aside the lease handicap and factor in the lack of excitement to go with a team wallowing towards the bottom of the NBA in general attendance and you have a Sixers team that are sitting ducks for relocation (although New Jersey would seem less likely, with the Nets and Knicks playing over the bridge in New York). However, Seattle has been looking for a new team for quite some time to replace their departed Sonics.......


Bottom line:  Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, and I can’t help but feel there is ultimately a bigger scenario looming somewhere in the midst of all this. What has been going on with this Sixers franchise since draft night? Nothing. Not a peep. The silence is deafening. Despite the recent rumors again regarding the hiring of Brett Brown, the lack of a head coach this far into the summer is an embarrassment. Moreover, the team is interviewing head coaches in New York as opposed to Philadelphia. And no, there’s not much of a product, but what have they done to at least try and sell tickets? Nothing.


The Sixers are fourth on the totem pole in this sports town behind the Phillies, Eagles and Flyers. If Harris ever did move the team, Philadelphia is a big enough market to where a new team would most likely come in and take the Sixers’ place.  It was a little more than two years ago when I wrote an article regarding the pending sale of the Sixers and the possibility of a new owner wanting to relocate. I said it then and I'll say it now: as inconsistent as they’ve been over the last few decades, moving this historical team rich in history and tradition would be wrong. Ideally, ownership should try and right this ship once and for all and focus on making the Sixers a marketable commodity, instead of focusing on buying the heated, hated rival of a team you’re sharing a building with.


Unfortunately, this is a prime example that sports is first and foremost a business. In the long run, ownership will ultimately do what is most profitable. And life in Sixerville might not be profitable enough for Joshua Harris.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Photo: Forbes.com