Sixers fans: Be patient like Josh Harris

Sixers fans: Be patient like Josh Harris

September 3, 2013, 2:15 pm
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The value of the Sixers franchise has increased by 46 percent since Josh Harris & Co. bought it. (AP)

Joshua Harris has serious patience -- which means he also has guts.

We knew he was smart. According to Forbes, the man is worth around $2.1 billion. You don’t grow that kind of wealth as a happy accident.

But being bright and affluent isn’t the same thing as being ballsy. That’s what we’ve learned about the Sixers’ majority owner over the last few months. Harris is not timid.

Forget about buying the Devils. That was easy. That was obvious. That was a business decision made by a savvy businessman. There was some silly PR fallout because a handful of provincial hockey fans got overheated for ridiculous reasons, but that wasn’t (and isn’t and won’t be) a big deal. Harris had to anticipate that kind of narrow-minded knee-jerk reaction, but when measured against the opportunity to purchase a team and a building for a cut-rate price, the choice clearly wasn’t tough.

No, as guts go, it takes a lot more to sign off on what the Sixers are doing. A year ago, Harris agreed to spend money. Lots of it. First he paid Elton Brand $18 million to go away. Then he paid Andrew Bynum almost $16 million. Whether you agree with those moves is immaterial. The point here is that Harris was willing to write fat checks. And now he’s willing to do the opposite.

Imagine this: You’re Harris. You’re trying to rebuild an organization. You find a guy on the basketball side that you think is clever and capable. You bring that guy in, and he tells you he has a plan to fix things. That plan involves the Sixers being a bad basketball team and losing many games in order to improve the organization’s prospects for the future. If you hire that man and enact his plan, ticket sales, merchandise sales and interest in the team will all likely suffer in the interim.

That’s what Harris did. It was the hard choice but the right choice. He made it willingly.

“I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent getting Brett [Brown] to come on board, getting Sam [Hinkie] to come on board, getting Scott O’Neil to come on board,” Harris recently told's Dei Lynam. “I think we’re now poised with a great team that’s going to build something that’s going to be very special. Sometimes it takes time. We’ll just ask everyone to be patient.”

It takes time. Be patient. Those are not sentences owners generally like to utter. When you say something takes time and you ask people to be patient, you are essentially handing them a remote control and hinting that they should switch to something else, something with immediate entertainment value. More often, you hear owners implore people to stay tuned to their team because their team is poised to win. Even when that’s obviously not the case, that’s the standard, rote message because telling the truth is hard and it costs money.

Harris gets credit for adopting the Sixers’ current strategy, but don’t worry about how it might affect his bank account or the team’s bottom line. It might be harder to sell tickets and merchandise this season, and people might not be as interested in the on-court product. And yet Harris and his ownership cabal will still figure out a way increase the franchise’s value.

Consider what they’ve already done with the Sixers. Harris and his crew purchased the organization for $287 million. They bought a not-so-good team that didn’t own the building it played in and had trouble getting fans to attend games. Two years later, that investment is worth $418 million. That’s a 45.6 percent increase to the value of a team that hasn’t won much and doesn’t have a star player. That’s financial magic. They’re monetary wizards who should have long Gandalf beards made of cash.

“The value of sports franchises is going up,” Harris told Lynam. “People want to see sports live. It’s truly one of the only things that, if you watch it, three hours later you know the score, and it’s just not as exciting. The value of live sports content is a big tailwind.”

It can be, yes. Right now, there’s not much of a tailwind behind the Sixers. There’s barely a breeze. Harris is betting that will eventually change. It will take time. Harris knows it. He knows he has to be patient. And now we know something about him.