What a mess. I wrote that same line about the Sixers in the past (see story), but for a different reason. Feels like I should keep it handy for the future, because you never know what’s next with the Sixers. You just don’t.
Monday evening, after a long day of speculation, the Sixers denied various reports that Adam Aron had been fired. They also insisted that he remains the organization’s CEO. Strangely, it took several hours to issue the denial. There might be a few reasons for that, which we’ll get to shortly, but the fact that the Sixers didn’t move swiftly to refute the rumors ultimately helped fuel the belief that Aron had been ousted.
Despite several attempts, Aron couldn’t be reached on Monday. Now we know why. Very early Tuesday morning, he sent out the following tweets:
Just minutes ago, I got off a plane from vacation in Africa and saw press reports. A la Mark Twain, rumors of my demise greatly exaggerated— Adam Aron (@SixersCEOAdam) June 25, 2013
I'm delighted to report that this is an immensely exciting time in my career. Moral of story: don't go on a faraway vacation!— Adam Aron (@SixersCEOAdam) June 25, 2013
That’s one moral. Another might be that the Sixers have suddenly gotten sloppy with their image. Let’s look at the timeline, because it remains curious.
Around 2 p.m. on Monday, FOX29’s Howard Eskin – who is no fan of Aron, and has made that known – tweeted:
Citing a league source, the Inquirer posted a piece on its website that confirmed Eskin’s report.
So that was Monday afternoon. Not long after those reports went out, I talked to people within the Sixers organization. No one would confirm that Aron was out – but they didn’t initially deny it, either. Part of the problem: majority owner Joshua Harris, a long time friend of Aron’s, is out of the country. He’s supposedly somewhere in Asia (big place). The people I spoke with thought it would be odd and out of character for Harris to fire Aron while he was out of town – or even agree to fire Aron and let Hinkie handle the unpleasant execution. Regardless, the process of denying the reports seemed to be held up, in part, because Harris was difficult to reach.
Monday afternoon, there were many calls back and forth to people within the organization. Nothing happened for a while. Then Monday evening, a team spokesman told CSNPhilly.com and other media outlets that the Sixers had not fired Aron, and that he remains CEO. I got that call around 8:45 p.m. – or close to seven hours after Eskin’s tweet. That’s a pretty significant delay for a matter of this magnitude.
Eskin has had some accuracy issues recently, but even after the Sixers issued their denial, he doubled down and sent out the following tweet:
If Eskin wanted to see how it played out, he shouldn’t have sent the initial tweet bragging about two sources who told him Aron had been axed. That said – and while I’m reluctant to agree with Eskin on anything – he wasn’t wrong to note how long it took the Sixers to deny the reports. He also had a point when he said the Sixers suddenly seem like an organization that wants everything to remain secret.
Since hiring Hinkie, the Sixers have gone radio silent (see story). Hinkie has been a ghost. Harris hasn’t talked. Even Aron – normally a prolific tweeter with a big public profile – has faded into the background. While that’s a minor nuisance to the media and fans that want to know what’s happening with the shadowy coaching search, the Sixers' cagey approach becomes something else entirely when applied to a situation where people believe one of the minority owners has been fired as the team’s CEO. That’s a scenario that demands a quick reply and immediate transparency.
To be clear, this isn’t a Sixers’ PR department problem. The people who work over there did what they could, what they were allowed to do when they were allowed to do it, but they, like the rest of us, have bosses. And their bosses let them down. The rumors metastasized into reports because whoever is in charge over there – whoever is ultimately responsible for the team’s day-to-day operations -- failed to act promptly and handle the issue before it mushroomed. Harris is abroad? OK. But where was Hinkie? And why does it feel like the Sixers are adrift even though they recently restructured the franchise masthead?
Frankly, the Sixers should have anticipated speculation of this sort and been ready to combat it. Before Hinkie was hired, the hot rumor had another of the Sixers’ owners, David Heller, assuming some of Aron’s duties. That didn’t happen.
Then, late last week, the New York Daily News reported that former Knicks executive Scott O’Neil, a Villanova grad, visited with the Sixers and was close to landing a front office position in Philly. In September, O’Neil resigned as the president of Madison Square Garden. While he was still with the Knicks and MSG, he was heavily involved with marketing –- which is a role Aron fills for the Sixers.
Put all that together and it isn’t hard to predict that someone (or several someones, in this case) might conclude that Aron is out. The Sixers’ higher-ups should have known something like this might happen. They should have braced for it. And they should have acted fast to deny the reports once they materialized.
Instead, the Sixers’ brass let their PR department dangle. They let Aron twist.
What a mess.