The villagers are angry. That is not surprising. The villagers are generally angry in these parts, though this time there are reasons to be upset. They have watched, aghast and helpless, while the basketball team burns itself down on a near-nightly basis. And so the locals dance around the flames and shake their pitchforks. It is cathartic and expected.
What is not expected, what is far more unusual, is that an object of the growing dissatisfaction would step forward and volunteer to be placed on the pyre. Adam Aron has done that. He has done it regularly. He has become a type of reusable human sacrifice, willingly offering himself to unhappy Sixers fans on social media. It is getting hard to watch.
The Sixers are not good. They haven’t been good for much of the season, and they’ve gotten worse lately. The team has lost six straight. They are 11 games under .500. And heading into Thursday’s nationally televised outing in Chicago against the Bulls, they’re coming off an abject defeat courtesy of the hapless, roster-gutted Magic.
After the Orlando debacle, Doug Collins finally vented. So did the Sixers' CEO. Mere moments after the final buzzer, Aron tweeted this:
“To be blown out at home by Orlando is maddening. No criticism you voice could be strong enough. Sixers fans deserve much better than this.”
He’s right. Sixers fans do deserve better. There is something commendable about Aron standing in front of the electronic firing squad as a form of atonement for the team’s crimes against the town. But given recent events, there is also something masochistic about it.
If you search @SixersCeoAdam, you’ll see that quite a few people took Aron up on his offer to voice criticism, and few of them worried about their condemnation being too strong. As of Thursday morning, Aron's aforementioned tweet had more than 255 retweets, 70 favorites and countless replies. Much of the feedback was scathing and gruff and laced with profanity.
The Iron Sheik – a former pro wrestler turned Howard Stern Show regular and Twitter celebrity – even joined the attack with a typically unflinching jab at Aron. It isn’t just area fans that go after the Sixers now. The ranks of the openly disgruntled have swelled with outsiders.
The anti-Sixers sentiment became pronounced a few weeks ago. Aron prompted that too when he tweeted this:
“Twitter CEO just described tweets as ‘a roar of the crowd.’ If you run a pro sports team that's losing, let me tell you, it's quite a roar!”
The crowd did roar, particularly one member of the regional Twitter assembly, @fansince09, who went on an epic rant about the team and its CEO. You can read it here, along with a retort by Liberty Ballers, a Sixers blog that defended Aron. (Aron initially tweeted a link to the Liberty Ballers piece, then deleted it.)
Things have deteriorated for the Sixers and Aron. The team is a mess on the court. The goodwill the Sixers accrued last season has been replaced with rancor. The feel-good public press conference announcing Andrew Bynum’s triumphant arrival in Philadelphia is a distant memory. What remains now is raw and often-dark emotion.
The question is why Aron essentially encourages the ravenous Twitter masses to chew him up and spit him back out every few days. Perhaps he sees it as part of the gig. (Several attempts to get Aron to talk on the record about this topic have been unsuccessful so far. We hope that will change.)
When things were going well last year, Aron and the other owners – but mainly him, because he is positioned out front – were the beneficiaries of routine praise. That happens when a team exceeds expectations. This year, he and the other owners – but mainly him, because he remains out front – have taken a ton of heat. That happens when a team performs well below expectations.
Again, there is something to be said for Aron remaining in public view. He accepted the adoration during the good times, and so he should stay in place for the derision now that times are gloomier. If he didn’t, if he vanished, he would get crushed for it, and rightly so.
But there is a difference between taking criticism and repeatedly courting it. If some fans are eager to torch him, Aron seems oddly willing to provide the matches.