Tag Archives: Philadelphia 76ers

The Biggest Loser

(With apologies to non-sports fans, although you still may find this mildly entertaining)

No, the subject today is not a television weight loss competition: it’s the worst professional basketball team in the world led by the most cynical basketball management in the world and being coached by a man who is on his way to become the least successful coach in sports history.

The biggest loser.

brett brownActually, by all accounts, Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown is a good basketball man: a good guy, really knows the game, and is an excellent coach. But Brown was fifty-two years old and burned to be a head coach instead of an assistant coach, so when the 76ers came knocking he wasn’t going to turn them away.

But Brown made a deal with the devil, because – as The Curmudgeon has written in the past (here and here) – the 76ers are in the middle of a three-year period (at least) in which they are assembling their team with the specific and very public intention of being as bad as possible and losing as many games as they can in the hope that their terrible record will give them a chance to obtain some of the better players coming out of college. In the sports world, this behavior is known as “tanking.” So far the plan doesn’t seem to be working: they don’t seem to be getting many good players at all. Time will tell.

But this is about Brown, the coach, because he has to send his team out on the court eighty-two times a season and attempt to get blood from a stone: he has to do everything he can to coach, cajole, and exhort his players to excel and succeed even though he knows they lack the ability to do so and that if he’s too successful he will undermine the team’s aspiration to awfulness.

He needn’t worry: there’s no chance of that happening.

76ersThe Curmudgeon wonders what bothers Brown more: the agony of each inevitable defeat or the nightly ritual of standing before reporters and attempting to find something positive to say about one of the worst teams in the history of professional sports and the worst organization in professional sports. The Curmudgeon has been watching this with interest for more than a year, so he decided to follow Brown in his nightly agonies for a few weeks and share them with you.

Aren’t you thrilled?

On January 2, the 76ers lost to Detroit by sixteen points – pretty much a massacre, but about the typical massacre for this team. As he often does, Brown tried to shoulder some of the responsibility for the loss himself, telling the Philadelphia Daily News that

Clearly I’ve got to do better, they’ve got to do better. If they’re not learning it then I’ve got to find a way to teach it better, truly.

On January 3 the team lost by 36 points; not so much losing as getting creamed. Still, Brown found a way to see something good.

I was proud of our group for 36 minutes,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “After coming in from last night’s game [a 112-96 loss at the Phoenix Suns], I was proud of our guys.

Alas, basketball games are 48 minutes long, not 36, coach Brown.

After a twenty-point loss to a Milwaukee team that only wins half of its games, which means it’s a mediocre team, coach Brown suggested that

There were a few stages where I thought we needed a few buckets and we’d be right back in it. We’ve been down big all year and found a way to claw back in it. I thought at home we had it in us to do that again.

Well, considering that Brown’s team was down by sixteen points after only twelve minutes of play, that seemed pretty unlikely.

Later, Brown added that

The thing I love about this group is they play hard and they play with spirit.

Too bad they play – by design of the team’s management – without talent.

After a game on January 14, coach Brown told CSNphilly.com that

To the group’s credit, they found a way to claw back in it… Our defense was good, our second period was probably as good a period as we’ve played all year.

We go home feeling like we competed. We know if we don’t have that, we don’t have much. I’m proud of the effort our guys had tonight.

Imagine what he might have said had his team not lost by 16 points.

After another humiliating 36-point loss, this time to Washington on Martin Luther King Day, coach Brown still found something positive to say about his under-talented, over-matched team, as the Philadelphia Daily News reported:

I live in a naive world… I really think we’re going to go in and win and steal wins every time we play. The team allows me to think that, because they have spirited practices, real video sessions, fantastic team meetings.

While Brown’s team next lost to Memphis by 18 points, it was down 19 points halfway through the game. That means the 76ers outscored Memphis by two points in the second half of the game, enabling coach Brown to find his silver lining:

We try to find small goals like winning the second half. We did do that,” Brown said. “We tried to hold the group together and give our young guys some level of a purpose playing it out.

Memo to coach Brown: a basketball game consists of two halves. You get no credit for outscoring your opponent by two points in the second half after being overwhelmed by 19 points in the first.

When the 76ers lost to Cleveland by “only” 13 points – a fairly small margin for the 76ers (although a disgrace for just about any other team), coach Brown found a new silver lining: holding his team’s conqueror to fewer than 100 points.

We’re really proud of that… Last year, that number was 12 [note: times the 76ers held opponents to fewer than 100 points. This game was the 23rd such occasion]. If we are anything in our city we have to guard. We had better come with our hardhats. I am proud of the defensive improvement our team has made. It is what has enabled us to stay in most games.

Twenty-four hours after trading away the team’s best player – one of only two or three on the entire team who will be earning a living as a professional basketball player three years from now – Brown’s 76ers lost a game by eleven points that was only that close because they scored a flurry of points at the very end. (Note: last year the team traded two of its three best players at around the same point in the season and didn’t win a game again for more than five weeks.) One local sports writer wrote that they were “terrible” but coach Brown still found something positive to say.

It’s the first time you’ve played in [11] days… You’re playing against a veteran team . . . I actually take a lot of positives out of what I just saw, and I also see a group that will respond with time.

Yes, the players will “respond with time” – respond to the need to find a new way to earn a living.

After an eleven-point loss to a Miami team that has lost many more games than it has won, coach Brown’s post-game comments suggested a major victory:

We went from 28th to being 10th or 12th last year to this… That is what we said we would do at the start, and to these guys’ credit we delivered. We were seeing the efforts for all the time put in doing something simple leading up to the All-Star break. You could feel from a coaching standpoint that we had a purpose, a rhythm and accountability [on defense].”

Perhaps he views losing “only” by eleven points as a moral victory. If that’s the case, coach Brown has many, many moral victories to look forward to for what is increasingly looking to be a very long period of time.






It Takes a Special Skill to be Such a Huge Loser

Josh Harris is a very rich man. Estimated to be worth more than $2 billion, he had at least enough mad money to be the lead moneybags in a group that spent nearly $300 million to buy a professional basketball team.

And to think, The Curmudgeon’s idea of splurging is to buy a season parking pass at his favorite beach destination instead of driving up and down the streets looking for a vacant space within hiking distance of the sands.

Unlike some people with comparable wealth, Harris didn’t inherit his – or even, apparently, a stake toward building it. He did well in really great schools, got really great jobs, and built a really, really huge personal fortune. He earned his wealth.

The rich boy’s latest toy, the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team, just ended one of the worst seasons in both team history and professional basketball history. They won just 19 games, they lost 63, and along the way they managed to tie a professional basketball record for most consecutive losses.

Despite this, just days after the season ended last week, Harris managed to swallow either his honesty or his integrity and told reporters, apparently with a straight face, that “I think this season has been a huge success for us.”

Why? Because all that losing didn’t just happen by itself. No, it was the result of hard, focused effort. It’s almost impossible to lose so spectacularly by accident. If you want results like that, you need to make them happen.

Contrary to how it usually works in the world of sports, the 76ers actually set out on a quest to be as awful as they were, so from Harris’s perspective, the season could borrow the George W. Bush motto of “Mission accomplished.”

If you care to follow this warped reasoning, the 76ers aspired to lose as many games as possible as part of a strategy to position themselves to acquire better players. In professional sports, you see, the worst teams get the first choice of the best amateur players seeking to become professionals. Basketball teams only field five players at a time, so one superior player can have a huge impact. This, in turn, creates a powerful incentive to lose intentionally, and other than boxing and horse racing, in no professional sport will you find more intentional losing than the National Basketball Association. In the case of the NBA, though, players don’t play poorly to help their teams lose. Instead, organizations just purposely, and with malice aforethought, field teams with lousy players.

This year, the 76ers were far from alone in having such low aspirations: several teams proudly competed with them for the distinction of being the least competitive team in professional basketball. The 76ers, though, were real achievers, and they almost achieved ultimate success: they were the second-worst team in basketball.

The secrets to their success?

Well, for starters, even before the season began they traded away their best player for a untested young man, fresh out of college, who was so badly injured that they knew he wouldn’t play the entire season. Actually, his inability to play appears to have been a major part of his appeal.

Then, in the middle of the season, the 76ers traded – actually, pretty much gave way – two of their only four decent players.

Whereupon nearly two months passed before they won another game. In all, they lost 23 games in a row – more than a quarter of the season.

Yet when the season was over, the team’s owner told the press that “I think this season has been a huge success for us.”

And it probably was, too, because while the very smart, very rich owner was very dumb to admit such a thing publicly, he proved yet again that the people who have the money always find ways to make more – even if it means screwing their customers. The Curmudgeon suggests this because despite trying not to win, despite trying not to be good, despite trying not to be entertaining, despite employing player after player who would have been much better off finishing his college degree and preparing to get a real job because he has no future as a professional athlete, and despite deliberately setting out to field a team of historic awfulness, the 76ers still managed to attract 568,632 fans to see them play.

More than a half-million suckers forked over perfectly good money to see a team that was showing them the proverbial middle finger. This was the second worst attendance in all of professional basketball – and the worst if you look at it from the perspective of percentage of seats filled.

But the rich guy who said the really stupid thing is probably laughing all the way to the bank – and laughing at those more than 500,000 people who gave him their hard-earned money for the disgraceful product he offered them and the utter disdain with which he offered it.

“I think this season has been a huge success for us,” he told them.

A Professional Sports Team Takes a Dive

In professional sports, the object of the game is to win.

When the season starts, your team is supposed to set out to win as many games as it can.

And when an individual game begins, your team’s goal is to have more points than the other team when the game is over.

Pretty simple, right?

It is – unless you’re the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team.

The 76ers haven’t been a very good team in recent years.  They haven’t been terrible, either, but they’ve never managed to gather the core of quality talent needed to become truly successful.

So they’ve decided they want to start over.

They began by trading their best player for a young man coming out of college who is so badly injured that he will not play this year – at all.

They then decided that a player who was not up to the demands of the position he had long played, and who had been moved to another, more suitable position last year, would return to the position at which he was deemed inadequate.

And they then proceeded to remove from the team almost everyone else with even marginal skill and experience at playing basketball and to replace those players with unproven, less-skilled players who make much less money.


The prevailing theory in basketball is that the only way teams can truly succeed is to have “superstars” and that the best way to get a superstar is to be so bad that you get your pick of the best players coming out of college.  Then, because professional basketball teams have a limit on how much they can spend on salaries every year, employing very inexpensive players leaves them with more of that limited pool of money with which to try to buy more star players away from other teams.

It definitely makes sense, in a perverse way, that to get really, really good you first need to be really, really bad.

But there’s one problem with that equation.

What about the fans?

So let’s get back to those Philadelphia 76ers.  While they pay lip service to the notion that they’re going to be spending this year learning which of their players can really play and which can’t, and working to develop the skills of those who can, what they’re really planning to do this year is to lose as many games as they possibly can so they can enhance their chances of drafting out of college basketball the very best player available.

But where does that leave the team’s fans?

An individual game ticket ranges in price from $10 to $1575 (not a typo).  Multiply that by forty-one home games and the price of a season ticket ranges from $410 to $64,575.  Presumably, season ticket-holders get some kind of discount, but offsetting that discount are parking fees and, let us say, an occasional beverage.

So the question arises:  why should a fan spend this kind of money, or any kind of money, to watch a team that has made it clear that it is not trying to win games and that is, in fact, hoping to lose as many games as possible to improve its chances of landing a better player around which to build a brighter future?

Why should a fan spend even a single dollar on such a team?

Why should a fan watch the team on television for even one minute?

Why should a fan read even a single newspaper article about the team’s games?

So as a new basketball season begins – a season in which the team is expected to be the worst team in the league – why should a fan invest anything, financial or emotional, in a team that isn’t even trying?

A New Coach?

The Philadelphia 76ers basketball team is in the market for a new coach after its old coach decided he was no longer up to the challenge of leading a talent-starved team.  (And before you non-sports fans stop reading here, please bear with us; this is not really a piece about basketball.)

All of the usual suspects are lining up for the job – mostly, people who were fired from other head coaching jobs and others who have been assistant coaches whom no one has seriously considered putting in the top slot.

But The Curmudgeon has his own idea about who should coach the team.

Might the 76ers be interested in someone who was a star player in college and whose college team went to the NCAA tournament four times in four years, including three “final four” games and one national championship game?

Someone who played in the Olympics three times, won three gold medals, and carried the country’s flag during the games’ opening ceremonies?

Someone who had a highly successful six-year professional career, making the all-star team all six years?

Someone who has been coaching college basketball now for thirteen years, including eight years in Philadelphia, and whose teams have been to the NCAA tournament eight of those thirteen years?

And someone who is from Philadelphia – something that merits attention because a very bad team will have trouble drawing fans?

Well, then, The Curmudgeon has the perfect candidate for head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Dawn Staley.

You see?  The Curmudgeon told you this wasn’t really about basketball.