PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Elton Brand signed with Philadelphia in 2008 just in time to see the city’s Arena Football League team win a championship.
Nearly four months later, the Phillies won their first World Series in 28 years. In January 2009, the Eagles lost in their fifth NFC title game appearance under Andy Reid.
Villanova followed with a run to the Final Four and the Flyers energized the city when they reached the Stanley Cup finals this past season.
The Sixers missed all the fun.
They lag well behind the other city sports in attendance, interest, success and, perhaps, even optimism. They do lead Philadelphia in fan apathy. Consider this: the 76ers averaged 14,224 fans last season at the Wells Fargo Center while Jay Wright’s Wildcats played to a near-capacity crowd average of 19,001 fans in their six dates in South Philly last year.
“The Phillies took off and so did the others,” Brand said. “We definitely want to get back to respectability and have this city be proud of us.”
That could take some time.
Enter Doug Collins.
Collins removed the TNT headset and returned to the bench believing again he can lead the Sixers out of the bottom half of the NBA. After all, Collins can rely on previous experience of taking them from the cellar to spraying champagne. He was drafted No. 1 overall in 1973 by a Sixers team coming off an all-time NBA-worst 9-73 record. Four years later, the Sixers were in the NBA finals.
“I know the pulse of this city,” Collins said. “I’ve had a chance to live it. Just walking around, this has always been one of my favorite places. I’m blessed to be the coach here and I don’t take that responsibility lightly.”
What Collins needs is time and, for once, a Sixers coach might get what he needs to mold a winner. He is Philadelphia’s seventh coach since Larry Brown left in 2003. The Sixers haven’t won a playoff series since 2003 and they canned Eddie Jordan after one season following last year’s 27-win debacle.
The Sixers also stripped Ed Stefanski of his presidency and made him general manager only, and hired former New Jersey Nets boss Rod Thorn as team president.
“I can’t even think about it,” forward Thaddeus Young said. “I think we were all ready to move on from last year and we got really excited when we found out coach Collins was coming in. He knows Philly and how to win here.”
The Sixers will need patience to contend for a championship, especially in a stacked Eastern Conference.
Boston, the defending East champion, picked up Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal and Delonte West. The Knicks bolstered their lineup when they acquired Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton. And have you heard? The Heat became the class of the NBA and the easy preseason favorite by adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
The Sixers big acquisitions were Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, Tony Battie and rookie forward Craig Brackins. Don’t plan that parade down Broad Street quite yet.
The Sixers can only boast the rawest backcourt in the NBA. It’s also their biggest hope that brighter days are ahead. Barring a surprising move by Collins for the Oct. 27 opener against the Heat, the Sixers will start Jrue Holiday at point guard and Evan Turner at shooting guard. Turner, the Associated Press Player of the Year at Ohio State, turns 22 next week, and Holiday turned 20 this summer.
If they play to their potential, there’s great promise for the future.
“We’ve spoke on it a few times and we definitely are really excited about growing together and hopefully bringing some great tradition back,” Turner said, “and playing some great basketball this year and the years coming.”
It could mean some painful learning experiences this season, though.
That’s something Brand and Andre Iguodala know all about. Those $80-million Sixers are considered the stars of the team, but they’ve won very little in their NBA careers.
Iguodala finally got a taste of success when he won a gold medal this summer playing for the U.S. team in the world championships. Playing under coach Mike Krzyzewski, Iguodala toned down his offense to become a reliable defensive stopper. He took some time off during training camp to recharge and get ready to handle the bulk of the scoring load.
“It was just a great feeling to just experience with those guys,” Iguodala said. “People ask me about the gold medal all the time and I say it’s not that big of a deal, the actual gold medal. It’s a great thing to have in my closet, but, just the experience outweighs anything else.”
He won’t come close to the NBA equivalent of a gold medal this season. But he would like to at least reflect on a playoff series and not a trip to the draft lottery.
“It’s not hard,” Iguodala said, “to see good things are happening here.”
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