General manager Sam Hinkie (above) rarely if ever speaks, coach Brett Brown gets high marks and one anonymous media type said: “But it’s not awful. It’s better than having to go dig ditches, relatively speaking.”
By Harry Allison
It is no secret that most normal people hate the media.
The reasons range from (take your pick):
• They are biased.
• The feel entitled.
• They live in a bubble and don’t experience the world the way the rest of us do. And…
• They take up sweet parking spots in Center City Philly.
Now there is another reason.
While most Sixers fans have had to endure what started out as the worst year in team history with nary a complaint, unless you listen to talk radio — by the way, they are 12-40 now and watching lately has been fun — the press who cover the team is now whining.
In the February issue of Philadelphia magazine, writer Michael Bradley surveys the beat reporters and columnists who cover the Sixers.
They are whining!
Here are excerpts from Bradley’s intriguing piece:
“I have to keep in mind that what I’m seeing is unprecedented,” Bob Cooney of the Daily News says of the team’s tanking strategy. “It hasn’t happened in the history of sports. They have scaled down the roster and are looking at two to three years of hard-core losing in the hope of having success down the road.”
Within that curious climate, Cooney and his media mates dutifully attend games and practices, reporting on the losses by a roster of unknown players and searching for evidence that GM Sam Hinkie’s plan will pay off. “I have to say, it’s not good, maybe because the expectations are so low,” says a veteran of covering the Sixers who requested anonymity. “But it’s not awful. It’s better than having to go dig ditches, relatively speaking.”
… the reporters know they’re covering a losing team, and though Cooney says he “would never do the cheerleading thing,” he and his cohorts long for the years when the team was contending for championships and the gym was jumping. “I go back to the days when Allen Iverson was here, and Pat Croce and Dave Coskey ran the team, and Tony DiLeo was involved in personnel,” says veteran columnist Jack McCaffery. “They were Philadelphia basketball guys we could put on the front page or the back page. That isn’t done by tanking. It’s done by winning and putting out a popular team.”
The front man for the 2014-’15 disaster is second-year coach Brett Brown, who is universally available to speak about the team’s surreal approach. The Sixers are blunt about their desire to stink, and Brown provides daily commentary on the strange journey. “I put Brown in with the best in terms of media relations,” McCaffery says. “He doesn’t big-time any question or duck anything. He doesn’t talk up or down to you.”
Hinkie, on the other hand, rarely talks — at least, not for attribution. Reporters say he’s friendly, but he won’t go on the record with anything, fearing other NBA teams will discover his secrets — as if his attempt to field a horrid team is a great riddle.
The team’s desire for control extends to players’ dealings with the media. McCaffery reports that Sixers media-relations staffers hover around players whenever they’re interviewed. “When [the players] see that, they are back on their heels and start to use clichés,” he says.
Despite the continued drumbeat of failure and the team’s desire to control the message, those who cover the team are rarely without something to report. The fact that the Sixers are so lousy almost makes them good copy. “As bad as this team is, there are always storylines,” one newspaper writer says. “There’s always something. It’s been crazy. The fact that they are so bad makes them a story. If they were like the Orlando Magic, nobody would care.”
An interesting sidebar involves the fans, who are subjected to a carnival atmosphere on game nights that’s designed to divert attention from the on-court catastrophe. Media members marvel at fans’ enthusiasm and are surprised by those who unconditionally support the Sixers’ plunge to the NBA bottom. A writer for a website refers to a “vocal minority that is behind [Hinkie] and his plan to a militant degree.” Mostly 20- and 30- somethings, they’ve embraced the poor play (as of mid-January, the Sixers were last in the NBA in field goals, three-pointers and foul shooting) and don’t seem to mind that rival teams sit their best players when they come to town. Cooney is especially mystified with the support for the rotten performances.
“If you take the emails and the social media posts I have received, 80 percent of the people are on board with this,” Cooney says. “For me, having grown up in this area, it goes against everything being a Philadelphia fan is about.”
It’s not exactly normal for the media, either.