Can multimillionaire business mogul and Abington native Adam Aron become the Sixers net prophet?
It's looking good — as Philly's once-failed and feeble pro basketball team suddenly, almost inexplicably, has got game.
It's been a torrid, turnover-free four months since Aron and Wharton School graduate Joshua Harris bought the team, along with a select group of co-owners. In the process, they have helped the city and the burbs buy into the notion that this gang that once couldn't shoot straight has now got hoopla.
Addressing an overflow crowd at a Jewish Business Network luncheon last week, Aron, the team's CEO, built on what he and Harris have already begun: making believers of fans who had abandoned the team in droves.
But Aron and Harris — colleagues and compatriots for 15 years — made it their business to rebound and resuscitate an image, digging in their heels in support of Coach Doug Collins and promoting president Rod Thorn to added responsibilities as new general manager.
For Aron, the 57-year-old former Norwegian Cruise Line president and CEO, the sinking feeling of failure is not an option. As deft as his long-ago Sixers idol Wilt Chamberlain was at the turn-around dunker, Aron is even better at industrial turn-arounds.
The Harvard-educated Aron, with a bachelor's degree cum laude from the college and an MBA from its business school — and, possibly, he kids, the only one in his class not to become an investment banker — he has achieved that turnaround with many companies.
Now as chief of day-to-day operations with the Sixers, he has become point man, bringing a touch of class to the arena, too, with a pre-game recording of the national anthem by the Philadelphia Orchestra.
He has also reduced prices for a number of seats, getting more of a charge from a packed discounted house to one at full price haunted by empty seats.
He is not one to give up the ghost on Sixers magic — or easily forget past misery. "I am the youngest member of a Philadelphia sports fan family from the '60s," he says.
Which is not always a good thing when you're a cheering section of one "suffering through the worst teams on the planet."
In a way, Aron is going back to the future, building what he hopes is a new empire while reveling in the age-old visions of "the Sixers of my adolescence: Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Dave Zinkoff," the league's late legendary and foremost announcer — and Formost salami peddler as well.
And now Aron directs the whole enchilada — not without a sense of humor. "I used to say, when I worked for Pan Am," the now defunct airline which he served as director of marketing plans and programs, "what's the difference between Pan Am and the Titanic?
"The Titanic had a band."
The laugh track that greets his jokes played out in his own home in Abington, where he inherited what he calls a Jewish sense of humor from his dad. "In my career, I've noticed if you can amuse people, it helps you stand out in a crowd," he says.
He was always a player — in the business world, but what about the schoolyard?
"I wasn't a basketball player in my youth; I was a hockey player. I wanted to do my own thing since my father and brother were into basketball."
He did his own thing business-wise in school, always with a certain bounce. "When I was at Abington High," says its treasurer, Class of 1972, "I was in the Key Club," a social service group, "and planned a 100-hour marathon basketball game to set a Guinness World Records," which, he claims, it did. "I produced the whole thing from the sidelines."
Raised with a "reverence for education" — what the married dad of two considers the Jewish version of the full-court press — he remains a student of the game, with lessons learned.
"My grandmother — who used to live on Rittenhouse Square — would watch me play outside and say, 'Put down that ball and pick up a book!' "
And now that he has made book on player Elton Brand as a major asset for the team, Aron sees — and signs the paychecks — that his power forward makes mega-millions, and thinks, maybe his forward-thinking bubba had it all wrong.
Maybe, he says with a laugh, "I should have put down that book and picked up a basketball."