PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Harvey Pollack is the last original NBA employee, the man who scribbled “100” on a piece of paper for Wilt Chamberlain to hold in the classic 1962 snapshot of his record scoring game.
So how about it, Harv: Any need to make another “100” sign for Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown?
“It won’t be that high,” the 92-year-old Pollack said of Philly’s latest skid. “But I don’t know when they’ll win again.”
No one does.
That’s the scary part with the Sixers just one loss shy of matching the worst start in NBA history, already at 0-17.
Still, as the final seconds ticked down in Philadelphia’s 109-103 loss to San Antonio on Monday night, one fan speed-walking toward the exit stopped when he saw Sixers CEO Scott O’Neil applauding the effort from the third row.
“Together we build,” the man yelled. “I don’t care what anybody says, I love it.”
O’Neil shook his hand and smiled, somehow finding one more happy customer in yet another season stuffed with miserable losses, with no guarantee of ever turning around under the current front office’s watch.
“In the fourth quarter, this crowd is on their feet yelling ‘Defense, defense, defense.'” O’Neil said. “It’s enough to give you the chills.”
Imagine his reaction if the Wells Fargo Center was ever close to full. The Sixers are 29th out of 30 teams in attendance with a 14,237 per-game average. Not surprising for a franchise that has gone on losing streaks that would make the Washington Generals blush.
The Sixers are just the fourth team in league history to open with 17 losses. The 76ers can tie the Nets for the worst start in NBA history on Wednesday at Minnesota, and then break the record at home Friday against Oklahoma City.
Aaron Wingert, a season-ticket holder for five years, pumped his fists until the final horn Monday night. With a courtside seat, Wingert had good reason to stick around even for the repeat view of dejected Sixers trudging back to the locker room.
Wingert says he’s too loyal to give up on the team.
“It’s hard to root,” he said. “But you cheer them on, you believe in the plan, you believe in ownership. They won me over, for right now. But let’s see something.”
There’s plenty to see around the arena, which has become a bit of a three-ring circus running inside a discount store.
Kids scramble for T-shirts fired into the air from a cannon nicknamed Big Bella. Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross race against the Liberty Bell in a mascot sprint around the court. Hot dogs sell for $1 in 12 sections. Buy an adult jersey, get a knit hat free. Buy a youth jersey, get a youth ball cap free. The Sixers had a partnership with local Papa John’s franchises that offered fans 50 percent off online orders the day following victories — the trigger was changed to 90 points because the Sixers can’t win.
While the 76ers always have their hands full with the opposition, fans can leave the arena with theirs full of discounted merchandise.
Dan Kravitz, a full season ticket holder since 1996, makes the 160-mile round-trip drive from Lancaster, Pennsylvania for about 25 games a year. He said he is “buying in” on a rebuilding plan that high draft picks can eventually make the Sixers contenders.
He says he thinks five years is realistic, and in the meantime he’s having fun with good food, service and entertainment from the dance team to acrobats.
“They put on a good show. The atmosphere is great,” he said. “The only thing that is unwatchable is the basketball team.”
Even on TV. The Sixers are averaging a 0.9 rating (26,700 households) on Comcast SportsNet and a 0.6 rating (17,800) for games on the Comcast Network.
Because of the team’s futility, the network and the organization agreed that sideline reporter Molly Sullivan would interview a player if the Sixers led or tied at halftime because there is no chance for him to be regularly interviewed after the game as a winner.
The Sixers matched a NBA record with a 26-game losing streak last season. With two top-10 picks in the draft, immediate help seemed on the horizon. Instead, team president Sam Hinkie drafted Joel Embiid (injured) and Dario Saric (overseas) who likely won’t play this season.
“I didn’t know it was going to be like this in Year 2,” Brown said. “Nobody really planned on, your draft picks aren’t going to play in Year 2.”
Still, Brown, who faced a media crush before tip of 20 reporters more worthy of a playoff game, said if he was offered the job again, “I’d do it 50 times out of 50 times.”
O’Neil said he doesn’t like the new punchline for the NBA’s punching bag: “Tankadelphia.”
“I don’t think it’s fair to the players or coaches who are working their tails off to get a win,” he said.
The Sixers are all-in on building a winner among fans.
Brown called O’Neil last week and pitched taking front-row season ticket holders out for dinner. Hinkie volunteered to deliver a pep talk to team sales staff. O’Neil holds routine town hall meetings with ticket holders.
And the No. 1 question?
“When,” O’Neil said. “When does this thing get turned around?”
That’s the 70-loss question.
Just how much longer can this nightly misery go on? How many more losses until the players tune out, until the T-shirt cannons and glitzy pregame shows can no longer sustain what crowd is left? Forget a championship, when will the Sixers even have a winning season again?
For now, the Sixers just want to avoid the ignominious label of worst team of all time.
“It has to be,” said Pollack, the 76ers’ director of statistical information. “They don’t have any players.”
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