When Harold Katz purchased the Philadelphia 76ers in July 1981, he said his goals were to win a National Basketball Association championship and to make a profit, two things that have long eluded the franchise.
Katz left the operation virtually untouched last season, but when the 76ers lost in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals, and also lost more than $1 million, Katz made his move. The changes were drastic and have caused repercussions throughout the NBA.
They have also proven to be correct.
The 76ers will show a profit this season and they may also win the championship. They lead the Lakers, 1-0, in the best-of-seven championship series that will be resumed at the Spectrum Thursday.
Katz has been accused of being the George Steinbrenner of basketball, in that he has tried to buy a championship team. There is a major difference, however. Katz asked his coach, Billy Cunningham, and his general manager, Pat Williams, what they needed to win the title. When the answer was a free agent named Moses Malone, Katz got him.
Katz doesn't meddle; he provides.
Practically every other owner cringed when Katz offered Malone a $13.2-million, six-year contract. But Katz, a shrewd businessman who made a fortune with a company called Nutri/System Inc. which owns and franchises 567 weight-loss centers throughout the country, made the signing of Malone a profitable venture for his team, as well as for the owners who condemned the move.
The 76ers were the top road attraction in the NBA this season, drawing 15,162 a game. The league average was only 10,220, so every time the 76ers came to town, they attracted 4,942 more fans than almost any other team would have. At an average of $10 a ticket, that translates into about an additional $50,000 a game for the host owner. There is no gate-sharing in the NBA.
The 76ers are making money, too.
Last year's average home attendance was 12,362, with gate receipts of $5.1 million. With Malone, the 76ers averaged 15,811 this season, and with ticket prices increased by an average of $3, they had gate receipts of $8.4 million.
That's an increase of $3.3 million, and they are paying Malone $2.2 million a year.
But in order to pay Malone, Katz pared his payroll by a hefty sum. Caldwell Jones ($500,000) went to Houston as part of the Malone deal; Darryl Dawkins ($650,000) was traded to New Jersey; Lionel Hollins ($350,000) was traded to San Diego and Steve Mix ($200,000) and Mike Bantom ($150,000) were not offered new contracts.
In their places came Clemon Johnson ($110,000), Reggie Johnson ($100,000), Malone ($2.2 million) and rookies Marc Iavaroni ($80,000) and Mark McNamara ($100,000).
So, while Malone cost $2.2 million, the 76ers' payroll increased by only $740,000.
"This is a business and signing Malone was a business decision," said Katz. "It cost a lot of money to get him, but he's been worth it, both on the court and at the gate--not just in Philadelphia, but throughout the league.
"You can't buy a championship, but you can buy players who might help you win one," said Katz. "They still have to be molded and learn to play together. The feeling was we needed a center in order to win the title, so we went out and got the best one available. There were skeptics, who doubted the saneness of the move, but we felt all along it was the right thing to do."
As is so often the case with the good teams, the 76ers had something to give Houston in order to make the deal attractive to the Rockets. They had Cleveland's first-round draft pick, which turned out to be the third pick overall, and a proven center in Caldwell Jones.
Having Malone has made all the difference to the 76ers on the court. They cruised to the best record in the league (65-17) and have won nine of 10 playoff games.
Between them, Dawkins and Jones averaged 18.9 points and 15.1 rebounds last year. Malone averaged 24.5 points and 15.3 rebounds in the regular season this year, and, in the playoffs, is averaging 26.2 points and 15.2 rebounds.
Part of the key to the 76ers' success has been the development of Malone's supporting cast. Bantom, Mix, Dawkins, Hollins and Jones were all-stars, not accustomed to playing supporting roles. So in getting rid of them and replacing them with hungry players off the bench--players anxious to contribute in any way--Cunningham found the perfect blend.
"It takes a certain type to sit on the bench," said Cunningham. "You want the best players you can get, but they also have to be willing to accept a role. All of the players we have now do that quite well, and that has been important to our success.
"Moses does two things for us: he gives us consistency and a half-court offense."
Malone has also given new life to Julius Erving.
"I can do more and do what I do better," he said. "The burden of carrying it all has been lifted."
Erving laughs when he recalls early stories that Malone wouldn't fit in with the 76ers.
"How can a guy whose main strength is getting the ball back after his teammates lose it not fit in with any team?" asked Erving. "There was never a problem. The adjustment was immediate.
"With Moses and the chemistry of this team, the type of players we have, I have a different role," he added. "I'm a supporting player. I'm not the central figure every night. That changes from game to game now. I can still do some of the individual things the fans like and I enjoy doing, but I don't have to do them. We have a purpose, which is to win the championship, and we have a quiet, subdued confidence. We expect to win.
"This has been a very fun year for me, too. In fact, so fun that I look forward to playing several more years now."
Malone is happy, too.
"I can win a championship with this team," he said. "I've got all the money I want. Moses can buy anything he wants, but he can't buy the championship. Got to win that. That's why I'm here."