When Philadelphia 76ers owner Peter Luukko extended a one-year, non-guaranteed offer to the week-long retiree Allen Iverson, he called the move an "absolutely, strictly a basketball decision." If the use of such adamant adverbs in succession did not already give you sense that Luukko was compensating for something, please allow me to translate his overly emphatic remarks: this move is 'absolutely, strictly a publicity stunt.'
To his credit, Luukko did succeed in suddenly swinging the NBA's media spotlight onto his subpar franchise. But it does not take a sports-entertainment mogul to realize that Iverson's acquisition will not boost the Sixers in the Eastern Conference standings any more than Tiger Woods after a car accident, Kris Kringle, or an animation from Space Jam - no matter how crazy their dunks may be drawn.
From an athletic standpoint, Iverson may temporarily be filling a void left by the injured Lou Williams, but how can anyone seriously believe that a disgruntled sixth man that could not even break into the starting lineup for the perennially pathetic Memphis Grizzlies return as a savior and lead his original team to a level of glory it never even enjoyed during the prime of his career? As an athlete, Iverson is irrelevant. We're not talking about the 2000-2001 season MVP. Not an All-Star. Not a shooting star. We're talking about irrelevant. In fact, the only kind of star Iverson can be considered is the kind that Sixers president Ed Stefanski acknowledged: a "rock star."
This diva status may be the only attribute Iverson legitimately brings to the table. And considering this is the City of Brotherly Love, the same city that took back Michael Vick, A.I. will surely be off the hook with the local fans and media despite his slew of whiny antics that precipitated the ugly divorce from Philadelphia in 2006. Barring a blunder more historic than the crack in the Liberty Bell, Iverson will garner positive publicity - not just for himself, but for his new team.
And if ever a Philadelphia professional sports team needed some brotherly love, it is the 76ers in 2009. The Sixers are the team that nobody cares about - the team that you would turn off to watch a better out-of-town game, or amateur curling. As they work to compile an acceptable enough record to the make the playoffs in the dismal Eastern Conference (a winning record is not even required or expected to achieve this feat), the Sixers sulk in the shadow of three of the most beloved teams in all of American sports today.
Enjoying unprecedented success despite having accumulated more losses than any other professional sports squad, the Phillies are in the heyday of the franchise's century-and-a-quarter history: three consecutive division titles, two World Series trips, one championship pennant, and no more Curse of Billy Penn. Not to mention that half the players in the starting lineup are considered heartthrobs for every girl between Amish country and the Jersey Shore. The E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles are poised for yet another playoff run thanks to the electrifying talent of a young offensive core. Meanwhile, the Flyers have one of the most loyal and rabid followings of any hockey team, and are a proven playoff contender.
Where does that leave the Sixers? Well, no one really noticed until this week. Luukko undoubtedly understands that the 76ers' two most glaring problems coincidentally coincide with the two primary concerns of his company. As the COO of Comcast-Spectacor, he makes his living off of the sports and entertainment industries. As the owner of the Sixers, he needs to realize that a sports franchise will only emerge successful if the number in the wins column is significantly larger than the number in the losses column. Fans are fickle, and while ticket sales may skyrocket for the highly anticipated contest with the Denver Nuggets in town next week, unless his team starts winning games, even Philadelphia 'phanatics' will quickly forget if Iverson is actually playing or still retired.