It Takes a Special Skill to be Such a Huge Loser

Josh Harris is a very rich man. Estimated to be worth more than $2 billion, he had at least enough mad money to be the lead moneybags in a group that spent nearly $300 million to buy a professional basketball team.

And to think, The Curmudgeon’s idea of splurging is to buy a season parking pass at his favorite beach destination instead of driving up and down the streets looking for a vacant space within hiking distance of the sands.

Unlike some people with comparable wealth, Harris didn’t inherit his – or even, apparently, a stake toward building it. He did well in really great schools, got really great jobs, and built a really, really huge personal fortune. He earned his wealth.

The rich boy’s latest toy, the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team, just ended one of the worst seasons in both team history and professional basketball history. They won just 19 games, they lost 63, and along the way they managed to tie a professional basketball record for most consecutive losses.

Despite this, just days after the season ended last week, Harris managed to swallow either his honesty or his integrity and told reporters, apparently with a straight face, that “I think this season has been a huge success for us.”

Why? Because all that losing didn’t just happen by itself. No, it was the result of hard, focused effort. It’s almost impossible to lose so spectacularly by accident. If you want results like that, you need to make them happen.

Contrary to how it usually works in the world of sports, the 76ers actually set out on a quest to be as awful as they were, so from Harris’s perspective, the season could borrow the George W. Bush motto of “Mission accomplished.”

If you care to follow this warped reasoning, the 76ers aspired to lose as many games as possible as part of a strategy to position themselves to acquire better players. In professional sports, you see, the worst teams get the first choice of the best amateur players seeking to become professionals. Basketball teams only field five players at a time, so one superior player can have a huge impact. This, in turn, creates a powerful incentive to lose intentionally, and other than boxing and horse racing, in no professional sport will you find more intentional losing than the National Basketball Association. In the case of the NBA, though, players don’t play poorly to help their teams lose. Instead, organizations just purposely, and with malice aforethought, field teams with lousy players.

This year, the 76ers were far from alone in having such low aspirations: several teams proudly competed with them for the distinction of being the least competitive team in professional basketball. The 76ers, though, were real achievers, and they almost achieved ultimate success: they were the second-worst team in basketball.

The secrets to their success?

Well, for starters, even before the season began they traded away their best player for a untested young man, fresh out of college, who was so badly injured that they knew he wouldn’t play the entire season. Actually, his inability to play appears to have been a major part of his appeal.

Then, in the middle of the season, the 76ers traded – actually, pretty much gave way – two of their only four decent players.

Whereupon nearly two months passed before they won another game. In all, they lost 23 games in a row – more than a quarter of the season.

Yet when the season was over, the team’s owner told the press that “I think this season has been a huge success for us.”

And it probably was, too, because while the very smart, very rich owner was very dumb to admit such a thing publicly, he proved yet again that the people who have the money always find ways to make more – even if it means screwing their customers. The Curmudgeon suggests this because despite trying not to win, despite trying not to be good, despite trying not to be entertaining, despite employing player after player who would have been much better off finishing his college degree and preparing to get a real job because he has no future as a professional athlete, and despite deliberately setting out to field a team of historic awfulness, the 76ers still managed to attract 568,632 fans to see them play.

More than a half-million suckers forked over perfectly good money to see a team that was showing them the proverbial middle finger. This was the second worst attendance in all of professional basketball – and the worst if you look at it from the perspective of percentage of seats filled.

But the rich guy who said the really stupid thing is probably laughing all the way to the bank – and laughing at those more than 500,000 people who gave him their hard-earned money for the disgraceful product he offered them and the utter disdain with which he offered it.

“I think this season has been a huge success for us,” he told them.

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  • […] The Curmudgeon has made his feelings known about the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team in this space on more than one occasion and will spare you all but the highlights:  a lifelong fan of the team, he now roots for it to lose every game by a score of 100-0 in front of no paying spectators because for three years the organization intentionally fielded the worst team it possibly could.  If you’d like to know more about it, you can check it out here and here. […]

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