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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

What the Heck? Sixers honcho airballs with Boathouse Row jersey, 'blue collar' rip

Boathouse Row was not a popular choice in the City of Brotherly Love.
Boathouse Row was not a popular choice in the City of Brotherly Love.
Image: Courtesy 76ers

Sixers President Chris Heck placed a Joel Embiid-sized 17 sneaker in his mouth when he was talking up the Sixers new uniforms with the Uni Watch website.

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Heck made like the lame duck President of the United States in terms of verbal miscues.

While discussing the club’s latest tank top, which features Boathouse Row, Heck diminished the core of the city. If Philly sports fans were surveyed a la “Family Feud” and asked what describes the incredibly loyal base, “blue-collar” would undoubtedly be the No. 1 answer. However, Heck doesn’t exactly embrace the term, which epitomizes Philly, lunch-pail types, who grind their way through the day. Heck isn’t crazy about the nickname for Philadelphia either.

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“We actually don’t use the term ‘”Philly,’” because we think it’s lazy and undersells the city, and sometimes I think ‘blue collar’ does the same thing,” Heck said to Uni Watch. “We refer to it as ‘New Philadelphia.’ Blue collar is important for the city, but it’s not the only component. New Philadelphia is about the arts, it’s about culture. It’s about education, it’s about diversity. We like that narrative more than the blue collar hockey thing. Which isn’t a slight on it, but we think we’re more than blue collar.”

That snippet of the interview is enough for the Sixers’ damage control department to stay busy for a week.

Philly, pardon, Philadelphia, is synonymous with blue collar. The most beloved players in the city’s history are the hard-nosed types, not the effortless mega-talents.

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The greatest to ever sport the Phillies red pinstripes, Mike Schmidt, who appeared to never break a sweat while dominating, wasn’t embraced as much as gambling degenerate Pete Rose and the tobacco stained Lenny Dykstra. The latter is such a lowlife that he made former Mets teammates Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden appear as wholesome as Dale Murphy by comparison.

Rose and Dykstra were born with filthy uniforms and fans loved them for it. I have a pal, who is so enamored of Dykstra that the Phillies 1993 squad is his favorite Philadelphia team of all time. After I asked him how he can place a World Series loser as his No. 1, he said, “Because of how those guys played the game. They gave their all.”

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Regarding the Eagles, Philly fans never quite warmed to Randall Cunningham, who is arguably the most gifted athlete to ever play for the franchise the city lives and dies with every year. The Jheri-curled “ultimate weapon,” who somehow bounced off of a vicious hit by the Giants Carl Banks to throw an impossible touchdown pass to Jimmie Giles, was an enigma to most Eagles fans during his run in Philly.

Cunningham was no Brian Dawkins, who is one of the most beloved Eagles. Weapon X was a gifted but plucky defensive back, who delivered bone-crushing tackles. Birds fans still talk about the 2004 NFC championship game when B-Dawk laid out Alge Crumpler. Dawkins, who is the only member of Andy Reid’s Eagles teams to be enshrined in Canton, was admired as much for his toughness as his immense ability.

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As for the Flyers, the team’s mascot is named Gritty, an element that’s part of the blue-collar mentality. (The worldwide icon is also now the face of the resistance.)

On a related note, it was curious that Heck said that he was not down with the blue collar hockey thing since the Sixers share the Wells Fargo Center with the Flyers, and Josh Harris owns both the Sixers and the New Jersey Devils.

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The Flyers playfully responded to Heck’s comment with a tweet featuring a photo of the club’s bloodied defenseman Travis Sanheim:

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Also, a tip of the cap to Kelly Hinkle from Broad Street Hockey, who responded to Heck by writing. “You don’t talk shit on us without consequence, fools.”

Look for Hinkle in a “Blue Collar Hockey Thing” T-shirt:

“Thanks to our pals at BreakingT, walk around Old Philly, being lazy and underselling your city, while representing the blue-collar grit that is at the real heart of this city.”

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And then there is Sixers legend Allen Iverson, who was a favorite of blue collar fans since he was an absolute warrior. “The Answer,” who was generously listed at 6 feet, was fearless as he drove through such massive redwoods as Ben Wallace and Shaquille O’Neal, who literally was double Iverson’s weight.

A.I. famously rocked a black Sixers jersey that was a massive seller around the world. However, Heck was reluctant for the Sixers to be back in black and refused to bring back the classic Iverson jersey despite demand.

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“I hated that uniform,” Heck said. “Absolutely despised it ...They (Sixers fans) wanted the Iverson throwback and I said, ‘No, we’re not doing it.’ I think they sold out with that uniform. I think they were wrong to the brand, and come hell or high water, we’re not going back to that uniform. And finally it got to the point where we’re designing these (City) uniforms so often, and we use them only about six times a year and then it’s gone. So I said, ‘You know what? Okay, I’ll give you a black uniform.’ Now in my personal opinion, a black uniform is the ultimate cheap win. Like, if you’re Duke do you need a black uniform? Absolutely not, but they have one. If you’re the Boston Celtics, do you need a black uniform? No. The Lakers. No. But they all have them. And I think they’re cheap wins — I do and I kinda sold out. (Laughs.) So for that, I’m a little bit ashamed, but I also know I’m trying to be better as a person, learning to compromise and open up to new ideas.

“So that was the compromise. We won’t go to the Iverson uniform, but we will allow for a black uniform for one City Edition, and we’ll do something that’s uniquely Philadelphia.”

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When the Sixers went to black uniforms. That style was the rage. Black jerseys, regardless of the sport, sold. And sometimes, particularly with jerseys, it’s good to go back. One of the Phillies’ few decisions that have panned out over the last decade was dusting off the retro jerseys.

Sometimes you have to give the people what they want. If the fan base craves the Iverson jersey, why not appease them? It’s not like the fans are asking for a ticket discount.

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The Boathouse design does fit Heck’s approach since it’s the antithesis of blue collar. The only folks trying to make ends meet in one of the boathouses are part of maintenance crews. Those sculling on the Schuylkill are typically well-heeled.

Illustration for article titled What the Heck? Sixers honcho airballs with Boathouse Row jersey, blue collar rip
Image: Courtesy 76ers
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There will always be a blue collar connection with Philadelphia but there is as Heck notes, a “New Philadelphia.” It’s undeniable that the city is morphing. It’s more diverse than ever in terms of culture, restaurants and tolerance.

That’s reflected at Sixers games, even though blue collar fans are priced out of the lower level seats except when the Cavs, Hornets and the rest of the NBA dregs come to town (Hello, huge Stubhub discount a half-hour before the tip!). Many of the season tickets were raised 20 percent for the upcoming season. But they were raised 20 percent last season as well, but it was still like an old United Colors of Benetton commercial at games. Fans from every age group are in the capacity crowd to support a pair of stars, who aren’t remotely blue collar.

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Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons don’t match Iverson’s grit. Heck, neither one even sports a tattoo. Embiid, the face of the franchise is hilarious and at times geeky off the court with his love of gaming and junk food. Heck goofed when he spoke of the Sixers new, way-too-busy jersey, but the latest item the Sixers will market will be sported sparingly.

It’s not about what the Sixers don, but what the franchise presents. The Philadelphia team that is most likely to be the city’s next champion hired the best coach available in Doc Rivers and landed an executive in Daryl Morey who personifies the old phrase by the Oakland Raiders late owner, Al Davis: “Just win, Baby!”

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There’s a reason both Rivers and Morey rejected well-earned, tempting sabbaticals and rushed to sign deals with the Sixers. It has nothing to do with a jersey, even as one as odd as the new Boathouse Row item.

It’s all about winning and if this team doesn’t make a title run soon, Heck and company will be up the Schuylkill cruising by Boathouse Row without a paddle.

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