When Tad Brown walked through the 76ers’ section of the Wells Fargo Center last year, he immediately concluded it was “not up to NBA standards.”
The tour confirmed that, as Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment’s new CEO, a significant portion of Brown’s job would be helping shepherd the Sixers to a new home after their lease in South Philly expires in 2031. The Sixers proposed their plans on July 21 — a privately funded, $1.3 billion arena at 10th and Market Streets in the Fashion District of Center City. And though Brown trumpets the venue as a community asset that will revitalize the neighborhood, lure premier events to the city, and improve the fan experience, those who play and coach the basketball inside are also expected beneficiaries of the from-scratch project.
“Not having to look at how you ‘retrofit,’ how you get things to a place where we want them,” Brown told The Inquirer last week, “we get to start and say, ‘This is going to be the best structure for our team, for our players, so we can compete at the highest level and build it out from there.”’”
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The term “arms race” has long been connected to college sports, where glitzy facilities feature waterfalls, miniature golf courses and barbershops — along with more practical amenities such as nutrition stations, hydrotherapy pools, and expansive weight rooms — dazzle teenagers choosing a program. Yet recruiting tools can also be applied to the NBA, where uniformity in types of contracts available means other factors could determine where a free agent signs.
Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has experienced both sides of a traditional arena setup. He worked for the Boston Celtics, who share TD Garden with the NHL’s Boston Bruins. He also spearheaded the basketball operations of the Houston Rockets, who owns the Toyota Center.
Morey described how, because multiple teams used TD Garden, a proposed improvement might require forming a committee. Meanwhile, such changes typically could be executed much faster in Houston. Morey and Brown, the Rockets’ former CEO, previously collaborated on a redesign of the Toyota Center’s locker room and training room areas.
“To get that kind of responsiveness to our players creates an overall environment where they’re telling other players around the league, ‘Hey, we wanted this and we were able to get it,'” Morey told The Inquirer. “[Then our players will get responses like], ‘Oh, you got something that quick? How did that happen?”
David J. Adelman, the local apartment developer partnering with the Sixers on the project now seeking approval, boasts that the caliber and style of “the arena we’re going to open in 2031 doesn’t exist” yet. He envisions a similar approach as when the organization constructed its Camden practice facility that opened in 2016.
Brown aims to prioritize efficient player movement inside the arena, from the entrance to the locker room and training area to the court. Morey wants to ensure there is enough space for several players to partake in postgame recovery workouts at the same time, which was not as common years ago and “actually take a pretty large footprint.”
The Sixers are also planning to produce ample room for several coaches to meet with individual players — which Morey said is currently tricky inside the Wells Fargo Center — along with medical resources close by and the ability to apply the latest player performance technology when the facility opens and beyond.
“By owning your own thing, you often don’t know what’s coming,” Morey said. “So it gives you a platform to move to new trends, new important things. … That is very difficult to do in a shared ownership perspective, and [our proposal] opens up the creativity of our great ownership group.
“We’re really only limited, in a building owned by ourselves, by our imagination.”
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Adelman hopes the venue can become a hub for basketball at all levels, including youth leagues and Big 5 games. (Villanova regularly plays at the Wells Fargo Center, which also hosted an NCAA Tournament regional in March.) Philly also has been floated as a possible market for WNBA expansion. And after hosting NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston in 2006 and 2013, Brown is confident the proposed arena would make Philly an attractive candidate to land the event.
“The league always looks for those new, best, greatest facilities that they can then show off to the world,” Brown said. “…It’s going to give us the opportunity to create that showcase moment.”
The Wells Fargo Center, which opened in 1996, is in the middle of a $300 million renovation that began in 2016. Yet the Sixers will also pour “millions” this season and next into their team-specific areas — which Brown calls “that little postage stamp that we have in there” — to help take them through the end of their lease.
Brown, Adelman, and Morey plan to spend the coming years visiting facilities around the world. Morey stressed flexibility as they create more detailed design and construction plans, because it is difficult to anticipate how sports science and team needs could evolve during the next nine years.
And in 2031, Brown expects that a spin through the Sixers’ proposed new home will reveal resources that exceed NBA standards.
“We’ve done this,” Brown said. “It’s going to be second nature. We’ve got a great team … and we’ve also done it where we’ve worked hand-in-hand with our basketball operations team to make sure we’re creating the best environment for everybody. So this isn’t going to be new to us. We’re ready for all the challenges.
“It’s not daunting for any of us.”