April 11, 2016
The best owner in Philadelphia sports history died this morning after a noble battle with cancer, ending a 49-year reign as patriarch of the Flyers family.
It’s still hard to believe. Ed Snider is gone.
Snider, the only boss the Flyers have ever had, was a fascinating study in contrasts. He was loyal, generous and tireless, but also combative, defiant and vengeful. He won two championships in his first eight years in the NHL, and none in the last 41. He could be your best friend, and your worst enemy – sometimes in the same week.
It is no coincidence that Snider refused to surrender to his disease until the Flyers were safely in the playoffs. Lauren Hart, the anthem singer and daughter of the late voice of the Flyers, Gene Hart, sang Saturday while holding a phone to her face, so the chairman could watch.
Then the team won. And then the boss passed away.
Anyone who ever met Ed Snider has a story to tell about the impact he had on their life. And those not fortunate enough to have crossed his path felt his influence in other ways. Snider’s Stanley Cup champions of 1974 and ’75 set the standard for every other Philadelphia team in that era, and beyond.
The two million people who attended that first parade, walking right up to the players and the jubilant owner during the motorcade through the city, will tell you it was a gift from Snider and the Broad Street Bullies like none any owner or team ever gave to our city. Fans still refer to it today with reverence, with joy.
Keith Jones, my partner at WIP radio and a Flyer more than a decade ago, told a story on our show today about Snider that captured the owner in every way. The Flyers had just lost a close playoff game because of a bad call, and Snider urged Jones to rip the officials publicly after the game.
“He said: Say what you want to the media. I’ll cover the fine,’” Jones recalled. “So I did. I really let them have it ... Later he came up to me and said, ‘That cost me $50,000. What did it cost you? . . . But he paid my fine. Happily.”
In the final two hours of our show today – the story of Snider’s passing broke just after 8 a.m. – fans clogged the phone lines with stories about Snider’s youth hockey program changing their lives, about chance encounters in which he gave them tickets to big games, and about how much he relished his life as a sports owner.
What he didn’t relish was owning WIP back in its infancy. Most fans don’t remember it, but Snider owned WIP when it was at its most insane, blistering players (and owners) without conscience. Snider made no secret of his hatred for our radio station, and for me. He never spoke a word to me in the past quarter-century.
Snider found my style of sports talk offensive, obnoxious but also highly profitable. As a businessman, he understood my work. As a sports owner, he did not.
The truth is, I spent the past 26 years reminding fans on the air that he hadn’t won a championship since 1975, before most of them were born. But they never stopped loving the guy, nor did I. That’s right. I admired him, too, in my own way.
You see, even though Ed Snider didn’t appreciate the negativity that I brought to his station, he never – not once – interfered in what I said or how I did my job. He respected the unmarked barriers between top management and talent. He was one of the best people I ever worked for, personal feelings aside.
In the end, he sold WIP for $15 million, the exact amount he had to pay for Eric Lindros in that mammoth 1992 trade. No one said it then, but we all missed Ed Snider when he was no longer our boss. And now that he’s gone, we will all miss him even more.
Ed Snider was the best owner in Philadelphia sports history. On this sad day, there is no greater tribute to offer than that.
Sam Hinkie ended his 34-month tenure as Sixers GM in one final flurry of psychobabble last week, one last effort to hide the fact that he is the biggest fraud in professional sports.
Hinkie will be remembered for amassing one of the worst records in NBA history (49-195), for snookering a cult of fans with his analytics sham and for promoting a “process” with no timetable and no hint of success. Then he ended it by resigning with a 13-page manifesto that inadvertently revealed the con.
In this letter, Hinkie chose more than a dozen historical figures, rich financiers and obscure physicists to illustrate something most people had already figured out – that he is a pompous windbag possessing no ability to communicate with the fans of his team.
The first paragraph of his resignation letter referenced Atul Gawande, a public-health researcher at Harvard. My initial thought was that Hinkie had found another foreign player with a busted kneecap or a long-term contract in a European league, but no. Hinkie was just beginning the longest, most insulting goodbye imaginable.
Strip away all of the rhetoric, and the only thing he was good at was losing. He drafted unimpressively, his trades reaped no obvious benefits, his health initiatives (Joel Embiid in Qatar, for example) backfired, and he developed relationships with no one.
Although it was not his intention, Hinkie exposed in that letter his biggest flaw, among many. Right to the very end, he refused to understand that he needs to speak the language of his sport, of his patrons. It isn’t enough to shut yourself in a room and juggle numbers; a GM also has to sell his vision.
It’s now safe to conclude that Hinkie’s vision was far less sophisticated than his manner of speaking. He wanted to lose as many games as possible, for as long as it took, until the next LeBron James dropped into his lap. That was the plan.
Why else would he trade the 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams, for a first-round draft pick? Why else would he seek a nine-year contract extension (nine years!) for himself one season into his tenure? Why else would he never offer a projected end date to the losing?
One of the best beat writers in Philadelphia, Bob Cooney of the Daily News, reported last week that he had asked Hinkie recently when the team would start winning. The GM replied with a torturous explanation of what he would do if he were the president of the United States and we went to war with Russia.
The moral of this ridiculous hypothetical was that he would rather spend years training his army than actually engaging in the war. Hinkie must have already been preparing his letter of resignation when he used that example because his 13 pages are filled with equally bizarre analogies.
The bottom line is, he really didn’t know what he was doing. Strip away all of the rhetoric, and the only thing he was good at was losing. He drafted unimpressively, his trades reaped no obvious benefits, his health initiatives (Joel Embiid in Qatar, for example) backfired, and he developed relationships with no one.
He was a fraud, plain and simple. The NBA knew it; that’s why commissioner Adam Silver mandated the hiring of chairman Jerry Colangelo when the Sixers were 1-10. Owner Joshua Harris finally figured it out; that’s why he was bringing in Jerry’s son Bryan, to serve as GM. And Sam Hinkie himself knew it; just read the letter.
When the Sixers do get better in the years to come – how could they get worse? – Hinkie’s cult will spin his legacy as a process foiled only by impatience. To these disillusioned souls, Hinkie is a martyr now, a man too smart for the dummies who follow his team to understand.
Well, it the words of Abraham Lincoln, he who shuns greatness when in its presence is doomed to a lifetime of regret.
Just kidding. Lincoln never said that, just as he never said those things in Hinkie’s letter. I was just trying to find the right way to express what I really mean.
Good riddance, Sam Hinkie.
And finally ...
• After a turnout of over 60,000 at the championship parade last Friday, let’s put to rest the stupid idea that Villanova is not part of Philadelphia. Yes, the fans of other schools in the Big Five should support their own teams first, but if they can’t appreciate the greatness of the Wildcats this year, it’s their loss.
• There will be speculation now that coach Jay Wright is going to leave Villanova for the greener pastures of the NBA. I don’t think so. When I asked him last week about big-money offers from the pros, he said he would do everything he could to resist the temptation. Because it’s Jay Wright, I believe him.
• At the risk of repeating myself, how dumb is it to feature the greatest sports moments after 11 p.m. on the East Coast? It happens all the time in the World Series and in the NBA finals, and it happened again last week when Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hit the shot heard ‘round the world at 11:26 p.m. Sorry, kids. Watch it on the DVR. Dumb.
• In the aftermath of erratic behavior of Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, another of the Sixers’ top picks, Nerlens Noel, allegedly trashed the house he was renting outside of Philadelphia, causing over $30,000 in damage and leaving remnants of marijuana through the place. I guess ex-GM Sam Hinkie’s analytics never got around to gauging character.