Williams: Uh, well, he's the Babe Ruth of basketball.
Clearly, then, he is not in the game because of his longtime love for it. And it is not because his father enjoyed owning the Philadelphia hockey team and, with a partner, a controlling interest in the old football Eagles. Says Fitz Sr., "Everything was going out, nothing was coming in. It wasn't fun." Nor is it because Kosloff spoke glowingly of the experience: "As an owner you can do one heck of a job and things still turn out wrong."
No, the most logical explanation is that Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr., his blood a dazzling blue, simply longs to be one of the boys. And, his disclaimers notwithstanding, he yearns for public adulation. Or at least thanks. Serving on hospital boards and being a member of the Jockey Club doesn't cut it in the hearts of the beer-and-T-shirt crowd. Therefore, basketball—the game of city streets—may be Dixon's ultimate pipeline to the ears of the average guy. If the Sixers are good, then news of Dixon's other enormous good works likely will be spread more thoroughly throughout the Delaware Valley. Certainly the masses are not going to stand and cheer his work as president of the Philadelphia Art Commission or Chairman of the Board and sugar daddy at both Temple University and Widener College; they may, however, applaud the Sixers.
After graduating from Episcopal Academy in suburban Merion, Pa. Dixon attended Harvard for seven months. He then joined the Episcopal faculty. That was partly because the private school was not stuffy about shortcomings like lack of a college degree and partly because Dixon could do whatever he wanted—and he wanted to teach. During his 16� years there he taught Pennsylvania history, health, English and French and served as assistant to the headmaster. He also coached football, tennis and squash. "I was a pretty good teacher," says Dixon. "Those were the happiest days of my life." He left in 1960 when it was time, in the Dixon pecking order, for him to handle the family business. Jay Crawford, headmaster at Episcopal, says of Fitz' buying the 76ers, "It's just an itch he always wanted to scratch." But thus far the Sixers have left Dixon scratching his head. They have brought him little more than boos, grief and torment. And more attention to his bleeping bucks. The Sixers, like the Yankees, have been called the Best Team Money Can Buy, but Pat Williams insists that's a bad rap because, he says, there are three or four teams with higher payrolls than the Sixers'. And the only star player whose contract Philadelphia has out-and-out bought recently was Dr. J before the 1976-77 season. That deal, of course, was a whopper. After the papers were signed, even Dixon was impressed. "I can't believe it," he said, "I just spent $6 million for one basketball player."
A lot of fans thought that meant Dixon also had just bought an NBA championship. After all, he had three of pro basketball's 10 best players in Dr. J and George McGinnis (both getting $400,000 a year) and Doug Collins ($350,000). After losing to Portland in the finals in 1977, in part because of inept play by McGinnis, the team got a slogan for the following season: We Owe You One. But the Sixers lost in the division finals and fans quickly concluded: You Owe Us Two. This year there is no slogan, partly because Dixon doesn't like debts that can't be repaid.
The Sixers have been one of the greatest collections of one-on-one players in the history of the game—which has been the problem. What they really needed coming down the court was five basketballs. Last year Collins said, "Coaching this team borders on the impossible." One writer suggested that the players' attention spans could be timed by the 24-second clock. And when Dixon fired Coach Gene Shue only six games into the 1977-78 season—a move Dixon insists was not impulsive—the boss picked up the paper to read, "So, once again. we learn that you can go to Harvard, build a few ships, wear polished loafers and still confuse manure with tuna fish." Dixon says he has never built any ships.
It's this kind of thing that has led to Dixon's simmering relationship with the press. Says one reporter who covers the Sixers, "He thinks because he gives all this money to charity, he should be treated like a saint. After all, he has been treated that way his entire life." It doesn't serve Dixon well these days that he has adopted a Nixonian attitude toward the local writers, repeatedly referring snidery to "my friends in the Philadelphia press."
The problem exists largely because Dixon—for all his locker-room language, which most think he uses to try to be like the other boys—is ostentatious. Which he comes by naturally. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the fantastically rich do put their pants on differently. Even Erving, one of Dixon's big admirers for reasons beyond the money Fitz pays him, admits, "His presence can be intimidating. It's nothing he does. It's just power." Says another writer, "He's not an evil man. He just doesn't know how to behave."
That may be too harsh, but it is true that the Fitz Dixons of this world are not accustomed to criticism. Like most executives, he says he doesn't want to be surrounded by yes men; but like most executives, he really does. One notable exception to the yea-saying is Williams, who is among the sport's most astute executives. But while Dixon's underlings are given to saying yes, yes, yes, the press is given to saying no, no, no, and Fitz feels that this attitude has unjustifiably warped his image. Four incidents have contributed to the public conception, or misconception, of Dixon: