?When he bought the team, the question immediately arose, "Will he buy us a championship?" That is precisely what Dixon intended, and intends, to do. Yet the question itself intimates something impure. It's as if it is somehow better to have drafted or traded or hoodwinked than to have spent. Which is nonsense. Williams, in a feet-on-the-desk conversation, muses, "I've told Fitz, and he absolutely agrees, that having the best players doesn't guarantee anything but having a better chance. The trouble is the public views us as swaggering along and buying whatever we want. That's not true. But success in pro sports is predicated on being a high roller." Again, the bleeping money.
?After a loss during the 1976-77 season, Dixon said to Shue, "What's your excuse tonight?" Shue and his friends considered the comment in poor taste, classic meddling by an uninformed owner. Dixon, greatly embarrassed, insists he said it as a joke. But the incident definitely made Fitz frosty toward the press. Says he, "It doesn't take any genius to learn to keep your damn mouth shut." Whatever, this episode set in concrete the unfair view that Dixon is a meddler, treading unfamiliar boards and taking off-balance shots. Nobody admits less knowledge of basketball more quickly than Fitz Dixon. "I'm just a spontaneous, outspoken and occasionally obstreperous fan," he says. Says his son George, "I do think there are times when he opens his mouth and blurts something out when he could use a little more discretion." But Pat Williams comes to Fitz' defense, saying, "In this era of power-crazed owners, I tell you Fitz is a relief."
?The Shue firing. The timing was atrocious. Shue had taken over the Sixers in 1973-74 after they had finished the previous season with a 9-73 record. Three years later they were in the NBA finals, and to fire him in the off-season would have been outrageous. But to do it after a 2-4 start in 1977-78 hardly improved Fitz' reputation for impulsiveness. Fact is, Dixon didn't like Shue, the coach's life-style, or much of anything about him. Dixon talks privately of other factors, but he had been carrying the noose for some time and needed only to find a suitable hanging tree. A 2-4 record was a bad choice. Dixon could have said, "I'm firing Gene Shue because even though he's a great coach, I don't like him." Of course, that wouldn't have won him many points, either.
?Dixon descended from his private box once and viewed a game from court-side. He liked it. So that's where he always sits now. But he didn't like people walking in front of him, so he has guards stationed so nobody can block his view or otherwise disturb him. Obviously, he's the owner, and if he wants to be the only one in the Spectrum for the games, he can do that, too. The point—and the point that is lost on Dixon—is that to the average fan who pays $5 to $9 a ticket, such behavior is ostentatious. Fitz can do this, don't you see, only because of his bleeping money.
While the going has been rocky his first 2� years, Dixon doesn't cotton to the suggestion that he is still trying to learn how to be an owner. "I know how," he says. He wants to be loved by Philadelphia fans (although daughter Ellin says, "He doesn't get up in the morning and say, 'Oh, God, I wonder if everybody will love me today' "), but his demeanor is forbidding. One of his 76er board members, Bob Babilino, says, "He's respected around town—and sometimes feared." Dixon genuinely doesn't want to interfere, but he wants to know; he wants to be close to the players, and at arm's length from them. He has had parties for the team, but the athletes didn't really like to come, and when new Coach Billy Cunningham gently told Fitz so, Dixon understood. "Christ, I don't want to spend $10,000 to entertain a bunch of prisoners," he said.
Dixon likes to tell how he was the first one in the hospital room to see Erving when he was hurt, how he and his wife paid a call on Cunningham to console him after the team was eliminated from the playoffs last year. "There's nothing he wouldn't do for any of us," says Dr. J. And there is nothing cheap about Fitz Dixon. His devotion to Philadelphia is unquestioned. Alas, if his style were just a little smoother. If he just wouldn't spend so much time complaining about the difficulty he has keeping the mobile phone working in his Mercedes.
Winning, of course, will cure most of the problems. When hopes are so high, as they have been in Philly, the fall is tough. This year dawned with new optimism. And with justification. For one thing, George McGinnis had been traded. McGinnis and Erving did not mesh, and twice in playoffs, McGinnis was a flaming failure. Gene Shue twice asked Fitz to get rid of McGinnis. Once the request so angered the boss that he snapped, "If you can't coach him, I'll get somebody who can." But when Cunningham was hired and several months later made the same request, Dixon acquiesced. Why? "I have to take advice from somebody," he says.
So last summer McGinnis was sent to Denver. The main man the Sixers got in exchange was Bobby Jones, perhaps the league's best defensive player. He runs, steals, blocks shots, rebounds and—egad!—passes off. All of which are novel to most of the members of the gang that can't shoot enough. Says Jones, "I don't have to have the ball to be happy." Experts think Jones just could be the one to make the Sixers whole, the guy who will teamwork the club to the title. Is that true, Bobby? "Aw, once a trade is completed, everybody says that." The difference, in this case, is that a lot of people think it's true.
Does Fitz Dixon expect an NBA championship? "Sure," he says. "I have felt like we were good enough to win for two years. But it's just like making a good daiquiri. You take three parts of rum, one part lime juice. Everybody does that. But then I add a dash of Cointreau. It's that Cointreau that just makes a daiquiri. And it's that dash of Cointreau that we've been missing."
Dixon says it is disheartening to frequently watch a flagrant lack of effort on the floor. He sniffs, "I try to treat the players like men, but some are children. I do think they should work as hard for the dollars I give them as I work for the zero dollars I get at Widener and Temple." Dixon knows what it's like to work for someone else from his days at Episcopal Academy. When he retired in 1960, he was dragging down $7,800 a year. "I fully realize," he says, "that I am very lucky not to have to work for a living."