Sixers President Chris Heck took a lot of flack when the new black uniforms were released on Tuesday. Fans wanted the throwback 2001 Allen Iverson jerseys but instead got a remix of sorts, with a Boathouse Row outline above the word PHILADELPHIA and blue and red trim on the sides.
Maybe folks will come around to the jerseys when they see the players wearing them on the court, or maybe not. Meantime, some fans seem to be really annoyed by recent Heck comments deemed snooty and sourced to a recent article at the Uni Watch website.
It’s titled “Talking NBA City Unis With 76ers Prexy Chris Heck,” and in the post exists a couple of exchanges that seem to talk down on the traditional Philadelphia sports fan.
We will attempt to balance out the discourse by playing a little bit of Devil’s Advocate as we go through the article.
Here’s one snippet:
This jersey [for this season] was me trying to compromise. Because it’s not me alone making these decisions — we have a group of people who are all geeked out about uniforms, like I am, and we’re all coming from different walks of life. I’m 51 years old, I grew up in a certain era, I have a certain style and opinion and love of the brand. And then there’s a mother on maternity leave who’s 33 years old, and she is a local main-liner from Philadelphia, and she loves the brand as much as I do. And then I have another guy who is a native of St. Kitts and is an immigrant to the United States, and he’s now a lover of the brand in Philadelphia with us. And so the three of us make up this group where we all come from very different backgrounds and ages and appreciation for the brand. And we’re very like-minded in terms of what’s important, but not necessarily in terms of style.
And so the two of them grew up in the era of Allen Iverson and the black uniforms. And I hated that uniform. Absolutely despised it. And the reason is that it wasn’t traditional, it was that ridiculous silk, the ridiculous larger collar…
Well that’s true, the uniforms were not traditional and deviated from the brand and color scheme at the time. The silk was a little bit goofy when you think about it, but obviously you wouldn’t have used the same material if you went with the throwback black uniforms this season. They would have been updated to look sleek and sharp, with a “normal collar.” (haha, get it?)
More from Heck:
“they 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
This is one of those things where most people would probably just bite the bullet, throw their hands up, and say, “the customer is always right.” Fans really liked the black uniforms, and if that’s what they want, so be it. The problem is that this comment makes it seem like the front office doesn’t care what the fans think, which is a morass no Philly sports executive should find themselves stuck in.
But I do hear what Heck is saying. If you’re committed to the brand and the color scheme, then black is not part of that. Every team goes with some sort of off-brand black jersey for the “cheap wins,” as Heck points out. There’s something to be said for sticking to your guns and being consistent with the brand.
More Heck, and this is the section people really didn’t like:
CH: So then we do Boathouse Row, which is an iconic landmark in Philadelphia, and people say, “It’s elitist, it’s rowing,” and honestly, I’ve never rowed in my life…
UW: I just want to explain, when I wrote, “It’s hoity-toity, it’s fancy-shmancy,” I didn’t mean that as a criticism per se — I was just making fun of the fact that everyone always says Philadelphia is blue collar, it’s gritty, the Flyers’ mascot is called Gritty, and all that. So I was just making fun of that contrast. But I don’t have a specific problem with Boathouse Row.
CH: The whole blue collar thing is meant to be positive — I hear it all the time too. 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. We refer to it as “New Philadelphia.” Blue collar’s 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.
So these are kind of the themes and the mantras that we think about. So if I’m selling out with a black uniform, we better have a reference to the night life, and nothing shines brighter than Boathouse Row. That’s how we came up with it. I get that it’s polarizing — totally fair. I won’t go to the grave with this uniform. But I don’t dislike it — I just love our other ones maybe more. That’s my soapbox.
Hmmm, okay, this is interesting.
My thought on Boathouse Row is that it’s a uniquely Philly landmark that doesn’t get as much play as the Liberty Bell, or Art Museum, or whatever. I think it’s an outside-the-box image for a jersey, and it doesn’t matter if outsiders recognize it or not, because who cares what they think anyway? This is something for us, a shoutout to a lesser-known local spot.
On the surface, it would seem goofy to say you don’t use the word “Philly” (for lettering purposes specifically) when the word “Phila” does appear on jerseys. I don’t think “Philly” undersells the city, but I somewhat agree with Heck that the term “blue collar” does, and here’s why –
When you think of “blue collar,” what comes to mind? Union laborer with his lunch pail and hard hat? A working class person from South Philadelphia who describes themselves as a “four for four” sports fan? We use the term “blue collar” so much that it’s become a tired cliche, and sometimes carries a negative connotation that suggests we’re all overly-excitable and non-pragmatic simpletons, which I don’t think is the case in 2020. Not everybody makes a big deal about hustling to first base or trying to win games when you stink, because tanking is immoral and/or wrong.
Some of those beliefs I just listed do not interface with the Sixers’ recent approach. For example, “blue collar” Philadelphia sports fans largely disagreed with The Process, which was just a fancy way of saying you lost on purpose. Similarly, we’d agree that Angelo Cataldi’s listeners aren’t the type to subscribe to analytics, which the Sixers do. We’ve evolved our thinking to break from the tunnel vision that typically directs us in an emotional and linear type of way. There are now multiple paths to traverse.
When Heck says “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,” it does sound high brow and perhaps patronizing. I get that. But I think he’s really just speaking to a younger generation of more progressive sports fans who look at things a little bit differently. There’s certainly nothing wrong with “blue collar,” which, let’s be honest, is code that means a little older and a little whiter, but the truth is that Philadelphia is more than that. Sixers fans trend younger. They’re black and brown. They are college educated and work in non-blue collar sectors. We’re not telling the full story when we cling to a term that only represents one specific segment of the Philadelphia sports fan demographic.
I can see how Heck’s comments come off as a condescending, though I think he’s just trying to say that local sports fandom has evolved over the years, to the point where the “blue collar” identifier is more of a generational explainer in 2020. Philadelphia sports fandom is more complex these days.
We have played Devil’s Advocate in the pursuit of fair and balanced discourse. We will now entertain rebuttals and retorts.