SBJ/November 10 - 16, 2003/Forty Under 40
Published November 10, 2003
As general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, Billy King has mastered the basketball operations side of running an NBA franchise. Now, King will have to do the same on the business end of the Sixers organization after adding team president to his title.
King, 37, was promoted this year to Sixers president and general manager as part of a front-office shakeup by Ed Snider, chief executive of Comcast, which owns the franchise. Since taking over his new job, King hasn't wasted a minute putting his own blueprint on the franchise.
His first move was to hire the unproven Randy Ayers to replace Larry Brown, who resigned as head coach. King then signed Allen Iverson to a $76 million extension and traded for forward Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson. While King spent the summer bolstering the Sixers' roster, he also was taking a crash course on the sales and marketing responsibilities of his new job.
"I'm focusing more on the business side," King said. "But being the general manager has prepared me to be in the spotlight, only now there are more decisions that I have to make."
King's ascension to the top spot in the Sixers organization began when he joined the team as vice president of basketball operations in 1997 after working as an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers under then-coach Larry Brown. When Brown joined the Sixers in 1997, he brought King with him, and in 1998 King was promoted to general manager. It didn't take long for King to learn not only talent evaluation but also the finer points of the salary cap and other intricacies of the collective-bargaining agreement.
"Billy is a quick study," said Donnie Walsh, president of the Indiana Pacers and an early mentor for King. "One of the things we would talk about is whether Billy would go into coaching or administration, and I told him he could do both. He's a very even-keel guy and has always been mature for his age. You can be an up-and-down guy if you are a coach, but not when you are running a business."
On the business side, the Sixers are in good shape. Last year, the Sixers had the second-highest average paid attendance at 19,419, trailing only the Detroit Pistons, who had an average attendance of 20,470. It's up to King to maintain the team's strong fan base while building a contender on the court.
"We have to get our players out into the community more than they were last year," he said. "The focus is on customer service and finding new ways to reach our fans."
To accomplish both jobs, King is learning to lean heavily on his front office, allowing his employees to take on more responsibility. The former Duke basketball standout is also trying to make the Sixers' front office a more enjoyable place to work.
"My approach is more laid back," King said. "I am trying to create more of a family atmosphere. I'm trying to break down the walls between the basketball and business operations to make sure those on the business side feel as important as those on the basketball side. At the end of the day, we all have 76ers on our chest, so you have to delegate. No one can do it all."
Running the Sixers comes with a high profile, but don't look for King to shun the spotlight. He doesn't mind the public nature of his job. In fact, it may prove to be good training for a political career that may be in King's future.
King, who grew up in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and holds a political science degree from Duke, has been approached by members of the Democratic Party to run for the U.S. Senate against Arlen Specter.
"I was approached by some of the leaders of the Democratic community and I looked at it," he said. " I felt the timing wasn't right, but I'm not ruling it out. I'm intrigued by politics."