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Lying on the pavement after a motorcycle accident, his foot nearly severed, Philadelphia 76ers president Pat Croce was asked by a police officer how he was managing. Amazingly, the ultra-positive Croce responded through the pain and shock, "I feel great!" And in the long months ahead, he clung to that mantra, literally willing his own recovery. In I Feel Great and You Will Too!, Croce recounts a moxie-filled journey through life, from belligerent rugrat to owner of Philly's beloved hoops team.
Croce is no Red Auerbach. Imagine the stogie-puffing legend of the Boston Celtics subjecting himself to one of Croce's manic workouts. Doubtful. Phillies great Mike Schmidt did, however, along with numerous other athletic superstars. Before buying the 76ers, Croce built a flourishing sports medicine chain where athletes and office dwellers alike worked out and received top medical attention from qualified trainers.
Growing up in a Philadelphia suburb, Croce was the son of a fanciful Irish mother and a demanding Italian father, from whom he inherited the yang that got him into college dorm room brawls and Philadelphia Flyers locker room dust-ups. Thankfully, Croce's mother and wife both infused a bit of yin into his life, channeling the overflowing energy into more rewarding efforts.
Croce's "triangle" approach to business has been as effective as it is concise. His mission statement is summarized in three words: Fun, Quality, Profit. Communication with the customer is paramount. Croce sets the bar high, accepts no excuses, and demands cleanliness and a positive attitude from all employees. He generously gives back to the community, as evidenced by his winning the Philadelphia Sports Congress Community Service Award.
Croce is one of few sports executives with a personality to match his pocketbook. At the 1996 NBA draft lottery, representatives from each team had been told to act subdued. When the 76ers won the lottery, Croce could not possibly contain his enthusiasm, high-fiving fellow team representatives and planting a big, wet kiss on the cheek of Commissioner David Stern.
More than simply an irrepressible hardhead, Croce has possessed the acumen to turn the 76ers around and to charm the most cantankerous fans in the country. Croce patiently defused the rage of season ticket owners by meeting with them twice during his rookie campaign. The rough 1996-97 season had a silver lining: the emergence of No. 1 Allen Iverson. Realizing that he needed an experienced coach to balance the inexperienced team and management, Croce wooed Larry Brown like a desperate Romeo. Within two years of landing Brown, Croce was rappelling from the rafters in celebration of the Sixers' success. I Feel Great and You Will Too! is filled with Pat Croce Pointers. These are little excerpts of Croce's personal philosophy and advice. "Persistence is biting off more than you can chew, and then chewing it." "The best way to persuade people is to just listen to them." Just as Auerbach personified the excellence of a bygone era, so Croce -- with his candor, enthusiasm, and personality -- may be setting a model for the contemporary sports executive. He's even got his own web site.
Brenn Jones is a freelance writer in New York City and a frequent contributor to Barnes & Noble.com.