By BRIAN CUNNIFF
A few weeks ago, a businessman with ties to Philadelphia made national headlines by taking out advertising on three high-profile billboards in the City of Cleveland, urging Cavaliers’ star LeBron James to sign with the Philadelphia 76ers.
A family of hoteliers right here in Cape May County has now done the same.
A billboard located on the eastbound side of Route 47 entering Wildwood was posted this week to read: “Philly Wants LeBron” across the top in large letters. On the second deck, it reads, in smaller letters: “And so do the Balharbour Hotels.”
The Balharbour, a beachfront hotel in Wildwood Crest, is owned by the Franco family, which has had courtside season tickets to 76ers games for more than 35 years.
“We’ve had that (billboard) space for about 15 years for the hotel and we usually renew this time of year,” explained Paul Franco, 49, a 1985 graduate of Wildwood High School who went on to play four years of college football at Villanova University. “As part of the renewal process you get to change the billboard once per year at no extra cost, other than your monthly cost.
“I saw what the guy did in Cleveland near Quicken Loans Arena (where the Cavaliers play their home games) and it gave us the idea. I’m not sure what his motivation was, but ours came because we were getting a change to our billboard and we wanted to put something interesting on it.”
James, considered one of the best players in NBA history, can opt out of his contract with the Cavs after this season. Some NBA observers have speculated that the 76ers, with a rising young roster, could be a good fit if James decides to do so.
“If you listen to the media outlets, a lot of them say that the Sixers will need some kind of a good free agent to get them over the hump to get a deep run in the playoffs or go to the NBA Finals,” Franco said. “It would bring a sense of euphoria here if LeBron came to Philly. I think ownership is probably thinking about it, although I’m not sure they’ll be able to do it. But if the Sixers got him, I think they’d have a really good chance to go to the finals with him.”
Franco said his family figured they could have some fun with the billboard.
“It’s in a great spot, because it’s the first one off the parkway as you come into Wildwood,” he said. “But you drive by it 50 times, 100 times, sometimes you get to the point where you don’t see it. We thought with this change it might draw some fresh eyes and get a good reaction. And as Sixers fans, we thought it would be good to do something tying that to our business.”
Franco and his family have invested a lot of time, emotion and, of course, money to support their favorite sports team. They’re eager to see the 76ers compete in the playoffs. The team hasn’t done so since 2012.
“Playoff basketball, especially live in the NBA, is a lot different than the regular season,” Franco said. “I noticed that went I first went as a 10- or 11-year-old. That made us want to come back for me. I have a lot of great memories over the years of going to 76ers game. I was able to take a lot of friends to game and it was a lot of fun to do that.
“It’s been a family thing. A lot of people have their traditions with their families. For us, it was always Philly basketball, especially professional basketball and the 76ers.”