Ex-Sixers owner who brought Dr. J to Philly dies

PHILADELPHIA -- Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr., a former owner of the Philadelphia 76ers who also served in a variety of civic leadership positions, died Wednesday of a form of skin cancer. He was 82.

Dixon died at Abington Memorial Hospital, according to Helweg Funeral Service of Jenkintown, which is handling arrangements.

Dixon is perhaps best know for bringing Julius Erving to town in 1976 by paying the basketball star about $6.6 million -- only a few months after buying the team for $8 million. Under his ownership, the Sixers got to the NBA Finals twice but won no championship. He sold the team in 1980 after a decline in attendance and financial losses.

One of Dixon's most visible contributions to Philadelphia is the Robert Indiana sculpture "LOVE," which stands in John F. Kennedy Plaza, popularly known as Love Park.

Indiana had loaned the sculpture to the city for its bicentennial celebration, but the artist later took back the work because the city said it could not afford the $45,000 asking price. The iconic sculpture had become a beloved part of the cityscape, so Dixon offered Indiana $35,000 to return it, and the artist accepted.

Dixon served on the boards of many universities, including being the founding chairman of the State System of Higher Education's board of governors. The system was founded in 1982, bringing together a variety of former teachers' colleges and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

"Mr. Dixon helped give life to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education," State System Chancellor Judy G. Hample said. "As the founding chairman of the Board of Governors, Mr. Dixon directed the creation and development of the State System from its very beginning."

Although he did not have to earn a living, he taught English and French at his alma mater, Episcopal Academy, where he also coached several sports teams and served as athletic director.

"I'm fortunate enough that I don't have to go out there and earn a paycheck," Dixon said in 1976. "But I couldn't sit home and do nothing. ... I'd be a martini drunkard at the end of six months."

Burial will be private, the funeral home said. A memorial service is planned for Sept. 29 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia.