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Bandages to Big-Time: Croce Is 76ers’ President

March 20, 1996

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Pat Croce spent years taping ankles and bulking up some of the city’s highest paid athletes.

On Tuesday, the 41-year-old physical therapist and self-made millionaire became president of the Philadelphia 76ers. He replaces Harold Katz, the team’s long-vilified owner and president.

``You might be laughing to yourself,″ Croce said. ``But if I told you 10 months ago or 10 years ago that one day I would be standing right here and have a part-ownership in the 76ers, you’d be laughing even harder.″

Croce, a Philadelphia-born fitness guru, entrepreneur and motivational speaker, was a key broker in the deal that gave ownership of the city’s NBA and NHL teams, along with its two arenas, to Comcast Corp.

Now he moves from the gym to the front office, hoping he can boost a franchise that has spiraled out of playoff range for a half decade.

``If you’re near Pat Croce, your enthusiasm level goes up two or three notches,″ said Chuck Fee, general manager of WMMR-FM, which began using Croce on-air 11 years ago as a fitness expert. ``He’s infectious. And any place he’s associated with has done better.″

Croce spent a dozen years as conditioning coach for the Flyers and several seasons with the 76ers. A few years ago he tried unsuccessfully to bulk up spindly Shawn Bradley before the center was traded to New Jersey.

Croce cashed in on the fitness craze of the 1980s by founding Sports Physical Therapists Inc. The chain grew to include 40 outpatient centers in 11 states and became recognized for its work with pro sports teams and college and Olympic athletes.

He sold the business in 1993 for $40 million to RehabClinics, which later merged with NovaCare Inc.

Croce is also a two-time national karate champion who organizes charity fund-raisers across the metropolitan area.

Fee said he expects Croce to continue his practice of finding the most able assistants, then getting out of their way.

``You’re going to end up seeing some really first-class people being associated with him,″ Fee said. ``And that’s how the job will get done.″

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