MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — As a diehard Philadelphia 76ers fan who has owned season tickets for more than 35 seasons, Wildwood Crest’s Paul Franco believes the team is one free agent away from becoming an NBA championship contender.

Signs point to Cleveland Cavaliers superstar Lebron James, who can opt out of his contract this summer, as the favorite.

Actually, it’s one sign.

A billboard on Route 47, on the way toward Wildwood, reads “PHILLY WANTS LEBRON” in giant letters. Just below it, in smaller script, the advertisement says “AND SO DO THE BAL HARBOUR HOTELS,” along with the hotel’s phone number.

Franco, whose family has owned and operated the Bal Harbour on Stanton Avenue in Wildwood Crest since 1973, put the ad up last week.

“We really did it for marketing purposes, but I do think Lebron would be a huge addition,” Franco said. “And if he wants to stay at the Bal Harbour when he visits, he’s more than welcome. We’ll comp him a room if that’s what it takes for him to sign with the Sixers.”

If James does decide to visit, he need only look at the adjacent billboard for a place to eat breakfast.

Right next to the Bal Harbour sign, there’s one from Uncle Bill’s Pancake House that’s geared toward Philadelphia Eagles’ fans.

Tommy O’Hara, whose family owns eight Uncle Bill’s restaurants throughout Cape May County, and his wife, Nancy, were looking for a way to celebrate the Eagles winning the Super Bowl while also drawing attention to their specialty.

It depicts a cook flipping pancakes while wearing an Eagles helmet next to the slogan, “UNCLE BILLY BILLY LOVES PHILLY PHILLY AND PANCAKES.”

“Our family has had Eagles season tickets since the Franklin Field days,” said Tommy’s son, T.J. O’Hara. “When they won the Super Bowl, we knew we had to do something special. My parents came up with the idea a couple of weeks ago. Our billboard on the way into Ocean City says the same thing.”

The billboards are a reflection of the Francos’ and O’Haras’ dedication to their respective teams.

Joe Franco started taking his young sons Paul and Joe Jr. to 76ers games at the old Spectrum in the 1970s. He bought a 10-game plan in 1982, then upgraded to season tickets two years later. They still have two of the coveted floor seats, which are directly across from the Sixers’ bench.

The tickets have given them a great vantage point for some of the greatest moments in Sixers history and the opportunity to watch legends such as Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson in action.

“One of my favorite games was Game 7 against Toronto (in the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals),” Paul Franco said. “When Vince Carter missed that shot at the buzzer (to clinch the 76ers’ 88-87 victory), the entire place went crazy. I also remember being there to see Dr. J (Julius Erving) reach 30,000 points (on April 17, 1987). That was very special.”

Through the years, the Francos have seen NBA greats from other teams such as Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, George Gervin, Isiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, Karl Malone and, more recently, Kobe Bryant and James.

Paul Franco, a 1986 Wildwood High School graduate who played football at Villanova University, and his family are not front-row, front-running fans who harass opposing players and referees.

“You can always tell who the new guy is in the front row because he’s the one doing that stuff,” Paul said with a laugh. “I did it once years ago. I was giving the Mailman (Utah Jazz star Karl Malone) a hard time. The ball went out of bounds and landed in my lap. He came over and got right in my face and gave me a glare. We’ve always tried to treat everyone with respect.”

Ironically, the Francos were not Eagles fans at first.

They rooted for the Pittsburgh Steelers because of a local connection with former Steelers running back Franco Harris.

Harris, who played high school football for Rancocas Valley, owned the original Wendy’s restaurant in Wildwood with his brother, Mario. It was built on the site where Joe Franco Sr. owned a real estate agency.

“I got to meet Franco Harris when I was 10 or 11,” Paul said. “It was a big deal when he came to open the Wendy’s. I remember the mayor gave him a key to the city and everything. But we’re Eagles fans now. It was great to see them win the Super Bowl.”

The O’Hara family has had Eagles and Phillies season tickets since the 1960s.

According to T.J. O’Hara, 31, they were among very few Phillies fans who owned seats directly behind home plate at Veterans Stadium. They currently have six season tickets in the same location at Citizens Bank Park.

At Lincoln Financial Field, the O’Hara family occupies an entire row, 32 seats, in section 128. Tommy and T.J., plus various cousins, in-laws, aunts and uncles — even Uncle Bill — watched the Eagles reach the Super Bowl with a 38-7 victory over Minnesota in the NFC championship game.

They all cheered and screamed at the TV when the Eagles beat New England 41-33 in Super Bowl LII.

“We’ve been Eagles fans forever,” T.J. said. “I still can’t believe they won.”

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Contact: 609-272-7201 DWeinberg@pressofac.com Twitter @PressACWeinberg

Sportswriter/columnist

Member of The Press sports staff since 1986, starting my 25th season as The Press Eagles' beat writer. Also cover boxing, MMA, golf, high school sports and everything else.

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