I’d like to start by sharing a brief story. This story details an interchange that occurred sometime within the past five years in the offices of Apollo Global Management in New York City. The story comes to Liberty Ballers from a source who has requested anonymity but has firsthand knowledge of the event in question.
A lower-level team has been preparing for months to unveil a new presentation to Apollo co-founder and Sixers principal owner Joshua Harris. Having gone over and over the project in painstaking detail again and again, the young associates want very badly for the presentation to be a success in the room. With the presentation now underway, the associates are met with a wholly disinterested Joshua Harris, who, rather than pay them any attention or grant them any sustained eye contact, instead stares out the grand window of the New York skyscraper, focusing on something that’s not yet clear to the employees. All that can be seen with any great detail out the window is a man employed to wash said windows. He is gradually repelling down the side of the building, meticulously scrubbing away. The associates go on with their presentation in hopes that eventually Harris may perk up, until Harris interrupts their speaking abruptly by saying: “Hey, you see that guy? (He gestures to the window washer.) That’s why we went to college.”
[Note: The above story can also be heard on the September 7 episode of ‘The Gastroenteritis Blues’ on the Liberty Ballers podcast network.]
While the above story is, of course, inherently anecdotal, I do find it to be an apt metaphor for Joshua Harris’s blatant contempt for those he feels rank below him, something he has shown time and time again. Specifically, I’m referencing his low opinion of the collective intelligence of we Sixers fans.
Let’s forget, for a moment, the palace intrigue and shady collusion that led to the forced-resignation of Sam Hinkie in 2016. Let’s forget that Harris hired Hinkie to execute a specific plan and yelled uncle the moment he felt too queasy about the losses and asked Adam Silver for a Colangelo-sized lifeline. Let’s also forget that Harris stood idly by while the elder Colangelo hired his son to succeed Hinkie and completely refused to interview other candidates for a job that would’ve topped the league’s most attractive openings at that point in time. While we’re at it, let’s also forget that, when the prodigal son Colangelo left the organization in utter disgrace, Harris mandated that any potential replacement must not supplant any of the existing members of the team’s front office. Forget that, ever since Hinkie left, Harris has ensured that the Sixers’ revolving door of decision-makers literally sell second-round picks for cash during the draft.
Let’s just look at the year 2020.
On March 12, the NBA shut down, along with the rest of the world, as COVID-19 spread at a devastating rate. On March 23, with no return-to-normalcy as it pertains to fans attending games in sight, Harris and the rest of the ownership group responded as only they could:
Sixers and Devils at-will employees were informed today that temporary salary reductions of up to 20 percent will be instituted for employees making more than $50,000 starting April 15 through the end of June, @NYTSports has learned— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) March 23, 2020
Sixers center Joel Embiid, apparently incensed by the above news, stepped up in a big way to take care of the impacted employees:
76ers star Joel Embiid says he is donating $500,000 to coronavirus relief and helping team workers who are temporarily reducing their salary during pandemic.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 24, 2020
Harris and the Sixers quickly redacted the plan to cut employees’ salaries after some well-deserved public shaming online.
If you’re new here, you may respond in defense of Harris and his ownership group. Of course, these are tough times for everyone, and without gate revenue at the stadiums, it sure sounds hard to keep up with the attendant costs of owning multiple sports franchises.
And then came this report in June:
That’s right. No need to adjust your WiFi connection; you’re reading that right.
A month after trying to cut 20 percent of his employees’ salaries in the middle of a pandemic, Harris led the charge to attempt to shell out more than a billion dollars on another (flailing) franchise. His reported net worth is $4.9 billion.
And then, just a couple of weeks ago, Harris and company proposed a plan to build a new Sixers arena at Penn’s Landing, with a significant portion of funding coming via TAXPAYER DOLLARS.
What bald, shameless greed.
Thankfully, the city told Harris to go home and get his shinebox.
# BREAKING - Stop the process: @DelRiverWfront board unanimously approves Penn’s Landing development proposal from the NY-based Durst Organization, NOT the 76ers arena proposal. pic.twitter.com/SaXYJGMEXB— Mike DeNardo (@_MikeDeNardo) September 9, 2020
In my mind, there is really only one explanation as to how, possibly someone could reconcile an effort to cut the salaries of working folks while exploring a billion-dollar expenditure for another franchise and also begging the city for nearly $900 million in taxpayer money to build a new stadium that will just about double the value of the Sixers in Harris’s inevitable sale of the team in the future: he thinks that we are idiots. He thinks that we cannot possibly put two and two together and come up with four. He sits perched up in his New York skyscraper, aloft above the working people he so deeply reviles.
One would think that a man of his stature would employ some kind of public relations person who could dissuade him from these efforts during a pandemic, but that would assume that the aforementioned man cared at all about how the optics might appear to his constituents.
The Sixers — oh yeah, the Sixers — are a franchise currently at a crossroads. They’re a talented team full of ill-fitting, overpriced parts, underperforming young stars and unitasker role players. After the season, Harris wasted no time and fired head coach Brett Brown. Elton Brand, the team’s GM, promised a thorough evaluation of the members of the front office who contributed to the demise of a team with once great promise. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that front office executive Alex Rucker is not expected to be back next season. This change needs to be the beginning and not the end of the bigwig makeover.
Keep in mind that while Elton Brand may be the man speaking at the press conferences, nothing happens unless Joshua Harris says so.
As fans, it’s hard to look at Harris’s behavior and his disregard for not only how well-run basketball teams operate, but for how virtuous people with lots of money ought to act, and feel anything but defeated.
What can we do?
Well, we can voice our dissent. We can take to social media and make Josh’s name trend for all the wrong reasons (reasons that he has earned, mind you). Despite his actions, he does care somewhat about his appearance throughout the league:
Other NBA owners are watching Sixers and weighing the PR fallout vs. desire to do the same with salary reductions -- including some considering furloughs, staff cutbacks, etc. No owner wants to log into Twitter and see his net worth trending after announcing this kind of news.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 24, 2020
I know that Joshua Harris is the ‘principal owner’ of the Sixers, but that is temporary. He will sell the team once it becomes valuable enough to move on from it. He will line his pockets with more and more hundreds, his bank account with more and more millions and billions and be on his merry way — boarding his helicopter back to New York like a villain in a Marvel movie. We have been here long before him, we will be here long after him. For all their faults, the Sixers belong to us. And it is incumbent upon us to ensure that Harris — as our most highly paid employee — works, finally, in the team’s best interest.
Joshua Harris did not buy the Sixers in 2011 to become the laughingstock of the NBA in short order. People with bank accounts like him do not enjoy feeling less than, ever — but especially not at the Eyes Wide Shut parties he probably frequents in the Hamptons with his buddy Jared Kushner. He didn’t purchase the team to work especially hard, or to travel anything but the path of least resistance. As fans, we have to hold his feet to the fire. He doesn’t like it.
That’s why he went to college.
Rest in Peace, Toots Hibbert.
Years ago, I went with my dad to see Toots and the Maytals at The Mann Center. He sounded just as good as he did on the CDs my father would play on Sunday mornings. He was an incredible performer and personality.