PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia 76ers have been sold to New York-based leveraged buyout specialist Joshua Harris, ending Comcast-Spectacor’s 15-year run of ownership that included a trip to the NBA finals.
The tentative deal, which does not include ownership of their building, the Wells Fargo Center, must be approved by the NBA. Terms were not disclosed, but the deal Wednesday comes with the league in the midst of a lockout. The start of the 2011-12 season in October is in jeopardy.
“We are honored to have the opportunity to be affiliated with this storied franchise,” Harris said in a statement. “As a basketball fan who attended college in Philadelphia, and with family roots here, I have always felt a strong connection to [Philadelphia] and the 76ers.”
The new ownership also includes David Blitzer, a senior managing director of The Blackstone Group, along with other members of the investor group Art Wrubel and Jason Levien.
“We are excited to become associated with this iconic team and to have the chance to serve the great city of Philadelphia and its loyal basketball fans,” Blitzer said.
The deal is expected to close later this year.
Comcast-Spectacor, led by chairman Ed Snider, purchased the Sixers from Harold Katz on April 24, 1996. Comcast-Spectacor also owns the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.
Harris is one of three founders of Apollo Global Management, a publicly listed alternative investment manager. He leads a group that includes former NBA player agent and Sacramento Kings executive Jason Levien.
The 76ers were valued this year by Forbes at $330 million, 17th in the NBA, and have a TV deal with cable station Comcast SportsNet through 2029.
Harris co-founded Apollo Global Management in 1990. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and a master’s degree from the Harvard Business School.
His group is purchasing a team that hasn’t won a championship since 1983. Under Snider’s ownership, the 76ers lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 NBA finals.
The Sixers have won only one playoff series since 2001 and have been stuck in mediocrity for most of the last decade. They haven’t had a winning record since 2004-05, but have made the playoffs three times since.
This past season, the Sixers won 41 games and stretched the Miami Heat to a five-game playoff series in Doug Collins‘ first season as coach.
“We look forward to helping the 76ers organization build on this past season’s accomplishments in the years ahead,” Harris said. “The ownership group also looks forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Comcast-Spectacor.”
The Sixers routinely lag behind the Phillies, Eagles and Flyers in attendance and attention in a crowded Philadelphia market. From the first year the company owned both teams, Snider has fought the popular notion that he favored the Flyers over the Sixers. Snider founded the Flyers in the 1960s and led them to Stanley Cup championships in 1974 and 1975.
Under Snider, the Sixers drafted Allen Iverson No. 1 overall in 1996 and they hired coach Larry Brown in 1997. The pair, who had a tumultuous relationship, turned the franchise around and led them to their first playoff appearance in eight seasons in 1998-99. The trip to the finals came two years later. Brown quit in 2003 and Iverson was traded in 2006.
The Sixers are led now by team president Rod Thorn and general manager Ed Stefanski.
“I loved Ed Snider and I loved Ed Stefanski for everything they did for me,” Iverson told The Associated Press last month. “I loved the organization because they made me a household name. Without them, there wouldn’t be no Allen Iverson. As far as them moving forward, I wish them all of the best with all of my heart.”
The Sixers have about $55 million in payroll committed to next season, led by Elton Brand‘s $17 million and Andre Iguodala‘s $13.5 million. The Sixers spent the summer in trade talks involving Iguodala — plans that have been put on hold because of the lockout.
Thorn said before the draft that the potential sale of the franchise did not affect the way management approached trades and called running of the team “business as usual.”
Thorn said he met with members of the new ownership group.
“They have questions about how we do things, why we do things, what we think of our personnel, what we think we need. Those type of information-type questions,” Thorn said in June. “At this point, that’s not being divulged as to exactly how they stand or how they will operate, because until they actually take over there isn’t a lot to do about that or say about that.”
The Sixers are about to find out.