With the Philadelphia 76ers’ 1982-83 NBA World Championship banner hanging behind him, Josh Harris officially announced to the city his purchase of the franchise.
It was during that banner season in the early ’80s that Harris moved to Philadelphia to begin his freshman year at Penn. He returned to campus Tuesday to greet local media at one of his old college haunts, the Palestra.
“In the city of Philadelphia, we see the Palestra as a symbol of grassroots basketball,” Harris said.
It is that of-the-people quality that the new ownership wants to bring back to the 76ers. New team Chief Executive Officer Adam Aron — father of College junior David Aron — emphasized improving the experience of the fan, including slashing many ticket prices to make games more affordable.
Harris leads a group of 16 investors who bought the team from Comcast-Spectacor for a reported $280 million. Comcast-Spectacor retains ownership of the NHL’s Flyers as well as the Wells Fargo Arena.
The new Sixers ownership includes West Philadelphia native Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. Also among the investors are 1987 Wharton graduate Art Wrubel, a New York real estate investor, and 1983 Wharton graduate Marc Leder, who runs Florida buyout firm Sun Capital Partners.
A native of Washington, D.C., Harris graduated from Wharton in 1986. He co-founded the private equity firm Apollo Global Management, and currently sits at No. 309 on Forbes’ list of the 400 richest people in America. His net worth as of Sept. 2011 was $1.45 billion, according to Forbes.com.
“Anyone who cares about Philadelphia basketball is really fortunate to have such a decent and good person as Josh at the Sixers’ helm,” said Aron, a lifelong Sixers fan. “We all are absolutely committed to restoring your Sixers to glory.”
While Harris will remain in New York — “My night job,” he called the Sixers — Aron will oversee the operation from his hometown of Philadelphia. A graduate of Abington High School, Aron holds a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from Harvard.
The new ownership also announced a significant front office move, relieving Sixers General Manager Ed Stefanski of his duties. Team President Rod Thorn, whom Harris called “captain of the ship,” will hold onto his duties.
Stefanski, who served as the 76ers GM since 2007, is also a Wharton graduate. He played basketball for the Quakers from 1973-76 and was picked by Philadelphia in the 10th round of the 1976 NBA draft.
Penn basketball coach Jerome Allen spoke with Harris briefly before the press conference, and Athletic Director of Steve Bilsky attended as well.
Standing under the Penn basketball banners — one hung during his time at Penn — Harris pledged to bring the 76ers back to prominence.
“Our goal, make no mistake, is to create a world-class franchise and win NBA championships,” he said.
That’s something that hasn’t happened since his freshman year of college.