The 2017-18 Sixers are as international as it gets in the NBA. The team has players from the United States, Cameroon, Australia, France, Croatia and Turkey on the roster, and holds draft rights to prospects from Latvia, Serbia and Martinique.
So it stands to reason that when the league announced it would continue the NBA Global Games initiative this season with just two teams, the Sixers would be one of them. They play the Boston Celtics in London on Thursday.
In advance of the game against the Celtics this week in London, training is taking place at the home of Crystal Palace Football Club, one of London’s five Premier League clubs — and one of 11 clubs from the top three flights of English Football that call London home.
Of course both the Sixers and Palace social feeds have been buzzing with news and notes from the visit.
But why Crystal Palace?
Joel Embiid has been on record that Arsenal is his favorite club in the Premier League (with Real Madrid his favorite club in the world) Palace is not exactly on the same level. Especially given the other top options in London, like Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. Some Sixers players even had a jersey swap with Arsenal legend Thierry Henry when they got to town. Then there’s West Ham, whose camp is closest to the O2 Arena, where the Sixers and Celtics play Thursday (3 p.m. ET).
So why Palace?
Well, turns out they’re siblings. The teams share an ownership group.
It’s well-known that Josh Harris and David Blitzer, the principal owners of the 76ers franchise, also own the New Jersey Devils. But ever since their private equity firm purchased the Sixers in 2011 on the cheap, it’s been gobbling up other sports properties as well. Including a major stake in Crystal Palace F.C.
Harris and Blitzer bought the New Jersey Devils in August of 2013. Just over a year later, a report came out that Harris was interested in buying Crystal Palace — trying to become the sixth American owner of a Premier League club. (There are currently six Premier League clubs with American ownership and another four in the second division, including Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, who owns Fulham F.C.)
In October, 2014, the deal was “90 percent done,” for reportedly around £70m. That’s about $94.5 million U.S. dollars, currently.
The last 10 percent of that deal took forever. It wasn’t until March of 2015 that the sale, long thought dead, was back on. “Some of the biggest names on Wall Street” news reports read, were “closing in on a takeover of mid-ranked English Premier League club Crystal Palace.”
The news came just after the EPL secured a monster worldwide television deal. But it again stalled for months because Palace was mired in the relegation zone (aka in danger of being placed in a lower level of competition). Had Palace fallen out of the Premier League — the worst three teams in the EPL each season get relegated — much of the windfall of cash from the TV deal would have gone away, and the investment by the Sixers owners would have been far less lucrative.
In November, 2015, the deal that was more than a year in the making was officially getting done. Harris and Blitzer agreed to each take an equal 18 percent of the club, alongside Steve Parish, who had a 25-percent stake and agreed to lower his share to 18 percent as well. Other investors, including some Americans, made up the remaining 46 percent. Though Parish retained control of the day-to-day operations of the club, Harris and Blitzer are listed with Parish as the club’s owners and directors.
In mid-December, 2015, Palace finally announced that Harris and Blitzer were joining the ownership group, releasing a statement that read: “All shareholders have agreed an initial £50m injection of capital for the development of the stadium, with more to follow. This will give fans the first-class facilities they deserve.” In the weeks leading up to the announcement, it was rumored that Harris and Blitzer were putting up close to £100m, so the wording that “all shareholders” were putting up the £50m seemed to indicate the investment by the Sixers owners was much less than originally expected.
To put the £50m into perspective, Harris bought a New York home in September for $45 million. In other words, it’s not that much to own a team in the Prem.
At the time of the deal, Palace sat sixth in the EPL standings, a season removed from staving off relegation. Palace won their match the day after Harris and Blitzer were named new owners, then won just two matches the rest of the season, to finish in 15th place.
Last season, Palace finished 14th in the EPL, firing their manager midseason. This year, the owners brought in a big name manager in Frank de Boer and gave him five matches before firing him. They currently sit in 14th place.
Why is this relevant? Well, since Harris and Blitzer took over the New Jersey Devils, the franchise has made the playoffs zero times, finishing no better than sixth in their division. They are currently in third in the Metro division, in line to make the playoffs for the first time in their tenure.
The Sixers have perhaps the brightest future in the NBA, but the last time they made the playoff was the first year Harris and Blitzer owned the team. The franchise hasn’t won more than 34 games (out of 82) since.
In a 2015 profile by The Mirror, it was noted that Harris bought low on the Sixers — the deal came right at the time of a lockout — and that the acquisition of the Devils came after the previous owner was more than $200 million in debt. While Palace was not in that kind of debt, the club was in desperate need of cash to fix up their aging grounds, and the lucrative television deal and ability to avoid relegation the last two seasons has likely made Harris and Blitzer much of their initial investment back.
Last April, Chinese consortium Desports approached Harris and Blitzer about purchasing their 36 percent stake in Palace. In 2016, Desports bought a five percent stake in the Minnesota Timberwolves and, like Harris and Blitzer, has been looking to expand their sports footprint around the globe.
At present, Harris and Blitzer still own their collective stake in Palace, but when they announced the creation of the Harris and Blitzer Sports & Entertainment firm in September, there was no mention of their stake in the London side.
NEW YORK, N.Y. – Sept. 25, 2017 – Josh Harris and David Blitzer announced today the formation of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (HBSE), which will include in its portfolio the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Jersey Devils, leading venue Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., the GRAMMY Museum Experience Prudential Center, the Delaware 87ers, the Binghamton Devils, the Sixers Innovation Lab Crafted by Kimball, and renowned esports franchise Team Dignitas.
Palace is listed as one of the properties on their site, along with the Sixers, Devils, Prudential Center, Delaware 87ers and the Sixers Innovation Lab, among others. But it seemed a peculiar omission from the initial release, given the global reach of the Premier League.
Alas, for now, Harris and Blitzer remain owners of Palace, which is why you’ve see a ton of photos, videos and tweets of the Sixers players hanging out with a mid-to-bottom table side instead of some of the best football clubs in the world. Thank the owners for that.