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August 30, 2014, 4:09 am

122 teams, one Black major owner

It was good to hear the Sixers’ new ownership deal announced last week.

Major sports franchises (the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball) announce such ownership changes fairly frequently. What is not so frequent, however, is seeing Blacks — even as limited partners — in these 122 sports ownership groups (32 NFL teams, and 30 each in the other three sports). Sorry to report, there’s just one Black majority owner among all of those franchises, in all of those sports.

I point that out because the new Sixers major owner, a guy named Joshua Harris, was smart enough to add Will and Jada Smith as limited partners in the 15-person ownership group that he headed, as he bought the team from Comcast-Spectacor.

I don’t have a clue how much Will and Jada actually invested in the team’s $280 million purchase price, but it certainly wasn’t “chump change,” by any stretch of the imagination.

Harris, the lead owner, is not only a Wharton School graduate and a shrewd business owner, he’s also ranked at #309 on Forbes Magazine’s list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, one of 12 NBA owners to have made the list. He probably doesn’t do “chump change.”

In my opinion, the announcement was good for the Sixers, great for Philly, and constituted an outstanding message to young African Americans, such as my modestly talented nephews, for example, who can now stop dreaming about playing for an NBA team and start thinking more seriously about actually owning one.

On the other hand, as pleased as I was to see the Sixers’ announcement, this peek into the “business of sports” was just one more reminder that Black folks still have a very long road to travel, if they hope to gain economy parity, in the lucrative world of professional sports.

For example, when the Smiths officially made their investment, they actually joined three other African-American entertainers with limited partnership stakes in NBA franchises. There’s Usher, with a small stake (by NBA ownership standards) in the Cleveland Cavaliers; there’s Nelly, with a similar investment in the Carolina Bobcats; and then there’s the ubiquitous Jay-Z, with a minority participation with the New Jersey Nets.

In football, there are a few Black limited partners, including the Williams sisters — Venus and Serena — who hold a minority stake in the Miami Dolphins. In baseball, there are six Black limited partners in the Washington Nationals baseball franchise, including TV broadcaster James Brown. And then there’s Sheila Johnson, former wife of BET’s Bob Johnson, who reportedly has ownership interests in the WNBA Washington Mystics, the Washington Capitals hockey team and the NBA’s Washington Wizards.

But as I implied earlier, among all of those major sport franchises, there is only one Black majority owner, and that happens to be the legendary Michael Jordan, who in 2010 bought an 80 percent interest in the Carolina Bobcats from Sheila Johnson’s former husband, Bob. Mr. Johnson, you may recall, had, himself, become the very first Black majority owner of a major sports team in the U.S., in 2002, when he bought the Bobcats.

If, in the back of your mind, you had been thinking that well-paid Black athletes should have been better prepared to invest in pro sports franchises after their retirements, we should be aware that, according to Sports Illustrated, 78 percent of NFL players are bankrupt within two years of their retirements. The same holds true for 60 percent of NBA players. For them, however, it takes five years to go “broke.”

Please, is there an African-American investment manager in the house?

Even though the Atlanta Post has recently reported that 65 percent of all National Football League players are Black and that 80 percent of National Basketball Association players are Black, it will be, even under the very best circumstances, a very long time before Black ownership levels in pro sports franchises look anything like the racial composition of their teams.

Diversity among sport franchise owners cannot simply be reduced to inclusion ratios or affirmative action policies. Make no mistake. There is still a lingering issue of potential Black owners having to be “approved” for participation by those already at the table in these very private “clubs.” Race notwithstanding, however, being able to participate as a majority owner or limited partner in a pro sport franchise is not for the faint of heart, or for the thin of wallet.

Indeed, there are more than a dozen NBA owners and minority owners who were included, in 2011, by Forbes Magazine, in its ranking of the country’s 400 wealthiest persons.

Topping the list of the wealthiest NBA owners was the Portland Trailblazer’s Paul Allen, who just happens to be the guy who co-founded Microsoft, along with Bill Gates. Allen, according to Forbes, has a net worth of $13.2 billion (that’s “billion” with a “b”), ranking him 23rd on the magazine’s list, but far and away number one among NBA owners, with regard to wealth.

Second wealthiest NBA owner is Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, who owns the Orlando Magic. With $5 billion in net worth, DeVos ranks as America’s 60th most wealthy person.

DeVos is followed by Micky Arison of Carnival Cruises, owner of the Miami Heat, and a $4.2 billion fortune. He is followed by Stan Kroenke, of Walmart, who owns the Denver Nuggets, and his own $3.2 billion, and Tom Gores, owner of the Detroit Pistons, who claims $2.5 billion in net worth.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Put into that context the previously mentioned Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who report net worth figures of $200 million and $20 million, respectively (that’s “million” with an “m”). The Smiths are viewed by most Americans, and, arguably, by most Black Americans as being fabulously wealthy. It’s clear, however, that sports franchise net worth levels are in an entirely different league.

Many of the pro sports franchise owners are drawn from the CEO ranks in America’s largest publicly traded corporations. In the main, according to Forbes, this population, that makes the top “1 percent” look broke. Indeed, the magazine describes the top 25-income CEO’s as the “.0001% at the top.”

In fact, when you count their wealth, the top ten on that list, which includes Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, three members of the Walton family (Walmart), the infamous Koch brothers and George Soros, you find an average net worth of $29.1 billion, with Gates floating at the top, at $59.1 billion.

By comparison, Forbes probably enjoyed rubbing “pseudo-rich” Black athletes’ noses in it, when it reported recently that the 50 highest-paid athletes in the world, which includes the LeBrons, the Carmelos, the Kobes, the Tigers, the Derek Jeters, and, even, the Yao Mings and Tom Bradys, earned a combined $1.4 billion last year, or $28 million (that’s “million” with an “m”), on average.

So you see, when you come to the table to talk about sports franchise ownership, you simply have to be possessed of serious money. That is probably why “relatively wealthy” Blacks, such as Reggie Jackson, Bill Cosby and the late Bruce Llewellyn, were denied access to the “club,” when they tried to buy into the pro football and pro baseball ownership elite.

I “say all of that to say” that perhaps we should sit up and pay attention when Joshua Harris and his $1.54 billion of net worth rolls into town, together with the Smiths, to begin his reign over Philadelphia professional basketball.

We, in the Black community, obviously have a great deal left to learn — in entertainment, sports and elsewhere — about making and holding onto our money, if we’re serious about becoming major owners, one day, in pro sports franchises.


A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.