The billionaire owners of the Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks are as sharp-elbowed as the NBA teams’ players — and that’s not all they’ve got in common.
Buyout king Josh Harris, who bought the Sixers in 2011, is tied at a game a piece in the second-round, best-of-seven playoff series against his fellow private-equity mogul Antony Ressler, who scooped up the Hawks in 2015.
What’s lesser known is that both financiers are alumni of Michael Milken’s Drexel Burnham Lambert, and both went on — along with billionaire Leon Black — to co-found the giant buyout firm Apollo Global Management in 1990.
Ressler left Apollo in 2002 to form the buyout firm Ares Management. Black, meanwhile, announced his surprise exit in March amid growing controversy over his business ties to dead pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
Harris wasn’t far behind, having lost a race to succeed Black at the helm of Apollo to co-founder Marc Rowan. That was after reports that Harris had urged Black to step down over his Epstein ties.
While tensions between Harris and Black have been well-reported, Ressler’s relationship with Black also might be tense these days. That’s because Black is married to Ressler’s sister, Debra.
In addition to controversy over his financial ties to Epstein, Black last week was slapped by a defamation lawsuit from an ex-Russian model who claimed Black had raped her in 2014 despite Black’s previous insistence that the pair had a “consensual affair.” Black denied the claims raised in the lawsuit.
While both Harris and Ressler may be at odds with Black of late, they got along well enough during their early days at Apollo, according to a source close to the situation.
Reps for Harris and Ressler declined to comment.
It’s not the first time private equity titans have had basketball teams meet in the playoffs, although it is a rare occurrence. The Milwaukee Bucks, owned by Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, in 2019 beat the Stephen Pagliuca-owned Boston Celtics in the NBA Semifinals.
“Private equity guys are relatively new sports team owners,” a sports banker said. “Owners used to be real estate developers. I would think you would see more examples of this in the future.”