Sports

Meet Josh Harris, Walmart Heir's Rival Bidding for Denver Broncos

Philadelphia 76ers managing partner Josh Harris as seen in a 2021 video discussing superstar Joel Embiid's contract extension.
Philadelphia 76ers managing partner Josh Harris as seen in a 2021 video discussing superstar Joel Embiid's contract extension. Philadelphia 76ers via YouTube
Initial bids are reportedly in from five groups hoping to purchase the Denver Broncos, which officially went on the block February 1 after months of speculation, and as expected, Walmart heir Rob Walton is among them. Two other collectives have yet to be publicly identified, while the other pair cited by Sportico, which scored this particular scoop, are led by well-heeled suitors with experience in the sports business: Todd Boehly, an investor in the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Lakers, and 57-year-old Josh Harris, co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Devils.

Harris is a known quantity, thanks to his prominent role with the 76ers and Devils. He's recognized for attending games and being involved in major decisions, such as the wise move to extend the contract of 76ers superstar and MVP candidate Joel Embiid last year.

But compared to Walton, Harris is a veritable pauper. According to Forbes, his net worth as of April 19 was a paltry $5.7 billion, less than 10 percent of Walton's estimated $70 billion value. He's number 438 on the publication's 2022 billionaires list and number 188 on the 2021 Forbes 400; Walton landed at number 19 and number 13, respectively.

Given that Walton's opening bid, due on April 15, according to the New York Post's Josh Kosman, was expected to be north of $4 billion, which would make the Broncos' sale the spendiest in professional sports history, this wealth disparity is important. Walton is widely viewed as the frontrunner in the Broncos sweepstakes, since he could easily cover the price with no assistance, while Harris would likely need to get significant help from some rich friends.

Still, Harris's effort shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. He's clearly a major player, and because he's got a 5 percent stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers, he's already connected to the National Football League, which is deeply involved in the sales process.

Still, the NFL, which has been chastised in some quarters for its current whites-only ownership club, has been advocating for a bid by Denver native Robert F. Smith, America's richest Black billionaire, despite baggage such as recent issues with the IRS and concerns regarding his Flyfisher Group, which has been buying properties in Five Points, reportedly to help the historic Black area. Although Smith wasn't named by Sportico, the site points out that "all five Broncos groups are expected to have minority investors, a stated priority of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell."

An athletic type who wrestled in his youth, Harris was raised in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and attended high school in the Washington, D.C., area before moving on to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, followed by Harvard Business School. His first big professional job was with the mergers-and-acquisitions department of the investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert, but he left prior to its 1990 bankruptcy (prompted by the junk-bond shenanigans of senior exec Michael Milken). After a brief stint with the Blackstone Group, a private-equity firm, he co-founded Apollo Global Management with Leon Black and Marc Rowan, whom he met at Drexel.

Apollo Global Management became an enormous success, generating most of the dollars in Harris's coffers and allowing him to venture into the sports biz. He and Blackstone's David Blitzer bought the 76ers in 2011 for around $280 million, nabbed the Devils for approximately $320 million in 2013, and later added even more squads to their portfolio, including Crystal Palace F.C. of the Premier League plus the Delaware Blue Coats of the NBA's G League and the American Hockey League's Binghamton Devils, which skated from 2017 to 2021.

Over the past year or so, however, Harris's association with Apollo got dramatic. In March 2021, Black left AGM, supposedly for health reasons — but the next month, Bloomberg contended that his exit was actually related to his longtime association with financier/sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in 2019 after his arrest for allegedly trafficking minors in New York and Florida.

In May, the New York Post asserted that Harris was stepping down as the company's day-to-day managing director because he hadn't been made CEO, and a Post followup in October revealed that he'd unloaded millions of Apollo shares, worth around $490 million. This windfall was more than enough to cover the cost of a Miami mansion he purchased over the summer; its price of $32 million was even more than the $25 million Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson forked over for his new pad in Cherry Hills Village.

Sportico says that the Broncos brain trust will meet with all five of the major bidders in early May. The team's selection of a winner and the finalizing of the sale could take months longer. But before the start of the next NFL regular season, Harris will probably know if he needs to find a place in Colorado, too — or if he'll have a reason to feel resentful every time he drives past a Walmart.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts