Sources: 76ers sales talks ongoing

Updated: June 8, 2011, 2:08 AM ET
By Henry Abbott | ESPN.com

Philadelphia 76ers owner Comcast-Spectacor is in talks to sell the team to a group led by New York-based leveraged buyout specialist Joshua Harris, according to sources.

Negotiations are ongoing and a source with knowledge of the talks called a deal "imminent."

The Associated Press, citing a person familiar with the deal who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the team could be sold within the week. The source said Harris' group was not the only bidder but is now the lead bidder, adding the deal has been in the works for several months.

Once the parties reach final agreement, it would become official only with approval of the league's Board of Governors.

[+] EnlargeBrand
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireElton Brand and the Sixers could be playing for a new team owner next season if talks are successful.

The team had not been publicly offered for sale.

In a statement, Comcast-Spectacor chief operating officer Peter Luukko told The AP there are "discussions about the future of the team" that are confidential, but did not address a possible sale.

Harris, 46, co-founded Apollo Global Management, a publicly-traded firm which invests primarily in distressed properties, in 1990. In Forbes' 2011 billionaire rankings, Harris was reported to have a net worth of $1.5 billion.

Harris, through an Apollo spokeswoman, declined comment.

Other investors in the deal include private equity executive David Blitzer and former NBA player agent and Sacramento Kings executive Jason Levien.

Blitzer moved from New York to London in 2002 to create the London-based European office of the Blackstone Group, one of the largest private investment groups in the world.

As an agent, Levien represented players including Kevin Martin, Luol Deng and Udonis Haslem.

Harris and Blitzer have Philadelphia ties, having graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania within a few years of each other.

Through his holding company Spectacor, Ed Snider has controlled the Sixers since 1996 -- the same year Spectacor merged with Comcast. Comcast-Spectacor also owns the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers, and the Wells Fargo Center where both teams play. The company would continue to own and operate the arena with the Sixers as a tenant, according to sources.

The Associated Press left a message for Snider seeking comment.

The Harris group would become the sixth owners in the club's 65-year history, which is among the league's richest. Only the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have won more regular-season games, and the Sixers are one of just eight NBA teams with three or more championships.

In recent years the team's performance has been somewhat lackluster, despite a significant payroll. This season, under coach Doug Collins, the Sixers, led by Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young, defied expectations by making the playoffs. Their run was ended by the Miami Heat in five games.

The 78-year-old Snider has long been more closely associated with hockey than basketball. He founded the Flyers in 1966, is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and operates a Philadelphia-based youth hockey program that bears his name.

The 76ers were valued this year by Forbes at $330 million, 17th in the NBA. Comcast SportsNet spokeswoman Maureen Quilter said the 76ers have a deal with the station through 2029.

"The thing that they're buying is the cable," Forbes media executive editor Mike Ozanian said. "That's the biggest part of the asset. It's been undermonetized, the cable deal.

"They've got to get at least twice of what they've been getting. It's under $13 million a year. They'll have no problem. It's pure profit because there's no cost associated with that."

Ozanian said even with a potential lockout looming, the timing could be right for a buyer to strike.

"A labor stoppage can work to your advantage," he said. "If you believe they're going to get a significantly lower salary cap, and a hard salary cap, it can be positive for team values and profits."

Harris' group would be purchasing a team that hasn't won a championship since 1983. Philadelphia has won only one playoff series since losing to the Lakers in the 2001 NBA finals.

The franchise's roots date back to the NBA's earliest days, when it competed as the Syracuse Nationals. The team moved to Philadelphia in 1963, filling the void created when the Philadelphia Warriors headed west to San Francisco.

Henry Abbott is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Henry Abbott | email

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