The franchise that helped free Meek Mill will soon be giving a hand to lesser-known Black talents, too.
The Sixers and their parent corporation, Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, have pledged at least $20 million over the next five years to show how much Black lives matter to them.
“The eyes of the world are on us to do better,” Josh Harris, the Sixers’ managing partner, said in a statement. “While we will never be able to correct the past harm and injustice faced by Black Americans, it’s our duty to provide resources that enable tangible action and greater opportunities for equality.”
Half of the $20 million includes the Sixers’ $10 million contribution to the newly formed NBA Foundation, whose aim is to better educate and prepare Black men and women as they enter the workforce.
More intriguing, though, is the team’s stated goal of improving the condition of Blacks beyond a hands-off money dump. HBSE, which also owns the New Jersey Devils, said it would direct at least $2.5 million toward lifelines such as neighborhood health centers, home-buying assistance, and eradication of food deserts not only in Philadelphia but also in Newark, where the Devils play, and in Camden, N.J., where the Sixers practice.
The company also said it intended to funnel $5 million worth of marketing “assets” to benefit Black-owned businesses through a new “Buy Black Partnership Program.”
And the Sixers and Devils will begin buying Black themselves. An HBSE spokesperson said the clubs would target Black businesses to act as vendors at its practice facilities and arenas -- an initiative that could mean millions to Black entrepreneurs and their employees. Maybe the next time you attend a Sixers game you’ll see a Big Rube’s Fried Chicken stand next to Shake Shack.
The most immediately impactful portion of the $20 million outlay will be the $2.5 million earmarked for the teams’ youth initiatives, much of which will supply internet service to 1,000 Philadelphia families as another semester of distance learning looms during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Granted, $20 million over five years might not sound like much money for a Sixers franchise that is worth $2 billion and is paying Al Horford $28 million to not start in the playoffs, and maybe it’s not a lot of money to direct toward Black initiatives, especially when you consider nine of its top 10 players are Black.
But when you consider how the $91 billion NFL was lauded in 2017 as a Renaissance organization for committing just $89 million to Black causes, HBSE’s move seems at least as generous, given the change in social climate, the momentum of Black Lives Matters, and the international protests following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer May 25.
It’s worth noting that the Sixers are seen as an industry leader in diversity and inclusion. Over the last three years it has ranked among the top five NBA teams when it comes to putting women and people of color in positions of power -- on the bench, where at least one of Brett Brown’s lead assistants all seven seasons have been Black, and where Brown hired only the seventh female assistant in NBA history; in the front office, where general manager Elton Brand has led the Sixers to their third straight playoff berth; and in the board room, where Lara Price is the chief operating officer.
HBSE said it wasn’t done diversifying. It plans to add a chief diversity and impact officer and to recruit from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“We are making a continued commitment to racial equality as a key focus of our business, advancing institutional and situational change where we live, work, and play,” said David Blitzer, Harris’ partner.
All of this sounds inspiring, but will hiring a PC cop to go to job fairs at Howard University make HBSE an oasis of inclusion?
Will there be “significant and sustained investment and support” of Black communities, as Harris pledged?
At least they’re trying.