If you’ve checked the news at any point yesterday, you may have read the name “Leon Black.” Black recently (and unexpectedly) quit as CEO of Apollo Global Management two months after an independent investigation into his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein wrapped up. It’s an intriguing story — and one that could have “huge implications” for the NBA, says one sportswriter.
Henry Abbott is a basketball writer and CEO at TrueHoop, and has been covering Epstein, Black, and the NBA powerbrokers from Apollo Global. Abbott calls the private equity company the league’s “most important source of cash,” and is writing a series about it on his site. In his work, Abbott details the NBA owners with Apollo ties. Owners like Josh Harris, a co-founder of Apollo, who is also the owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils. And Tony Ressler, another co-founder of Apollo, who owns the Atlanta Hawks. Plus Adam Silver’s college roommate and friend, Jim Zelter, is a co-president of Apollo Global Management.
Apollo Global was founded by Black, Harris, Ressler, and others in 1990 after the collapse of Drexel Burnham Lambert, where they all worked prior. After founding Apollo Global, Black brought in other Drexel alums to help run the company. “All of these former people from Drexel Burnham Lambert,” Abbott tells Deadspin, “seem to be where a tremendous number of people in the NBA touch Drexel in some way, as do a bunch of people in the Jeffrey Epstein story.”
The NBA relies on private equity firms, like Black’s old company, to purchase teams. With dwindling TV ratings, and ticket purchases falling as well, Abbott says “the one area where the business is rock solid is team resale values.” And, “there’s really a very short list of people that the NBA can butter up to purchase.” Apparently, Apollo Global billionaires make the list. “There’s a reason that Adam silver has to be saying very sunny things about Apollo at fundraisers and stuff, because that’s a group…that’s essential to the leagues functioning moving forward.”
Abbott says he first noticed Apollo’s influence on the NBA when he began reporting on Harris in 2011, before he purchased the 76ers for $280 million. Then Ressler bought the Hawks in 2015 for $850 million. But in January, an independent report revealed that Black paid $158 million and lent $30 million to Jeffrey Epstein. Wait… what?
“It’s like, what the hell is going on here? Why, is Apollo Global involved in Jeffrey Epstein at all?” Abbott remembers thinking. “Why is Apollo Global so involved with the NBA?”
Multiple outlets said the independent report “cleared Black of any wrongdoing.” But Black reportedly worked with Epstein for years despite knowing he had plead “guilty to soliciting prostitution from an underage girl in Florida in 2008.” Abbott has also raised his own questions about the legitimacy of the report itself.
Although there are no glaring, or direct connections between the NBA and Epstein right now, there’s enough overlap between folks to make you wonder… or grab some tums.
“There’s no hero in the story,” Abbott said, “everybody’s just riddled with sorta creepy stuff.”
And even though Black is out of Apollo, this story could be far from over.