Devils owner Josh Harris having a very good year in sports
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By TOM CANAVAN
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Josh Harris is finally having some fun being an owner of sports franchises in three cities, three leagues and two continents.
It's been a long wait for Harris, who has led investment groups that bought the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA in 2011, the New Jersey Devils of the NHL in 2013 and a share of Crystal Palace of the Premier League in England in 2015.
After years of losing, the Sixers and Devils finally returned to the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
"You see the bags under my eyes," said Harris, who has been doing a lot of traveling since the postseason started.
The 76ers, winners of 10 games just two seasons ago, beat the Miami Heat in five games in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.
The Devils lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Even overseas, Harris has seen a turnaround. After going seven straight league games without scoring to begin the season, London-based Crystal Palace is close avoiding relegation.
"I think that what it is is validation," Harris said during an interview late Wednesday at the Devils' headquarters at the Prudential Center.
"All these teams we started with a long-range plan and a real strategy about what we wanted to accomplish. We knew it would take several years to get there. We inherited situations that were not set up as well as we would have liked.
"So this is more validation of what we thought. It's much more fun to be going to games and matches now than to be planning for the draft lottery."
Harris has seen the Devils transform from an older team to a younger team that skates as well as any franchise in the league. Hiring former Pittsburgh Penguins executive Ray Shero to be his general manager has played a major part in the makeover along with following a plan that built the organization around scouting, analytics, sports science and acquiring players who fit into a set culture that stresses a fast, attacking style and teamwork.
After a horrible 2016-17 season in which they finished last in the Eastern Conference, the Devils rode the play of forward Taylor Hall and No. 1 overall draft pick Nico Hischier to a 27-point improvement and a playoff berth.
They just ran into a better and more playoff-ready team in the postseason.
"We have said all along we are not going to rest until we win a Stanley Cup," said Harris, who along with partner David Blitzer, led a group that paid $320 million for a majority share of the Devils, which included the rights to operate Prudential Center arena. "It's not easy to do that. Everyone says it, but we are serious about it. This is a stepping stone, but a good stepping stone."
Blitzer is a partner in all three franchises.
Harris said the Devils need to add more talent to improve, having their existing players get better and to continue to develop their young players in the minor leagues. He said he would gladly spend to get the right elite player.
"As this young team comes together, this is a little analogous to Philly on the basketball side, where you start to see what you have and what you need," Harris said.
"When you are building that, it's a little hard to figure what you need. When you go into the free agency market, you need to know what you need because typically in the free agent market it is very competitive. You get 80 cents of value for a dollar because it a competitive market, so you need to know what you need."
Money is something Harris understands. He is an equity investor who co-founded Apollo Global Management, one of the world's largest alternative investment firms.
His group spent $280 million to buy the 76ers from Comcast Spectacor in 2011.
Philadelphia was the hottest team in the NBA postseason, winning its final 16 games to finish 52-30 behind the play of Joel Embiid and rookie Ben Simmons.
After its winless start, Crystal Palace has an 8-11-9 record (wins, ties and losses) for 35 points. It is in 14th place in the 20-team league, with three regular season games left.
Harris and Blitzer each own 18 percent of the soccer club along with club chairman Steve Parish.
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Updated April 26, 2018