It was a middle-class upbringing, and Harris graduated from the eight-foot hoops at Woodlin Elementary to the more physical games at North Chevy Chase Park. Their father, Jacob, had Bullets season tickets and would regularly make the long trek to Landover with his sons. For Harris, any dreams of playing in the NBA ended around high school, when his height peaked at around 5 feet 8. He played soccer, though, and wrestled, as his entrepreneurial spirit blossomed.
When friends would throw away comic books, Harris would sell his to collectors. During one summer in college, he returned to Washington and managed a lemonade cart near the Farragut North Metro stop. And as a young hotshot on Wall Street, work and leisure were intertwined.
“We did these annual ski trips with seven or eight guys,” said John B. Williams, a friend since high school. “We’d ski all day, tear it up at night and still Josh was up at 5 or 5:30 the next morning working.”
Harris’s competitive streak carried over from youth sports. He ran the New York Marathon and is currently training for a triathlon. A good friend had five children and when Harris and his wife were pregnant with their fifth, Harris called: “I couldn’t let you win.”
As he sat at courtside watching the Bulls and Sixers, Harris’s eyes never strayed from the action. Philadelphia Coach Doug Collins took long, brisk steps in front of the owner, screaming to the court. Harris’s pleas don’t carry the same volume. Midway through the second, Philadelphia couldn’t hit a shot. “Come on, guys. Don’t go cold on me,” Harris said.
The owner prefers to remain seated and sips bottled water. He offers polite applause but never screams or removes his blazer. With less than two minutes remaining in the half, guard Louis Williams gave the 76ers a one-point lead with a pull-up jumper.
“Nice!” Harris said. “He’s so good at that.”
‘Well, he doesn’t sleep a lot’
Harris knows the sport and knows the players, but he has no designs on making basketball decisions. He says he won’t flip the 76ers for a quick profit but is still running the team largely according to the Apollo blueprint: Hire smart managers, articulate a vision, hold people accountable.
Collins says because Harris is familiar with the Wall Street roller coaster, his patience has translated well to this other sport. “You don’t stage a parade for a five-game winning streak and you don’t blow things up with a five-game losing streak,” Collins said.
Harris’s boldest move was going outside the sports world to hire his top deputy. Adam Aron was a longtime Apollo associate who had experience running cruise lines and ski resorts, among other ventures. His marketing background and Philadelphia roots, Harris figured, were what the 76ers needed.