Plaintiffs Robert Whitsitt and Thomas Shine say they introduced investor Jason Levien to Comcast-Spectacor chairman Edward Snider at a lunch meeting late last year. They say they were promised $2 million if they found a purchaser and met certain other conditions.
New York-based leveraged buyout specialist Joshua Harris led an ownership group that completed the purchase in October. Levien, a former NBA player agent and Sacramento Kings executive, is one of numerous owners and investors in a group that includes co-managing owner David Blitzer and Hollywood power couple Will and Jada Pinkett Smith.
Whitsitt is the former president of the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers. Shine is an executive at Canton, Mass.-based Reebok International Ltd.
Comcast-Spectacor challenges the merits of their claims and plans to vigorously defend the suit, spokesman Ike Richman said.
According to the lawsuit, Comcast-Spectacor has previously rejected the plaintiffs' fee demand on grounds Levien is not a controlling owner and that it paid a finder's fee to someone else. The plaintiffs call that logic "frivolous" and say it differs from the written agreement.
The agreement, as excerpted in their lawsuit, promises a $2 million finder's fee if Shine and Whitsitt find a purchaser to serve as the controlling owner, "or another person designated by purchaser with the consent of club owner."
The NBA defines a controlling owner as someone with at least a 15 percent equity stake in the franchise who also manages the operations, according to the suit.
"In July 2011, there was an agreement between the club owner and a purchaser (consisting in part of Jason Levien) whereby a person designated by the purchaser became the 'controlling owner' of the club," the lawsuit states.
The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported Wednesday on the breach-of-contract lawsuit, which was filed a day earlier in federal court in Philadelphia. The plaintiffs are also seeking interest and legal fees.
The 76ers haven't won a playoff series since 2003 and have gone years without turning a profit. Snider, who called the shots the last 15 years, told The Associated Press this year that massive financial losses led the company to strike the deal to sell the team in July.
The team's new owners have slashed ticket prices to try to fill seats and raise revenues.