In August, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment announced a $20 million commitment to “fighting systemic racism and championing equality.” David Gould, who joined the Sixers in April as the Executive Director of the Sixers Youth Foundation, will be tasked with heading that initiative as HBSE’s Chief Diversity and Impact Officer, a new position.
Sixers managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer are the co-founders of HBSE, which also comprises the New Jersey Devils and other entities.
Before being hired by the Sixers, Gould, a Philadelphia native, worked on Philadelphia’s “Rebuild” project, which aims to restore infrastructure while promoting diversity in the city by using funds from the tax on sweetened beverages. Gould also focused on community investment at the William Penn Foundation. He has a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Pennsylvania and is a 2011 graduate of the University of Rochester, where he played basketball.
In an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Danny Pommells, Gould explained that his role with the Sixers will entail fostering internal inclusivity and diversity, as well as external projects.
“We’re going to do that through investing in Black neighborhoods, investing in Black-owned businesses, supporting programs that are going to help address socioeconomic disparities,” he told Pommells. “My charge is to make sure that we are making good on that commitment, that we think about additional ways that we can have a positive impact in the community.”
There’s been an increased focus on racial equity recently in the NBA. Players went on strike last month and pushed the league to make several commitments, including the formation of a social justice coalition and the use of NBA arenas as voting facilities when possible. The Sixers launched the “Vote 76” initiative last week.
With nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice, and with players speaking often about the police shootings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and others, Gould understands there might be skepticism that this new position is more about perception than substance.
“I think something that’s true across our industry and across the country is we’re having conversations about race right now that are, one, overdue, but also much more direct and explicit than they have been in the past,” he said. “Within the Sixers and HBSE, we’ve had a lot of very difficult, candid conversations about race, about how it impacts a lot of us, especially myself and my colleagues who are Black. And that has allowed people across the organization at all levels to really learn and have a greater appreciation for how systemic racism really impacts our daily lives. And so it is partly a product of the climate that we’re in right now. I just think that’s a positive thing.
“… What I would say is that this isn’t window dressing. It’s not superficial. As I mentioned, our managing partners made a $20 million commitment. I don’t think that’s something that we have done before, in terms of a commitment of that magnitude. And also, as somebody who’s spent my career before coming here in the non-profit and government sector, the thing that’s been most important for me in any position that I’ve held is, do I have a real opportunity to make a positive change in the community? And if I didn’t believe this position was going to provide me that opportunity, I wouldn’t be here today."
As for the question of whether $20 million is sufficient to address something as weighty as systemic racism, Gould called that figure “a minimum and … a starting point.” Harris and Sixers limited partner Michael Rubin recently appeared on The Forbes 400, a ranking of the 400 wealthiest Americans, and both have seen their net worth rise over the past year.
“We very much didn’t want to just throw money at a problem, although those resources are going to be incredibly important,” Gould said. “It’s thinking about how we comprehensively use all of our business and all of our assets toward a positive change.”
Outside of the broad goals HBSE has in mind, Gould has specific projects he’s looking forward to enacting.
“One program that we’re going to be launching in anticipation of the next season is a program called the Buy Black Partnership Program,” he said. “It’s a good example of how we’re thinking about how we use our business to make a change and have a positive impact in the community. What we’ll be doing is when you go to a Sixers game, for example, you may see the advertisement for a company on the Jumbotron or on the scorer’s table, or some signage when you walk into the arena.
"Companies pay for that. That’s advertising, that provides value to them and helps them make money as a business. We’re going to be taking some of those marketing assets and donating them to Black-owned businesses to help them grow and help them flourish within our city.”