The NYPD’s right-wing and the NBA

NBA governors help manage a $50 billion pension plan controlled by Trump supporters in blue


In the NBA, we are troubled by racism and want to end it. Simple. It’s a little like the comedian Dwayne Kennedy’s joke about how he heard Donald Trump had ended the rule banning asbestos. “Who the fuck,” Kennedy asks, “is for asbestos?”

Who the fuck is for racism?

To this day, one of the more chilling digital videos I have ever seen is the NYPD officer donning riot gear in Union Square who, in the days after George Floyd’s death, looked right at the camera and threw up a white power hand gesture. The New York Times did an incredible job of rounding up verified video of recent police reactions to protests. There are dozens—click if you can stomach it. Here are a few of the Times’ descriptions of what’s on video:

  • Protesters block the path of a police car and pelt it with garbage. Two police cars then drive into the crowd, knocking over several people.

  • Several officers chase down and beat a person with their batons. A white-shirted officer runs up and steps on the person’s neck.

  • A passenger in a moving unmarked police car opens the car door to strike someone standing on the street.

If you watch a ton of that video, it’s often officers blatantly instigating violence on peaceful protestors. Many in the NYPD began covering their badge numbers with tape, which seems a lot like planning to break the rules.

It wasn’t nearly enough for Donald Trump, who called on officials in what he calls “Democratic cities”—New York has a Democratic mayor and governor—to “get MUCH tougher” or risk that the federal government "will step in and do what has to be done, and that includes using the unlimited power of our Military and many arrests." In some cities, teams of unmarked armed people (apparently organized by the Justice Department) began abducting protestors from the street and piling them into unmarked cars. 

Scary stuff.

The NYPD’s union has a tradition of being non-partisan. The head of the union, a police officer named Patrick Lynch said in June: “When I’m standing that line, what I don’t have is a personal opinion. My job is to protect yours.” 

But then, a little while after he said that, he broke the tradition and drove to Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J., to endorse Trump on behalf of his union. 

“Nearly 90 percent of the police unions’ leaders—officers, trustees, financial secretaries—are white and even more are men, according to an analysis of public records by The New York Times,” writes Alan Feuer, in an examination of the decision. “Close to 70 percent are registered Republicans.”

Lynch then spoke at the Republican National Convention, which also featured a middle-aged white couple that made news for aiming guns at a Black Lives Matter protest in St. Louis. 

Are New Yorkers now supposed to feel the NYPD can impartially keep the peace where Trump supporters clash with protestors?

Lynch evidently did not check with PBA members before leading the union into right-wing politics. The Guardians Association, an organization representing NYPD members of color, released a statement saying: “We celebrate the diversity within our city, the ranks of the NYPD, as well as within our membership. Our membership has made it clear … we do not agree.”

Lynch has been brazen. It takes a lot of confidence to dance on the political third rail. What could make him so unconcerned about long-term ramifications of making an extreme political departure that some of the rank and file don’t support?

Then I read the annual report of the New York City Police Pension Fund and learned that Lynch’s union gets to designate four members of the 12-person committee that oversees 50 billion dollars in police pension money.  

Lynch may be a face of the wrong side of the Black Lives Matters protests. But Wall Street is in the habit of courting sums of money like that—even the parts of Wall Street controlled by NBA billionaires who have pledged to fight racism.

NBA players have pinned their hopes of improving race relations in America at least partly on partnering with the billionaire investors that run their teams. While it’s nice to have deep pockets on your side, expecting billionaires to lead on this feels … hard.

I wrote about this recently, and the story includes a scene of Adam Silver giving a talk at a fundraiser in the Financial District. You can measure in months the time since Silver last thanked the NYPD for their special bond with the NBA. He was speaking at a dinner where his college roommate from Duke—Jim Zeltner, now the co-president of a private equity firm called Apollo Global—was being honored for raising $4.5 million for first-responders like the NYPD. 

Zeltner is a busy guy, but had clearly lent his time and treasure to the cause. The reason? He talked about his dad raising him to revere the heroic firefighters and police officers in the town where he grew up. 

But what struck me was, Apollo’s business hinges largely on convincing pension funds to hand over their money for Apollo to invest. According to Pensions and Investments magazine, Apollo has recent commitments from the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, Virginia Retirement System, Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System, the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana, and the Oklahoma Police Pension & Retirement System. Here’s a story about the head of a giant California teacher’s union pension plan who went to prison for taking literal bags of cash before convincing his board to invest $600 million with Apollo.

So I wonder, as Zeltner raised $4.5 million to curry favor with the NYPD, is there just the tiniest chance he was mixing business with pleasure? Did Apollo, by any chance, manage any of that police retirement money? That was the question that drove me to open the company’s annual report. 

The answer is unequivocally yes. But what surprised me was learning that the police fund had $44.9 billion in the 2019 fiscal year, which with additional contributions and appreciation is on pace to now be worth nearly $50 billion.

A year’s salary for most people—in $100 bills—would fit in your pocket. A million dollars would fit in a backpack. A hundred million, on the website Groove Wallet, is depicted on a palette—like the kind that you need a forklift to move. So a billion dollars, they demonstrate, is ten of those:

This is not a story about too much money going to working people—it’ll be distributed over time to many people who earned it and need it, and the majority of whom are not white. This is a story about the right-wing union leadership, and a pile of money so big it might test people’s morals. 

So the big question: Is the retirement fund of the New York City police—which is 50 times as much money in the image above—enough to make someone want to manage the money of an officer who throws up a white power hand sign, or one who drove an SUV into a crowd of protestors? Is it enough money to make Pat Lynch a client?

You bet it is.

Pick whichever video of terrible NYPD violence most chills you above. This is why NBA players march in Black Lives Matter protests. Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce has been doing incredible work for the rights of normal Americans, interested in dignity and peace. For instance, he was a leader in getting the Hawks to open their stadium to early voting. 

The task is to work against the forces of racism and police violence. 

But the New York Police Pension Fund annual report reveals that many NBA billionaires work for that police union leadership. Even as the NBA enlists its billionaire investors in a long-term “social justice coalition” to fight racism, several are founders or principals at funds that, as of the last report, now manage money for the NYPD union.

Do you think Coach Pierce knows that as those officers swing their clubs, open their car doors, or lurch their SUVs into protestors, the Hawks’ group of investors includes not one but two people who are hard at work managing the retirement funds of those officers? Patrick Lynch’s committee selected:

Coach Pierce isn’t alone. Lots of NBA personnel work for investors in the New York Police pension money management game. 

Adam Silver’s college roommate Jim Zeltner already seemed close to the NYPD from the fundraising dinner. He’s the reason I opened the annual report in the first place. Of course his firm, Apollo Global, is on the list. That means Zelter’s co-worker Josh Harris, governor of the 76ers, has to consider Patrick Lynch a client.

Harris purchased the 76ers with David Blitzer, who works for Stephen Schwarzman at Blackstone—Blackstone also manages money for the NYPD.

There are dozens of funds in the annual report—with more NBA ties than can easily be tracked. It’s an easy place to find NBA connections. 

  • Pistons governor Tom Gores made his money from an investment firm called Platinum Equity Partners, which also manages NYPD pension money. 

  • The Raine Group is on the list and has close ties to the NBA—one of its key executives advised the NBA on setting up its China business.

  • Colony Capital is there too—that’s the firm of prominent Trump supporter Thomas Barrack, who bought a casino from the family of Rockets governor Tilman Fertitta.

There’s a lot not to like. Some of the richest investors on this list have ties to Russia. Apollo’s founder Leon Black is in photos in Moscow, partying with Donald Trump, in 1996—those photos are now in a Senate Intelligence Report, as we have discussed. Black and Schwarzman served on the board of the Kremlin-controlled Russia Direct Investment Fund. Black is said to have met one-on-one with Putin himself, certainly has met with Putin-connected oligarchs, and Black told the Senate Intelligence Committee that at two related meetings he ended up at breakfast with the alt-right’s Steve Bannon. Apollo also bought the company formerly known as Blackwater, from Erik Prince who has his own right-wing connections. (Black is also reportedly being investigated for ties to Jeffrey Epstein.)

In other words: Foreign forces with a demonstrated interest in weakening America by dividing us along racial lines have the attention of some of these same billionaires. 

As do some Trump-supporting white police officers in New York. Another bigwig of the New York police unions, on the same pension committee with Lynch, is Ed Mullins. He has made news for various hateful statements, and recently turned up on TV with a Q-Anon mug on a shelf behind him. Marshall Cohen of CNN reports:

"It's frightening that someone so closely linked to law enforcement would seemingly endorse the ideas of Q, which is dedicated to the illegal and unconstitutional use of the military as a police force to hold tribunals and execute America's enemies," said Mike Rothschild, who recently published a book examining and debunking some of the most prominent conspiracy theories.

The theories have been amplified by Russian bots, because they’re helpful in whipping Americans into mistrusting each other. 

Many in the NBA want to free the world of racism. It seems like a no-brainer.

But how much progress can we really expect the league to make when its governors work for a union run by someone who endorses Trump and the violent suppression of Black Lives Matter protests? 

Who the fuck is for racism?

Thank you for reading TrueHoop!