PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Michael Rubin poses for pictures and shares bro hugs from his courtside seat before Philadelphia 76ers playoff games with a hodgepodge of celebrities that could be straight out of a Dancing With The Stars casting call.
But there's one VIP that the 45-year old billionaire co-owner of the Sixers really wants to introduce.
"Hey, have you met Meek?" Rubin asks.
Meek Mill is all smiles as he says life is all good in the days since he was released from prison while the Philly-born rapper appeals decade-old gun and drug convictions.
Mill had a string of high-profile names — including Hart, rapper Jay-Z and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft — support him during a five-month campaign to be freed on bail from prison for probation violations. But Mill's biggest advocate, one of his closest friends and the e-commerce entrepreneur who arranged for a helicopter to take Mill from prison to a Sixers' playoff game is Rubin, majority owner and CEO of Kynetic, the holding company for sportswear giant Fanatics.
His biggest behind-the-scenes role of late was his drive to free Mill from potentially years behind bars.
"He's been showing up for me and standing up for me like a real friend would do," Mill told The Associated Press. "It's meant a lot for our friendship and brought us closer together. I just think he's a good-hearted person being that he's somebody worth billions of dollars and still uses his resources to stand up for people who don't have the money to be able to fight the errors of the criminal justice system."
Forbes lists Rubin's net worth at $3 billion. TMZ counts his value in page views — yes, that's Rubin in the photo partying at a birthday bash for 76ers All-Star center Joel Embiid.
But Rubin says he'll find personal worth in the months ahead teaming with Mill to tackle thorny criminal justice issues. It could help that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is a frequent front-row companion of Rubin and Mill's during Philly's run through the postseason. The trio recently appeared together to ask state lawmakers for criminal justice changes.
"This was one of my closest friends and I watched something terrible happen to him," Rubin said at his Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, office. "It started with, how do we fix the situation with him? I said, 'My God, this is horrific.' What it actually showed me was, there are much bigger problems with the criminal justice system which I had no understanding of. We're not going to let what happened to Meek Mill happen to everyday Meek Mills."
Rubin wasn't expecting a personal awakening when he met Mill at the 2015 NBA All-Star Game in New York.
Rubin, raised in an upper middle-class Philly suburb, was simply a businessman who had been making deals since he was a kid. He owned a ski shop as a teen, dropped out of Villanova after just six weeks and sold his first sports equipment business to eBay in 2011 for $2.4 billion. He runs Fanatics, fashion site Rue La La and shipping site Shop Runner through Kynetic. And in 2011, he joined an ownership group led by Joshua Harris and David Blitzer that would buy the 76ers and later the NHL's New Jersey Devils.
Harris and Blitzer — who have since formed Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment as they expand their sports portfolio — had served as the primary faces of the sports teams since their purchases. But over the last two years as his wealth seemed to match his ambition, Rubin has been at the forefront of the Sixers' rise from the 10-win early Process days into one of the best young teams in the NBA. The seats that flank Rubin — Mill and fellow rapper Lil Uzi Vert had the distinction at Game 4 against the Celtics on Monday — have become must-see for fans to catch celeb sightings.
"It's surreal to have this many people support me at one time," Mill said. "The feeling is unexplainable."
The man who pushed Mill's cause — and helped keep the "Dreams and Nightmares" performer's spirits high in prison with visits from a few 76ers — is also getting his time in the spotlight.
"He freed Meek! He freed Meek!" one man yelled, trying to get Rubin's attention.
It's not just rappers and actors — or even Game 4 guest, CNBC news anchor Joe Kernen — that flock to Rubin. Rubin and Embiid have become tight and it was the owner who arranged Embiid's birthday party in Miami and snagged a suite for the organization to attend a World Series game in Houston at the same time the Sixers were in town.
"I'm not involved in the basketball decisions," Rubin said. "I think it's obvious from the outside in that I've got great relations with them. I'm a very player-oriented owner. I think I'm highly relatable to these guys. I'm in the business. There are things I can have a big influence in with them."
Rubin, divorced with a 12-year-old daughter, has an off-the-cuff Mark Cuban vibe and wears the same blue button-down, jeans and black sneaks to Game 4 that he did hours earlier inside an office filled with photos of other celebs and his appearance on "Undercover Boss." He even hit up baseball's All-Star Game last year with Kraft and Embiid.
"By the way, Joel and Robert love each other. Meek and Robert love each other," Rubin said. "I love to be able to foster those relationships. People always say to me how lucky Meek is to have me. Actually, I think I'm so lucky to have him. He's opened my eyes to so many things that I would have never understood had it not been for him."
Rubin recently spearheaded a bid to buy the Carolina Panthers before he dropped out of contention and he has sights set on NFL ownership. Until then, he might dangle his A-list connections to help recruit prized free agents — like, say LeBron James — this summer to join Embiid and Ben Simmons.
But it's more than hip-hop and hoops that connects Rubin and Mill these days. It's an unwavering desire to speak out in the national spotlight for reform.
Rubin said he and Mill were close to announcing a foundation — with A-listers pledging to assist, of course — that would include a wish list of initiatives.
"We want to help people that's not like myself who don't have the resources," Mill said.—DAN GELSTON (AP)