76ers Co-Owner Michael Rubin Talks Picking Up Meek Mill From Jail & Their Plan to Aid Prison Reform

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
(L-R) Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers, co-owner Michael Rubin, Meek Mill and his son Papi pose for a photograph after the game against the Miami Heat at Wells Fargo Center on April 24, 2018 in Philadelphia. 

Pandemonium ensued in Philadelphia late Tuesday afternoon when news of Meek Mill's prison release spread across the Web like wildfire. As news outlets feverishly scurried to the Wells Fargo Center, where Meek was slated to be for the Sixers' playoff game, the team's co-owner, Michael Rubin, was frantically piecing together a masterful plan to pick up his close friend from jail.

Rubin -- who has played an integral role during Meek's case -- received news that Meek was scheduled for his prison release and wanted his first day out to be something memorable. What did he do? He picked him up in a helicopter and escorted him to the Wells Fargo Center to watch the Sixers close out their first-round match-up against the Miami Heat.

"My partner in the Sixers, Josh Harris, owns Harrah's Casino. Josh made an arrangement within a few minutes for us to land at Harrah's and get him to the game in time," recalls Rubin. Not only did Meek arrive in style, he later rang the ceremonial bell before tip-off. Clad in a Joel Embiid jersey, Meek's face beamed with elation, as he later watched the game alongside Rubin, Kevin Hart and the raucous Philly crowd.

On Wednesday afternoon, after spending the morning with Meek, Rubin sat down with Billboard to speak about their relationship, picking him up from prison, how they became friends, and their plan to aid prison reform. 

Take me back to when you first got a phone call about Meek’s release.

I was sitting here in a meeting. We got a phone call that he had been ordered to be released on bail.

What was going through your mind?

I was expecting it every day for the past six months, but I was elated when it actually happened -- because I know Meek so well and we had a Game 5 clincher. It was amazing and I was like, “We gotta get him there.” Meek had told me this story from jail like, “Michael, I keep having this dream.”

He’s been in our helicopter so many times. He was like, “I keep having this dream where you pick me up and you fly me out in your helicopter and that’s how I leave.” Me and like six people were like, “We’re picking him up in the helicopter!”

The universe works in a crazy way.

That’s accurate.

For those that may not know, how would you describe the origin of your relationship with Meek?

We met four or five years ago at an NBA All-Star game. He was sitting with his ex, Nicki [Minaj], and I was with my daughter and we sat next to each other. My daughter is a fan of Nicki’s and once Meek saw I was affiliated with the Sixers he started asking a lot of questions about the business and the team.

I really had no idea who he was. I like rap but my rappers are like Eminem and JAY-Z, not Meek. Well, at that point it wasn’t, but now it is. I just loved the way he was asking me so many questions. He was so focused and you could see he really just wanted to learn and grow, and that’s the way I am. I barely made it out of high school and I didn’t go to college.

He was talking about this today about how you may think someone is something that they’re not. I would have thought he was like a hard-core rapper after I heard what he did. And then we started talking and I just really liked him. He started coming to our games and we started spending more time together. Just with time and spending more time together, we just became really close friends.

A lot of people, like you, have a deep relationship with Meek, but what compelled you to dive so deep into his case?

That’s such an easy answer. November 6, 2017, which changed a lot of people’s lives in this world. Meek had always told me about this judge that really had it out for him. These situations, when he had told me, they didn’t seem believable. I heard him, but I didn’t believe him. He was being brought for probation violation by the judge, not by the district attorney or the probation officer.

So I said to him, “Why don’t I write you a letter?” which I thought would be helpful before he brought all these stars to vouch for him. I’m a business guy from Pennsylvania who has done a lot for the state. I told the judge to give me a call anytime and I never heard anything from her. We were talking that Sunday and I could tell he was really nervous. I was like, “I want to come to this with you.” He was like, “Nah, I don’t want to screw your day up.” I was like, “I’m coming.”

Had I not been in that courtroom that day, had I not been sitting next to Desiree Perez from Roc Nation, had the two of us not saw her behavior ourselves. We watched the probation officer and district attorney recommend no sentence. We watched the lawyer say there’s no chance he’d get sentenced because in zero percent of those cases do you get sentenced. And then we watched her give him two to four years.

That created an out-of-body experience for me. I just couldn’t help myself. At that point, it was like you’re coming after my family. If I had thought he was wrong, because I have lots of friends who have made mistakes, if you made a mistake, you’re going to pay your consequences. That’s my belief. But here is someone who I knew. What black kid who grows up in the city pulls a gun on 10 cops? You’re dead if you do that. He told me that from the day he met me. Kevin Hart told me that the day he met me. I always knew it didn’t make sense.

The whole thing was bizarre, but going through it with him, I’ve worked too hard in my life to not take a stand. If it was a friend of a friend, or I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have had the same reaction. It was one of my close friends and I sat there and watched the way she was so rude to the probation officer and she had no interest in what the district attorney had to say and the way she wouldn’t look at me. She had five cops ready to take him to jail way before he even went through this. Why do I work as hard as I work if I see something I know is wrong and I won’t take a stand? It was my responsibility.

I recall reading Rolling Stone's interview with Meek, and a lot of people credit his resiliency throughout his sentencing. I know you’ve visited him a couple times.

Fifteen times.

 

On the way to the sixers game let’s go!!!! #meekfree

A post shared by Michael Rubin (@michaelgrubin) on

But at any time did you see him flinch or break?

No. Never once. This is what’s so fucked up, to be honest. He’s grown up his entire life being tortured by a broken criminal justice system. Even today when you talk to him, he hasn’t made the transition from a broken criminal justice system to the world we’re supposed to live in today.

Rap superstar on the outside and inmate on the inside, he’s used to being violated by the judge. So when Robert Kraft asked him a few weeks ago how he was in such good spirits, he said, “This has been my whole life. It’s the only thing I know.”

Last time they put him in jail, they forgot about him. This time, he had the world fighting for him. There’s literally one person on the planet who thinks he should be in jail, and that’s Judge Brinkley. That’s not based on law, it’s a personal vendetta she has against him.

You were with him Tuesday and Wednesday. What’s his head-space now?

Meek always got it together. The whole thing is a little surreal. This was like a movie. We’re over here at 4 p.m. and we get the call and fly over to pick him up. At 6 p.m., we have him in a helicopter flying over to the Sixers game. The barber’s meeting him, they’re bringing him clothes, and he’s ringing the fucking bell? Does it get any cooler than that?

It’s like a fucking Disney movie.

[Laughs] Right. This guy is running through the locker room high-fiving everyone. [Sixers Center] Joel [Embiid] calls me at 4, and he’s dancing in bed. Sixers [forward] Ben [Simmons] calls me 10 minutes later, and he’s dancing. The whole thing is incredible. It’s what we always expected to happen but I guess if you expect something and it doesn’t happen, then your expectations get lower. Even though I fully had belief in our country, our state and our city, I’ve still been wrong so many times about him getting out.

What was the first thing he told you after he got out?

We gave each other a long hug. I was out with Kevin Hart a few hours earlier to see him. At this time we didn’t know he would make the game. I told him at 3 p.m. he could still make the game and he said, “Never happening.” I said he’s such a pessimist. We’ve been joking about that all day. Then, he told me how fat my stomach was and I agreed.

[Laughs] It sucked how he couldn’t be there for the whole Super Bowl situation but to come back for the Sixers' playoff game? I could only imagine...

It was epic. He’s sitting with the owner of the Eagles, myself, the governor, Kevin Hart, and he goes from jail two hours earlier to ringing the bell?

A lot of people want to put the Sixers on my shoulders, but it was my partner Josh Harris, the whole ownership group, the team, the Sixers have been 100 percent behind Meek Mill. It made me proud, and the first day I called Josh Harris and told him what happened with Meek, and how we got to make a stand, he said, “Look, I like him. My wife likes him. I believe in you. Let’s go.” Adam Silver was the same way. The entire Sixers organization has been amazing. People look at me because I’ve been the vocal friend, but it’s the whole organization.

This is a huge victory, but the case is still intact.

One-hundred percent if the circumstances were anything other than Meek’s, this is over already. You had the DA walk in and say to throw the case out. Anyone else’s court, it would have been thrown out on the spot. The judge refused to let him out. You had the Supreme Court come in and let him out on bail.

Is it safe to say he’s 100 percent confident that he’s in the clear?

No, I don’t think he believes that. I believe that. Think about how at 18 years old, he was framed for a crime he didn’t commit. He never pointed a gun, he never sold crack-cocaine, it was all bullshit by a dirty unit where half the guys were arrested and the other half was acquitted and charged.

This guy has been in and out of jail four times for technical probation violations, never for breaking a law. If I pop a wheelie, they’d tell me to put a helmet on to be safe. If he pops a wheelie, there’s 20 cops there to arrest him. If they showed up to arrest him right now, he’d be like, “OK.” To me, this has got to stop.

Have you and Meek discussed ways to help prison reform?

We have. We’ve discussed more than a couple ways. We’re both firmly committed to making a difference to criminal justice reform. Honestly, years ago, it was acceptable to have all kinds of workplace misconduct. So many women were being harassed by loser guys in the workplace. That doesn’t work anymore. The world has changed. Meek is going to be symbolic to criminal justice reform. We can make a huge difference, and he’s committed to it. He wants to raise his game as an artist to the highest level.

He believes this happened for a reason, and I believe it did too. Had I not sat in that courtroom that day, if he explained it to me on the phone, I would have not got it. I had to be there to see it. For that, I actually thank Judge Brinkley for putting on that show she put on that day. That’s what made me have this out-of-body experience where I was like, “No. We’re not going to let this happen.”