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VOL. 127 | NO. 217 | Tuesday, November 6, 2012

City Welcomes New Grizzlies Owner Pera

By Andy Meek

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Before founding the company he runs today, Ubiquiti Networks Inc., 34-year-old Robert Pera worked at Apple Inc., where he was a hardware engineer.

Robert Pera, Memphis Grizzlies chairman and controlling owner, and CEO Jason Levien were introduced to the city during a Monday morning press conference at FedExForum.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

As such, he said, it made him more or less like the “last man on the bench.”

It was perhaps fitting that Pera reached for a basketball team image to describe his motivations and his ambition. Pera did so Monday, Nov. 5, during what were his first public remarks in front of fans, civic leaders and the media since closing on the $377 million purchase of the Memphis Grizzlies.

“I knew I couldn’t do a lot (at Apple) and wouldn’t get the opportunity to, but I could do a lot more on my own,” Pera said about the creation of his technology company, which provides a variety of high-end wireless networking products.

Through Ubiquiti, Pera is attempting to disrupt a marketplace, break down barriers, empower engineers and connect millions of people around the world. Ubiquiti’s latest quarterly earnings presentation comes later this week.

Closing the loop on that image – as a back-bencher at Apple who wanted to strike out on his own, fueled by imagination and drive – Pera said: “When I look at Memphis, I kind of have the same feeling as I had with my company.”

The good feeling appears to be mutual. Pera and new Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien got a standing ovation Monday before beginning their remarks, which came a few hours before this week’s Grizzlies home opener against the Utah Jazz.

Pera described Levien as a cross between Jerry Maguire and Ari Emanuel, the turbo-charged, fast-talking Hollywood super-agent on which Jeremy Piven’s character from the TV series “Entourage” is based. Most recently, Levien was a co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team.

Counting Pera and Levien as his new right-hand man, the new Grizzlies ownership includes two dozen partners. For that group, Pera and his lieutenants handpicked prominent business leaders and a few celebrities – and plenty of locals.

“This ownership group will take the Grizzlies to the next level,” said Edward Dobbs, one of the new partners who’s also CEO of Memphis-based Dobbs Management Service. “Our team is going to thrive in Memphis for a long time.”

Levien described himself as “best buddies” with former Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr., who also is among the new minority partners in the Grizzlies. At Ford’s wedding recently, Levien also met local businessman Billy Orgel, another Grizzlies partner.

At Monday’s official public rollout of the team’s new leadership, a few names of new partners also were made public. They include AutoZone Liberty Bowl executive director Steve Ehrhart.

Steve Kaplan, a principal and portfolio manager at Oaktree Capital Management LLC, was introduced as the Grizzlies vice-chairman. Pera, who will be the controlling owner of the team, has the title of chairman.

The full group met at fellow Grizzlies partner and AutoZone founder J.R. “Pitt” Hyde’s home Sunday night.

As of mid-Monday, the new Grizzlies leadership was keeping information on ownership percentages and how Pera is financing the team, including what debt might be part of the mix, close to the vest.

University of Memphis men’s basketball coach Josh Pastner was in the crowd at Monday’s press conference, as was Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace.

Pera was represented in the sale of the team by Levien Sports, David Carlock and Jeffrey Pollack, who collectively put the team’s limited partnership group together.

O’Melveny & Myers LLP provided legal counsel for Pera in the sale. McDermott Will & Emery LLP represented Hoops LP on the other side of the deal, which was signed in June and closed Oct. 29.

Pera said he’ll be involved in decision-making for the team at a high level and that Levien will handle the day-to-day.

Speaking of high-level, when asked whether fans would get to see Pera, who’s something of a basketball player himself, do any dunking on court, the new owner smiled and said simply, “Yeah.”

PROPERTY SALES 92 229 4,100
MORTGAGES 94 225 4,615
BUILDING PERMITS 170 538 9,806
BANKRUPTCIES 53 163 3,048