VOL. 129 | NO. 101 | Friday, May 23, 2014
The Press Box
Pera’s Just Following Sports Owner Formula
By Don Wade
Until recently, I figured if I ever won a huge lottery and became a gazillionaire, I would indulge my sports fantasy of owning a horse in the Kentucky Derby.
But everyone draws a line somewhere, and I don’t want to pay for the nasal strips on general principle. (California Chrome is just the frontrunner of this movement.)
Now, is that kind of thinking nuts? Of course it is.
But remember, rich + eccentric = pro sports owner.
At some level, we need to keep that in mind; Grizzlies controlling owner Robert Pera is just following the formula. His pro sports owner forefathers would do things that made them look like they had hit their heads after long falls down the steps of their too-steep upper decks. Why should Pera be any different?
A bit of sports owner history:
I grew up in Kansas City and hated Charles O. Finley for moving the A’s to Oakland. Finley had a mule at the games in Kansas City – “Charlie O.” – and this became a perfect symbol because Finley was an ass.
But this is not an attempt to suggest Pera will move the Grizzlies. Rather, it’s my way of saying that just as it takes a big ego to name a mule after yourself, it takes a big ego to challenge Tony Allen – or an aging Michael Jordan – to a game of one-on-one.
Self-awareness is not Pera’s foremost quality.
Remember the Raiders’ sunglasses-and-white jumpsuit-clad Al Davis? He had the motto “Just win, baby.” Today, that almost seems quaint, given that even winning isn’t good enough, what with Lionel Hollins out the door last year, front office executives Jason Levien and Stu Lash out the door this week, and coach Dave Joerger reportedly interviewing in Minnesota.
Not that change is anything new under the sun.
The New York Yankees’ George Steinbrenner hired and fired, and rehired and re-fired, Billy Martin as though trying to fulfill the plot line of a reality show. The Boss, of course, did become a recurring character in “Seinfeld,” and the beautiful part of it was there was really nothing a scriptwriter could imagine that would have qualified as impossible.
However, I’m not sure even Hollywood could have sold Christian Laettner coming to Memphis to tell us he would own the Grizzlies and play for them. (See, it could always be worse.)
Speaking of which, I covered the Cincinnati Reds of Marge Schott and shared elevator rides in old Riverfront Stadium with her and her slobbering Saint Bernard, Schottzie. They possessed equal amounts of style and grace. Not to mention wisdom.
And yet I knew long before recent events that the Los Angeles Clippers’ Donald Sterling was maybe worse than all of those owners combined.
So where does that leave us? Or to channel Pera himself: So, like, we’re not sure how to categorize this young, next-generation forward-thinker, right?
Right. The late Michael Heisley, the Grizzlies’ previous owner, at least had the advantage of being the man that put Memphis in the big leagues.
Heisley also was far older than Pera and had a business track record that said he could replicate success. Pera, 36, founded Ubiquiti Networks less than a decade ago after being a frustrated engineer at Apple; Forbes estimates his worth today at $2 billion.
Bottom line: You don’t get where he is, as fast as he did, by being timid or by being afraid of what people think of your decisions.
Is he eccentric? Listen to him speak for 30 seconds and you might reach that conclusion.
He is also rich and the Grizzlies’ controlling owner. And all three words matter: “rich,” “owner” and “controlling.”
No matter what happens with the Grizzlies next, this is Robert Pera’s world.
Your only decision is whether or not to buy tickets in it.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.