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VOL. 133 | NO. 120 | Friday, June 15, 2018
Don Wade

Don Wade

Grizzlies Controlling Owner Robert Pera as Elusive as Ever

By Don Wade

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Part of me wants to give Robert Pera a pass. Or at least the benefit of the doubt. Because at the end of it all, what matters most is this:

“The team will be here long-term … I wouldn’t want anything (to do with) a relocation.”

So said the Memphis Grizzlies’ controlling owner in a rare interview.

Check that: It truly would have been rare had the interview been with a media outlet not on Pera’s payroll.

On Tuesday, June 12, Pera sat down for a chat on Grind City Media’s Chris Vernon Show. Although Pera was in FedExForum at the same time as independent media assembled for a pre-NBA Draft workout and availability with general manager Chris Wallace, all interview requests for Pera were reportedly denied.

Pera spoke on a wide range of subjects, but make no mistake about the field of play: In soccer terms, this interview was a “Memphis Friendly.”

Despite this, Pera at one point said: “You have to have some transparency with the fans. How you handle the media and the fans are almost as important as the long-term goals. It took me some time to find my bearings the last several years.”

So perhaps Pera uses a different dictionary when it comes to “transparency.”

On the positive side, he recently resolved immediate questions about Grizzlies ownership when he responded to the buy-sell clause triggered by minority partners Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus. Pera bought out the minority partners, meaning he has even more skin in this game. Which makes it a perfect time to step forward and extend to Memphis a firm handshake, if not a warm hug.

Not the man’s style.

“I guess I’m like the antithesis of a sports owner,” said Pera, who is founder of Ubiquiti Networks. “I don’t like the spotlight, attention. But I do like building things.”

If he really hates the attention, fine. Understandable, even. Although I seem to remember him playing in a nationally televised celebrity game at NBA All-Star Weekend one year and also challenging Tony Allen to a game of one-on-one.

Consider, too, something else from that interview. While saying he wants to “put my stamp on the team more,” Pera said this about his business: “With my company, I can make all the decisions on the long-term (plan). I can be kind of a dictator.”

Yes, we in Memphis are familiar with Robert Pera Autocrat. Independent media, in Pera’s worldview, is just a quaint notion. The problem with that is independent media exists to serve all, not just those employed by the rich man who wants control over the questions.

And that’s what leaves doubt in our minds, isn’t it?

It’s wonderful that Pera at one point donated $1 million to the Grizzlies Foundation. That’s evidence of an outsider making a sincere investment. And it feels good to hear Pera say he is committed to keeping the team in Memphis and express optimism about winning 50 games this next season with the No. 4 pick in the draft and, fingers crossed, a healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.

Still, it feels a little hollow when he continually moves in the shadows. It fosters worry.

It’s only natural that Pera’s public – from big-money season-ticket holders to the real Grit & Grind people paying for the privilege to sit in the terrace level and buy $9 beers – start to wonder that they’re not getting the whole story.

Maybe Grizzlies fans are paranoid, but they can’t hear mention of Seattle or catch sight of the Space Needle without taking a deep breath.

That said, perhaps Robert Pera does only have the best of intentions for Memphis. Maybe he does still dream of a parade down Beale Street.

But being the “antithesis of a sports owner” in this town fits no better than being an aloof basketball coach at the University of Memphis.

Nobody is saying you have to be one of us, Mr. Pera, but it’d be more comforting if it didn’t feel like you were still one of them.

Don Wade’s column appears 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.

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