How To Run An NBA Team

by Lang Whitaker

It seems pretty clear to me that there’s a proper way to own an NBA team, and there’s also an improper way to do it, specifically when you’re the new kid on the block.

As for the wrong way, check out the new owners of the Seattle Sonics. Based in Oklahoma City, this ownership group headed by Clay Bennett has been quoted talking about how they’re committed to staying in Seattle, but nobody really believes them. Why not? Because they’ve set a limit on their attempts to keep the team in Seattle (one year) and when asked if the team will stay in Seattle, they won’t give a straight answer.

Contrast this with what’s going on in Memphis. Grizz owner Michael Heisley announced last week that he’s reached a deal to sell his majority stake in the Grizzlies to a group headed by former Duke Blue Devil and NBA also-ran Brian Davis. Check out this story in today’s USA Today — Davis says all the right things, and even if you’re not a Grizzlies fan it’s hard not to feel excited about what he’s attempting to do. (Or at least talking about attempting to do.)

“We want to elevate what is going on downtown,” Davis says. “To bring in more hotels … more retail and residential areas and fill in the dead spots. Regionally, Memphis has the opportunity to be the epicenter of the entertainment world. Hopefully, jobs will go up, pay will go up and that is the full cycle.”

And regarding the current NBA owners, Davis notes, “I’m figuring that a lot of these guys are not interfacing with a lot of young black guys. I can say ‘I can go places you can’t go and you can go places I can’t go, and this is an opportunity for us to come together.'”

(An interesting side note: In the sidebar to the Brian Davis story, there’s a mention that one of the current minority owners of the Grizzlies is Elliott Perry, former Memphis St. and Phoenix Suns point guard who was one of the first to rock the high-sock look. I interviewed him a few years ago about his art collection, which is specifically African-American art, which he was introduced to by Darrell Walker. EP is a really bright guy, and I hope he’s able to stay involved.)

A few years ago, my favorite team, the Atlanta Hawks, went on the market. They almost went to a car salesman from Dallas with the melodic name David McDavid, until at the last moment they were bought by a group called Atlanta Spirit that included several Atlantans. This group pledged to keep the Hawks in Atlanta, to make the Hawks a contender once again. Since then they’ve spent more time in a court of law than on a basketball court. The man they’ve stuck with at GM, Billy Knight, refuses to speak straight to the media, which has left a lot of fans frustrated and confused.

Really, as fans, all we want from our owners are people who we are sure are committed to winning a championship. Sure we want to see progress, but it’s almost more important to see owners that are willing to spend money, even when it occasionally doesn’t work out. Owners who will shake up the front office when progress isn’t imminent. Owners who are fans of their teams.

Think about the Sixers. When Pat Croce was running things, he was all over the place, giving interviews, hanging with the fans, cheering on his team and mobilizing the fan base. These days nobody’s sure what’s going on. Croce might not have really known anything about how to run an NBA team, but we knew that he was giving it his all. At least, it sure sounded that way.

Talk can be cheap, but after comparing the Memphis situation with the Seattle situation, it’s pretty apparent that sometimes a few positive words might be all we fans needed to begin with. You like us, we’ll like you.