Pro sports owners have a tough life. Fans usually dislike them, either for their cheap ways or for spending too much money on the wrong guys or for raising ticket prices or restricting beer sales or firing scouting departments or hiring inexpensive coaches or running beloved GMs out of town. And sometimes they move franchises and become the symbols of evil for an entire city or state.
On the other hand they’re billionaires — and own pro sports teams.
Jim Dolan is again taking heat in New York after the Knicks declined to bring Jeremy Lin back to the team. It’s just the latest move in an ownership career filled with odd decisions off the court and disastrous results on it.
In LA, Lakers fans continue to worry about life under Jim Buss, who has taken over the team from his beloved father, Jerry, who guided the team to 10 titles in 30 years and helped ensure the team usually won in style, all while he dated girls in their 20s.
All owners are rich but no owners are truly alike. There are great ones and terrible ones, hands-off leaders and their-fingerprints-are-all-over-the-crime-scene-Chief dictators. Some become famous, others remain anonymous.
What kind of owner would you be?
I’ve spent way too much time daydreaming about what I’d be like as owner, time that might have been better spent exercising, sleeping, eating, reading, writing, listening, traveling or pursuing actual career goals.
First, I earned my money. I didn’t inherit my bucks or the team from a parent. Perhaps I grew up on a farm or in a small town. In high school I played three sports and was an above-average student. My old math teacher called me “brilliant but unmotivated” in an early profile in Time magazine. After college I struck it big with some type of invention that completely changed the way we think about, I don’t know, the distribution of DVDs. In my early 30s I developed a bit of a reputation as a playboy but remained a fixture at the games of my favorite baseball/basketball/football franchise. I grew bored with my company and devoted most of my time to funding orphanages in Antarctica.
Finally, when I turned 40, my favorite team announced it would move at the end of the next season unless a new owner stepped forward. Bad times. I swoop in at the last second — after some behind-the-scenes pleas by Stern or Selig or Goodell — and purchase the squad from the doddering elderly owner, who can barely meet payroll and trades all the good players at the deadline each year. The old owner will also soon be caught up in an embezzling scandal involving secret funds funneled to his mistress secretary, who used the money for plastic surgery. Bad plastic surgery.
At the introductory press conference I wear my standard jeans and T-shirt. “Wow, never thought I’d be in this position,” I lie to the press, since I’ve thought about being in this position from the first moment I cashed a six-figure check. “First, let me say this franchise will never leave Minnesota/Indiana/Dallas/Cleveland. I guarantee that.” When reporters ask about a new stadium, I say the time isn’t right for that. But a few weeks later I’m again on the front page — or the most emailed story on the paper’s website — when I declare that we will build a new stadium, and I’ll pay for it all. The city asks if they can throw a parade in my honor, but I humbly decline. Mothers name their firstborn sons after me and send me pictures of the ugly children.
I have to bring in my own general manager. Need my own guys. But I pick a baseball man, or a basketball man or a football man, and hopefully I don’t screw up and pick a baseball man for my basketball franchise. I want him to value numbers but also scouting. We will pursue free agents and we will keep our best players. That’s my directive.
Coaches? I admit, I’m sort of tough on coaches. Have we learned nothing from the Rooneys and their three coaches in six decades? No. Early on I bring in a big name coach but only after consulting with my new GM. As the years go by I get bored easily and fire them after four or five years. Not Jerry Jones or Steinbrenner, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a monster. And I only hire guys who have been assistants or head coaches in the pros, no college dudes. Unless it’s Mike Grant, as I think outside the box. But I pay my coaches well, and even after I fire them or they resign or go spend more time with their family, they talk about how fair I was as an owner, and how, while my door wasn’t necessarily always open to them, it usually would spring open after six or seven minutes spent knocking on it.
In an early wide-ranging interview that runs in the Sunday paper — accompanied by a picture of me reclining behind my desk, sipping a Dr Pepper (“Fury, who has been sober for six years, consumes 11 Dr Peppers a day,” the reporter notes) — I talk about my early childhood memories of the franchise. How I cried when they lost in the seventh game or on a Hail Mary in the playoffs. I talk about the old jerseys I used to wear and how I bought season tickets my first year out of school, paying for them by working seven jobs, including one as a paper boy where I made $25 bucks a week but earned a free subscription. This was before the billions.
I’d certainly negotiate through the press. I’d be fearless, but not a jerk. On Around the Horn the panelists debate if I should shut up or speak up even more. When a sports talk radio host criticizes me, I’d call in and dispute his argument, provided he gave wrong information. “I respect your opinion,” I’d tell the host, whose show is called the Zoo or the Jungle or the Pit. “But I can’t let you tell your great listeners incorrect information.” The host thanks me and after I hang up he tells his producer “That’s a guy who gets it.”
Where do I sit? Probably up in a suite. Like Jerry Buss. I want the focus on the team, not on me. Perhaps I use a ploy utilized by The Judge in The Natural and I never allow lights on in my office. It adds intrigue, and an element of danger.
For the most part I stay out of personnel matters and let my GM handle things. I do weigh in on the big decisions, however. Sign this guy, let’s not pursue that guy, let’s make that eight-team deal involving 28 players.
My personal life is my personal life, thank you, I tell the press, though I flaunt my Victoria’s Secret model galpal around the city whenever I have the opportunity. When I’m not dating young models I’m with older movie stars and we debate the best Oscar hosts while watching replays of last night’s game. Eventually I fall in love with a middle-school teacher and we have kids, who will one day bitterly squabble over who gets to run the team once I’m pushed out of the picture.
I remain a traditionalist with the team. We keep the same uniforms we’ve had for 40 years, none of this changing it up all the time, unless we introduce a one-time only day where we wear the uniforms from 50 years ago. That, too, is about connecting with the past and has nothing to do with money.
My team is successful on the field. We almost always make the playoffs, perhaps because under the expanded playoff system all but two teams make it. But we’re always well above .500 and, finally, eventually, miraculously, we win the title. We did it! That’s what I shout as I steal the championship trophy from the coach and hold it over my head. I weep while Terry Bradshaw or Mike Breen asks me about what it’s like winning a title with the team I grew up admiring.
“It’s impossible to put into words,” I say, though I’ll do just that in an autobiography coming out six months later titled, “The Fury Way.” During the victory parade our MVP — a tough veteran who was there before I rescued the franchise — thanks me for all I did and the crowd cheers.
And…oh, I’ve gone on too long already? Okay.