Allow me to be one of many to congratulate Chris Vernon on a great interview yesterday with Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley. Vernon refused to back down to Heisley's bullying, demeaning attitude, and overall old-man-ness, and he is to be credited. Also, it's always nice when someone manages to completely validate your opinion of them simply by opening their own mouth.
First, a disclaimer, I work in the business world, and I am aware that Heisley clearly knows what he's doing when it comes to running a for-profit business. He wouldn't be a billionaire otherwise. All I'm saying is that in treating an NBA franchise like any other business, Heisley is grossly mismanaging a valuable asset, and in turn causing depression for thousands of people.
When the sale of the Grizzlies to the Laettner-Davis group fell through, Heisley pretty much came to the realization that he was stuck with this team for a good chunk of time. This business no longer fit the model of Heisley's specialty: taking a distressed asset, and flipping it for profit.
What failed to change, however, was Heisley's mindset. He's still treating the Grizz like another waste disposal or sewer treatment business, and not what it really is.
All of what I said is a prelude to today. As the resident Heisley hater on this blog, allow me to give 6 quick examples from Vernon's interview, in no particular order, why the owner of our favorite sports team is grossly incompetent, out of touch, rude, and overall just bad at owning a basketball team.
1) He can't even say the names of his own players.
I'm not sure about you, but if I were paying out $60 million dollars or so to around 15 specific employees, I would make it a point to know exactly who they were, where they were from, and probably what they had for breakfast each day. I get that Heisley has thousands of employees and to know all of them is ridiculous, but I can gurantee you these are 15 of his highest paid.
In that case, why is it "Ash-eem Ta-beet"? And "A-keem War-Wick"? And "X-av-ee-er Henry?" As our friend Ed Lover would say, "C'mon son!"
2. He can quote the CBA, yet says he's never seen it.
Heisley's main point to Vernon concerning the Xavier Henry situation was that in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, there is bargaining room when signing rookies to new contracts. Heisley is correct in this point, however, as Vernon pointed out, no team does this (ed. note: besides the Spurs, who haven't picked as high as the Grizzlies since drafting Duncan), mostly to maintain good relationships with rookies, their agents, and future potential members of the team.
Heisley obviously could care less about this, but saw an opportunity to save a bit of money, so he jumped on it. However, when pressed, Heisley admitted he had never even seen the CBA, and despite the fact that he's paid this customary bonus to his rookies every other year since he owned the team, just decided that this was the year to start enforcing that rule. Which leads us to....
3. He honestly doesn't think he's cheap
Heisley went back to his same tired excuses of "I spent money and took us to the playoffs" and "I just paid Rudy Gay" when Vernon gave Heisley the impression that most Grizzlies fans have: The Xavier Henry situation is yet another example of Heisley being cheap. What he fails to realize is that just because you spend money in one area doesn't absolve you if you are cheap in every other area.
It's like a guy who spends a ton of money on new basketball shoes but only eats ramen noodles and doesn't have cable. Just because you go crazy when to comes to the Jerry West's and (ummm) Rudy Gay's of the world doesn't mean that you can fire your scouts, have the league's lowest salary, and hold out on rookie contracts. That's just not how it works.
Heisley saw an opportunity to save a few bucks, agents and rookies be damned, and he went for it. That is the very definition of being cheap.
4. He doesn't understand that perception is reality
Heisley stated in the interview " I will tell you point blank, son, the press doesn't influence me one iota." If that's how you want to act Mr. Heisley, fine, so be it. But it's just a stupid way to run your business. You shouldn't necessarily be "influenced" by the press, but come on, at least pay attention.
If Heisley did pay attention, he would understand that the Grizzlies are a laughingstock. A punchline. They garner zero respect around the league, and when they are relevant, it is fleeting and usually negative. This ties in a bit to my intro, but it goes to show that Heisley misunderstands how professional sports works.
In order to get people interested, buy tickets, buy merchandise, and generally put money in your pocket, they have to have positive feelings about the team. If the press is negative toward everything that you are directly responsible for, then people aren't going to support your team or buy your product. You would honestly think a billionaire would know Public Relations 101.
5. He's just a jerk
There's no reason to agree to come on someone's radio program and then be rude just because they might not agree with everything that they say. Far be it for me to sanctify Chris Vernon, the man has never met a hyperbole he didn't like, but he generally puts on an entertaining radio show that spends a great deal of time on my favorite sports team. Today, Vernon found out exactly what happens when you decide to speak truth to power.
In a little over 30 minutes, Heisley managed to refer to Vernon repeatedly as "son," "partner," and "kid." Now I would expect this from idiot callers who have nothing better to do than try and be funny on a local radio program, but from a guy on the Forbes list? Mr. Heisley, you should be better than that. Shame on you.
6. Don't accuse someone of lying and then fudge the facts yourself
At several points during the interview, Heisley told Vernon he was "wrong,""making things up," or "that's just not true." In the pot calling the kettle black department, with a hat tip to Tom Ziller of AOL Fanhouse and Sactown Royalty, Heisley made the most incorrect statement of the entire interview.
Heisley said that in the past 10 years, the Grizzlies have made the playoffs three times. Correct. We went 0-12, but who's counting.
What wasn't correct is when he said that was on par with other small market teams. As Ziller points out, only the Bobcats and the Clippers have fewer wins in that time period. Also note this: here are other small market teams and their playoff appearances over the last 10 years.
Honestly, if you're an NBA fan, a Grizzlies fan, or just someone who enjoys hearing a rich old man put his foot in his mouth, do yourself a favor and go listen to the interview. As someone who is already firmly entrenched in the anti-Heisley camp, it only adds more fuel to my fire.
I really wish that Heisley would sell the team to someone who cares about this city and cares about this team. He can state how much he hates to lose all he wants, but until he shows that he will do whatever it takes to win, the words continue to ring hollow. Ladies and Gentlemen, the leader of your Memphis Grizzlies.
- Chris Wilson