This is the fourth installment in a running series of dialogues between Kevin Lipe, Scott "ForeignFlopper" Beatty, and Marcus Privitt about any and all things related to the Memphis Grizzlies. Today's topic is the teams prospective new owner, billionaire entrepreneur Robert Pera.
Kevin: Is Robert Pera the right owner for the Grizzlies right now? If not, what kind of owner should the Grizzlies have?
Scott: I don’t know what to think of Robert Pera at this point. At first I was really excited–young, intelligent billionaire buys the franchise–but then Tom brought all us back down to Earth. Here’s the thing: while it would be nice to have a Mark Cuban or Jerry Buss who is willing to spend to whatever it takes to win, it’s not a necessity; the vast majority of contenders are able to compete without going deep into the luxury tax. So even if Pera brings a mentality of responsible and efficient spending to Memphis, it shouldn’t hurt the franchise, unless that becomes ownspeak for "I don’t want to spend at all" (see the Maloofs, Chris Cohan, Donald Sterling, and pre–2010 Michael Heisley).
As sad as it may sound, owners are at their best when the fans are completely obilvious to their presence, and that’s what I’d like to see from Pera. One of my biggest criticisms of Michael Heisley was that he regularly meddled in the personnel decisions. While I understand that it is your franchise, the whole purpose of hiring a general manager and a president of basketball operations is that you trust them to manage that franchise for you. So all I ask of the Grizzlies’ owner is that he hires competent management and only interferes if management proves that they cannot be trusted to make effective decisions.
Marcus: Good stuff, Scott. Hit the nail on the head: the best owners are the owners that make a hiring decision, then have faith in that decision. Heisley didn’t do that - he swooped in and used his authority to live out his make-believe basketball knowledge and didn’t trust the guys that researched the same decisions for a living.
One thing that I’d like to see from Pera: a greater investment in marketing. The Memphis Grizzlies aren’t exactly the most marketable team out there (the "superstar player" changes on a night-to-night basis), so this could prove to be a challenge. Could Pera get college basketball fans to commit their heart to the Grizzlies the same way they do the Tigers?
It’s not the player that markets himself – it’s how the player is marketed. Look at a guy like Yao Ming. Sure, he had his all-star seasons, but was he as good as a player as the market says he was? I don’t think so. But hey - he was marketed well and the Rockets were on the map because of it. I want to see a move like that from Pera. Let him locate the one or two guys that he believes could carry the image of the Grizzlies and run with them.
Kevin: I think Heisley’s biggest failure as an owner has been meddling with personnel decisions that should have been made by the GM. It seems like since Chris Wallace has taken the reins of the team, though, he’s had a little more faith in Wallace’s process. (Obligatory Hasheem Thabeet reference here.) If Pera can put faith in Wallace (and, most importantly, keep Wallace and Tony Barone employed) then the team can be built really well going forward.
All of these NBA owners are super-mega-rich – they have to be if they’re going to shell out $350mil to buy a franchise. Coincidentally, many superheroes are super-mega-rich. Which rich-guy superhero would make a better NBA owner? Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne? Am I missing one?
Marcus: I’m one of the biggest Batman fans you’ll meet, but I have to go with Tony Stark. Stark is more aggressive and plays by a mindset that fits the NBA: flashy, loud-mouthed, and glamorous. You never know what Bruce Wayne is doing. He lies to the public about his identity and keeps the whole "Batman thing" under the blanket. How does that translate to NBA world? Imagine an owner that acts like he cares about the team he owns, but really doesn’t. Instead, you just see him in the newspaper here and there about how he invited all the NBA owners over his house to talk about the future of the league. Not because he cares - but because he wants to fool everybody into thinking he cares.
Scott: You’re just baiting me, aren’t you Kevin?
Actually both of them would make great owners: they’re playboy millionaires (good for attracting free agents) and too busy to meddle in personnel decisions. That being said, I’m going to agree with Marcus and say that Tony Stark would make a better owner. Bruce Wayne is way too obsessed with fighting crime to care about the fortunes of his company, hence the fact that he pretty much just lets Alfred and Lucius Fox manage his affairs for him. For Batman, Wayne Industries is simply a means to end. On the other, Stark Industries represents a important part of Tony Stark the man. Any failure within his business empire represents a blow to his ego. In other words, if Stark were our owner, we would have already won several championships.
Kevin: I’d much rather have Tony Stark than Michael Heisley. That said, either of those two would be better than the situation a team like the Sacramento Kings are in with the Maloof family running the team into the ground trying to simultaneously (1) milk a new arena out of the City of Sacramento and (2) move to Anaheim, vacating said new arena. The Grizzlies haven’t done that because the team’s lease means they basically can’t leave until 2021.
What’s the worst case scenario here? Pera moves the team to San Jose or Seattle when the lease is up, even though the team has built a solid base of fan support? Or is it that he pulls a Maloof and has the team be terrible for years trying to move, obliterating said fan support? Do we think Pera has a real interest in the city of Memphis?
I wake up with cold sweats sometimes thinking about the Grizzlies moving to Seattle and becoming the New Sonics – all the Vancouver and Memphis years simply erased from history, eaten by the Sonics’ 1979 banner.
I’d like to see him buy a house here, or a condo down on S. Main somewhere, get to know the city, the people, the vibe of the place. Seems unlikely, though. I don’t think it’s a done deal that he wants to move the team somewhere down the road – not at all, and I don’t think the league would be crazy about that idea, either, given that the Seattle/OKC crater is still smoldering and they just worked so hard to keep the Hornets in New Orleans. But having a non-local owner certainly makes it harder to argue that the team will never be moved, don’t you think?
Scott: This will probably come across as quite harsh, but ultimately, the key to Grizzlies’ future is the city of Memphis and its fans. At the end of the day, Pera is a business man, and if the city supports the team by attending games and plays ball (to a reasonable degree) on any future arena issues, then Pera can’t move the team even if he wants to. While I also get nervous anytime people start mentioning relocation, I also like the idea that the ball is in the city’s court so to speak. This is not a situation like Sacramento, where the owners are broke and need to move so that they can stay afloat. Simply put, as long as the city supports the team, there’s no justifiable reason for moving it.
Marcus: You’re right, Scott. Though it would be hard to see the Grizz leave, if there is a better city to financially support the team, then Pera’s gotta move. I would hate it if they moved. Memphis is so…grit and grind.
Regardless, here’s a toast to Pera. Take us home. Put us on the map. Lets do it.