A Closer Look at the Billionaire Who Wants to Buy the Phoenix Coyotes

Martin AverySenior Writer IMay 15, 2009

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 05:  Jim Balsillie Chairman and Co-CEO of Research In Motion and new owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins shakes hands with Mario Lemieux  in a press conference announcing the purchase after the first period at Mellon Arena on October 5, 2006 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

"We're the source of the game, the players, the money, and I think we should have a seventh team. I don't quit and I don't get scared. I love the NHL, I love hockey and I believe this is part of our soul as Canadians and we don't feel we have enough stake in our own soul.  And it's what I want to do." -- Jim Balsillie

It's time for a closer look at Jim Balsillie, the BlackBerry billionaire who wants to buy the Phoenix Coyotes for Canada.

Some news sources characterize Balsillie as the co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion who has twice tried to buy an NHL team (Pittsburgh and Nashville) and move it to southern Ontario.

Balsillie very recently tried to set the record straight about that and other issues in the publisher's boardroom at the Toronto Star during an on-the-record briefing on his bid to take over the Phoenix Coyotes and move the NHL team to Hamilton.

Balsillie came out swinging, the Toronto Star reported. Balsillie said his attempt to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and move them to Canada is about the "passion Canadians feel for the game of hockey."

The NHL contends that Balsillie cannot buy the Coyotes out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Balsillie's offering more than $212 million for the Coyotes and says the offer, which is conditional on moving the team, goes the furthest in "satisfying creditors' claims."

Keven McGran, writing in the Toronto Star, says Balsillie began his quest for an NHL team when the NHL asked him to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins. That deal fell apart over the relocation issue but Balsillie insists he would have left the team in Pittsburgh.

At that time, Mario Lemieux was ready to walk away from the Penguins because he couldn't reach a deal with the city to build a new arena.

The NHL insisted he sign non-relocation clauses but Balsillie wouldn't do it because he wanted leverage to threaten to move the team to get the arena built.

That's the same leverage Lemieux ultimately used.

When problems in Nashville emerged, Balsillie said he was willing to buy the team and give Nashville a fair chance to keep the team where it was.

There was talk about moving the team to Kansas City. Balsillie thought about moving the Predators to Hamilton, but the NHL said 'no'.

When the league told Balsillie he couldn't do what he wanted, it made him want to do it more, McGran says.

Also writing for the Toronto Star, Damien Cox describes Balsillie as brilliant and as the Waterloo businessman who "alternates between being plain spoken My-Name's-Joe-And-I-Am-Canadian and a charismatic, futuristic shaman channeling the late great Jim Morrison with a little Tony Robbins mixed in."

Cox goes even further to say "He is like the Illuminati of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, betrayed centuries ago and now dedicated to toppling the walls of the Vatican."

He said he sounds Dylan-esque and is "as disarming as Bruce McNall, as infused with intellectual energy as Ted Leonsis."