Kleeman's Jump Hook: Five NBA Players Who Should Consider Ownership
When Michael Jordan agreed to purchase the Charlotte Bobcats in late February, he became the first player to own a majority stake in an NBA franchise. David Stern said he expects the other owners to approve the former Bulls star before the end of March.
Jordan's bid to take the team’s reigns from BET founder Robert Johnson raises an interesting question: Why haven’t more former players expressed interest in NBA ownership?
For most of pro basketball’s existence, hoops bosses have allowed front-office chiefs to handle roster decisions and execute trades. Those hardwood CEOs succeeded by staying out of the way.
Then, Mark Cuban, a Dallas Mavericks season-ticket holder and convenient billionaire, decided he did not like where the team was headed under Ross Perot’s negligent stewardship, and bought it.
The charismatic business mogul does not boast athleticism or any commendable basketball skills, but he has redefined ownership in the sport. An owner can do more than just write checks and chaperon the team’s budget.
With too many fraudulent cheapskates helming deplorable franchises, maybe it’s time for players to follow Cuban and Jordan.
When Cuban meddles too much in the Mavericks’ affairs he angers everyone from Stern to All-Star Dirk Nowitzki. His incessant griping about players he deems dirty and questionable calls irks the commissioner.
The pluses since he entered the cockpit 10 years ago are undeniable, though. Dallas, a perennial loser in the '90s competing to avoid last place, has become a consistent 50-game winner and a finalist. The Mavs’ boast a much-improved home-court advantage and occupy more real estate in the sports sections of the local papers. Anyone from North Texas knows how hard it is to displace or upstage the Cowboys on the front page.
A player might not know as much about stocks and business fundamentals as the CEO of a major corporation, but he has more of a reason to care about the on-court product.
The current collective bargaining agreement allows L.A. Clippers boss Donald Sterling to collect a few million extra each year if his payroll does not exceed the luxury tax. He also cashes in on the size and prominence of his market. Sports squads in Hollywood score the kinds of lucrative radio and TV deals teams in smaller metros will never sniff.
So, Sterling can turn a profit even if his team loses 60 games. When the NBA and player’s union leadership sit down to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, this travesty should rank high on the list of necessary fixes.
Star players have often failed in front office and coaching posts because they lack the proper appreciation for the game’s nuances. As such, they overvalue spot-minutes players and overpay cancerous scrubs.
Case in point: Isiah Thomas, a beloved, tough-nosed small guard whose transitions to the desk and bench proved disastrous.
Kevin McHale failed to field a championship squad in the 12 years he employed future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett. The chippy, furious, and defensive-minded forward showed as a Celtic he could win a title if provided the right supporting cast.
Ownership is a different animal, and maybe some current and former players could tame the beast. For every Jerry Buss, there is a disengaged slouch content with losing so long as his pockets and wallet remain pleasantly plump.
Here are 10 players who should open up their checkbooks and put the aforementioned crackerjacks out of their misery.
I excluded David Robinson and Magic Johnson because both own stakes in the Spurs and Lakers, respectively. How did I select my choices?
A competent boss must demonstrate the ability to exercise fiscal restraint. Keep dreaming, Charles Barkley.
Entertainment value is a plus, but a player who loves the deep end could not be trusted to make sound decisions. Back off, Ron Artest and Dennis Rodman.
An owner should also avoid needless gut reactions, especially when they involve demeaning folks within the organization. Kobe Bryant will retire as one of the greatest to ever play, but he should steer clear of management when he hangs up the sneakers.
Here’s the list.
Years in NBA: 10
Why He Should Bid: His exceptional peripheral vision on the court could help him make wise decisions as a boss.
Is there a more obvious candidate for ownership than this two-time champion and Hall of Famer? How many sports owners can flaunt degrees from both Princeton and Oxford Universities? The Rhodes Scholar has authored six non-fiction novels and hosts a weekly radio show on satellite radio.
I saw him speak at a university several years ago, and he mesmerized the packed auditorium with his wit, humor, and dynamic voice. He served three terms in the U.S. Senate and ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2000.
He also played overseas in Italy, affording him a necessary appreciation for the NBA's global impact.
He would get Phil Jackson's vote of confidence.
Negatives: He has always worn his politics on his sleeve, and that might turn off some in the hoops community. If NFL pundits slammed Rush Limbaugh for his divisive conservative views, Stern and other owners would have to consider the impact of a known liberal re-entering the community.
Years in NBA: 19
Championships: Zero (Two Finals appearances)
Why He Should Bid: In his 19-year career, he missed 22 games, 18 of them in one season while recuperating from a torn MCL in his left knee.
He was usually the toughest guy on the court, even if he also flopped to no end. In an ownership role, he could make difficult decisions and oversee a winning operation.
In his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech last September, he showed the humility and class necessary to tackle the job.
He remained loyal to the Utah Jazz, even as other squads dangled more cash. It also helps that he played under one of the sport's greatest owners in Larry Miller.
Negatives: Because he avoided endorsements and spent most of his time off the court with his family, he might abhor the spotlight the position would attract.
His timorousness might rob him of the confidence needed to manage a franchise. Would he trade retired life for an accounting deluge?
Years in NBA: 18
Teams: Nuggets, Hawks, 76ers, Nets, Knicks, Rockets
Championships: Zero (One Finals appearance)
Why He Should Bid: Perhaps the greatest humanitarian figure in all of sports, Mutombo knows what it means to give back.
He would never stand for cheating his franchise's fans, and he would work tirelessly to build a roster capable of securing the championship he could not during his career.
Just imagine his GM coming at him with a ridiculous trade proposal. Mutombo would swat the idea back to the Congo and give his mistaken employee a finger wag.
He spent $15 million of his own money to help open the $29 million, 300-bed Biambi Marie Mutombo Hospital in the Congolese capital of Kinshasha.
The former Defensive Player of the Year also embraces the game's global reach. He was born in Africa!
Though he was never regarded as a journeyman, he suited up for six teams and comprehends the tough nature of the business.
Mutombo's staff would likely rank as the most diverse in sports, with employees hailing from every continent. Plus, who doesn't like listening to a guy who sounds like he's gargling razorblades every time he opens his mouth?
Negatives: His focus on philanthropy would dwarf any desire to buy a team. A business venture and the giving spirit do not always mesh.
Years in NBA: 16
Teams: Hornets, Nets, Heat
Why He Should Bid: Mourning's affinity for generosity can be seen in the foundation he established in 1997 and his recent work in earthquake-devastated Haiti.
A survivor of a life-threatening kidney disease, no one at the annual Board of Governors meeting would question his resolve or his determination to triumph.
He grew frustrated when he could not win, and he would carry that attitude as an owner. He already works in the Heat organization as a player development vice president.
Mourning knows players, and he oozes zest.
Negatives: His temper sometimes caused him to make foolish on-court decisions. Other than that resume blemish, he would prove himself a top-notch boss.
Years in NBA: 14
Teams: Lakers, Warriors, Jazz
Why He Should Bid: No one milked more from one ability in the last decade than the veteran guard. Fisher drains dagger shots and manages to stay in the starting lineup despite usually possessing far less physical ability than his opponent.
He boasts the highest cumulative three-point percentage in NBA Finals history—proof that he delivers when it matters most.
Many in Laker nation decried his deteriorating defense and propensity to throw up bricks for most of the 2009 playoffs. Then, when it came time for L.A. to show championship mettle, he swooshed a pair of back-breaking treys.
As president of the player's association, he knows the importance of the CBA and its effect on daily operations within a franchise.
Like the other candidates on this list, his winning attitude would be infectious. He would not spend recklessly, a product of his having to earn every paycheck as a role player.
Negatives: He may never accumulate enough wealth to make a serious bid. Fisher also puts his family first, a fact that could destroy his interest.
Players suit up at least 82 times a year. An owner performs his duties 365 days a year.
Already hailed as one of the greatest basketball execs ever, the man immortalized in the NBA's signature logo should consider a step up the management ladder.
The player known as "The Human Highlight Film" soared every time he stepped on the hardwood. Would he make a slam-dunk owner?
He led eight Celtics squads to championship glory with his predatory defense. Stern announced last year the Finals MVP trophy would be named after the transcendent center.
In 1996, he became the sport's first ever black coach, after blazing the trail as its first black star. He may be 76, with a surly reputation, but his inclusion here should not require further explanation.
He was never a spectacular player, but that cannot dent what he did for the game. One of the first black players ever allowed in the pros, he would understand the sport and this nation's tumultuous history as much as anyone.
He is 81, so he might not want to assume the burden of ownership as he nears death.
He has never played adequate, NBA-level defense, and it seems unlikely he will ever star on a championship outfit. Still, his zeal, zip, and staying power would win over anyone in an organization. Fans would love him, too.