Power Ranking the NBA's 10 Most Notable Owners
From hiring front office personnel, to determining how much money their general manager can spend, each NBA owner plays a key role in a franchise’s success.
They’re also playing a key role in the ongoing lockout.
But that's a conversation for another time.
The following is not a ranking of the NBA’s 10 best or most successful owners—although some of them did make it—but rather who the most notable are.
How the Rankings Were Created
Factors involved in determining the list:
-Buzz generated in the media
-Front office hires
-Relationship with the public
-Relationships with management and players
-Ability to make their team profitable
No two owners were equally affected by the factors. For some, team success weighed heavier than anything else. Others made it mainly because of the buzz—both good and bad—they’ve created.
The National Basketball Association—owner of the New Orleans Hornets—was excluded from making this list.
Special Mention: Donald Sterling, Los Angeles Clippers
Before we begin, Donald Sterling gets a special mention for being the worst owner—and probably person—in the NBA.
Whether it’s refusing to spend to make the Clippers better, being a complete racist towards his players or the public, or just being an overall terrible person, Sterling’s a prime example of how having a lot of money can help someone avoid the moral and legal prosecution they truly deserve.
It’s simply shocking that David Stern lets this slime ball still be a part of the NBA. What happened to making decisions for the betterment of the league’s business brand? Wasn’t that his justification for implementing a strict dress code on the players back in 2005?
Hopefully Blake Griffin won’t be subjected to Sterling’s ownership for much longer.
Okay, now that the mini rant is over, let’s get into the list.
Who Just Missed the Cut
-Paul Allen, Portland Trailblazers.
-Greg Miller, Utah Jazz.
-Peter Holt, San Antonio Spurs.
-Tom Gores, Detroit Pistons.
-The Maloof family, Sacramento Kings.
Why they merited consideration:
-Paul Allen is the co-founder of Microsoft—Bill Gates being the other—and owns the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.
-Greg Miller just came off likely his most tumultuous season in Utah, which saw legendary coach Jerry Sloan retire mid-season and franchise cornerstone Deron Williams get traded to New Jersey.
-Peter Holt has won four championships with the Spurs.
-Tom Gores recently bought the Detroit Pistons from the embattled Karen Davidson.
-The Maloof family recently gave up their controlling interest in the Las Vegas Palms Casino, nearly moved the Kings to Anaheim after last season—and may still do so after next season—and have been embroiled in disputes with Sacramento Mayor—and former NBA all-star—Kevin Johnson about building a new arena.
You could make arguments for including any of those aforementioned, but they just missed my list.
10. Herb Kohl, Milwaukee Bucks
Unless you’re a political junkie, live in the state of Wisconsin or have been employed by Kohl’s, you probably don’t know why Herb Kohl is important.
In 1985, Kohl bought the Milwaukee Bucks to prevent their departure from Wisconsin. He recently promised not to sell the team unless the new owner keeps them in the state.
In addition to owning the Bucks, Kohl is Wisconsin’s senior U.S. Senator—first elected in 1989. The 76-year-old Democrat is the son of Max Kohl—founder of Kohl’s department and grocery stores—and was the President of Kohl’s from 1970 to 1979.
He holds the state’s record for biggest margin of victory in a Congressional Election and will retire from politics in January 2013.
Unfortunately for Bucks fans, the team hasn’t succeeded like Kohl’s political career, posting a 982-1,118 record—a winning percentage of 48—since he took over.
Milwaukee’s franchise is also the NBA’s least valuable. While Kohl does deserve some blame for the lack of success, he’s the main reason they haven’t left one of the coldest states in the US, so the positives outweigh the negatives.
After all, not many think of Milwaukee as a desired destination to play basketball.
9. Stan Kroenke, Denver Nuggets
When businessman Stan Kroenke bought the Denver Nuggets in 2000, they were one of the NBA’s worst teams.
That changed after drafting Carmelo Anthony, who helped the franchise reach eight consecutive postseasons from 2003-2004 to 2010-2011. While Anthony was traded to New York this past season, his high value helped Denver get solid players—Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari—in return.
During Carmelo’s time as a Nugget, Kroenke constantly showed a willingness to spend money. The team was often over the salary cap, but continued to re-sign key players, and trade for expensive ones like Allen Iverson, in attempts to bring the Rocky Mountains a championship—coming closest in 2009, when they lost in the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers in six games.
Last season, they tried to keep Carmelo—offering him a three-year, $66 million contract extension—but couldn’t sway his desire of playing in New York. Kroenke handled the Melo drama quite well—voicing support for whatever decision management wanted to take and never publicly criticizing his former superstar.
In addition to the Denver Nuggets, Kroenke owns professional sports teams from other leagues: the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche; the NFL’s St. Louis Rams; MLS’s Colorado Rapids; and Major League Lacrosse’s Colorado Mammoth.
He’s also majority shareholder of the European Premier League’s Arsenal. Because of NFL cross-ownership rules, he’s begun transferring ownership stake of the Nuggets and Avalanche to his son Josh.
Forbes estimates Kroenke’s worth at $2.6 billion, and he's married to the daughter of Wal-Mart co-founder Bud Walton. Safe to say, his grandchildren will probably have some sweet birthday and Christmas gifts.
8. Micky Arison, Miami Heat
Micky Arison became owner of the Miami Heat in 1995, and has turned it into an excellent organization.
Numerous individuals, including Dwysne Wade and Alonzo Mourning—the team’s current vice president of player development, have talked about how the franchise takes care of its past and present players. Arison has always been willing to spend on things, like new practice facilities, for the betterment of his team.
Arison’s wisest decision was hiring Pat Riley. Riley coached the Heat to their franchise's first championship and brought together the Bosh-James-Wade Big Three—which wouldn’t have happened without Arison’s approval to pay for three max contracts.
As chair of the league’s board of governors, Arison could play a huge role in the ongoing lockout. Last season, the Heat made a tremendous amount of money, and were the most buzzworthy team in professional sports, so its feasible to believe he wants a quick return to normalcy.
Arison also gets credence for retiring Michael Jordan’s Bulls jersey.
7. James Dolan, New York Knicks
James Dolan has been the New York Knicks owner since 1997, and—besides Donald Sterling—might be the NBA's worst.
Dolan's the Executive Chairman of Madison Square Garden Inc.—consisting of MSG Sports, MSG Media and MSG Entertainment—and is President and CEO of Cablevision. His uncle—Larry Dolan—owns the Cleveland Indians.
In 1999, the Knicks made the NBA FInals but took a steep downhill turn afterwards. Dolan helped fuel the decline—which included eight straight losing seasons from 2001-2002 to 2009-2010—with a number of poor decisions:
-Signing Allan Houston to a $100 million contract in 2001.
-Hiring Isiah Thomas as General Manager and President of Basketball Operations in 2003.
-Signing Larry Brown in 2005 to a 5-year, $50 million contract and then firing him after one season.
-Allowing Thomas to make terrible player acquisitions—Jerome James, Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry.
-Allowing Thomas to coach the Knicks in 2006.
-Giving Thomas numerous votes of confidence.
-Giving Thomas a multi-year contract extension in 2007.
-Firing Anucha Browne Sanders after she was harassed by Thomas.
The smartest sports-related decision Dolan's ever made came in 2008, when he hired Donnie Walsh as President of Basketball Operations. Walsh saved the franchise—to put it lightly. Last season was the first since 1999 in which the Knicks paid no luxury tax—a major shift from paying $24 million-$30 million per year in luxury tax fees while Isiah called the shots.
As a Knicks fan, I’m hopeful that Walsh’s retirement as the team’s president of basketball operations doesn’t mean the return of Thomas. There are reports that the hall of fame point guard won’t get his old job back, so maybe the days of ridiculous contracts and behavior from New York’s front office will remain in the past.
As a rational person—or at least as someone who thinks he’s rational—I’m deeply concerned about Dolan’s close friendship with Zeke. New York’s grown into a playoff team, not far from championship contention, but Thomas—a man who once proclaimed Eddy Curry would become a perennial all-star—could ruin all of that.
All the speculation has kept Dolan in the media spotlight since he hired Isiah as a special advisor last August. When New York traded for Carmelo Anthony, rumors surfaced that Walsh wanted to wait until after the season culminated to get Melo as a free agent, but Thomas convinced Dolan to disregard Walsh and make the move.
Even before the trade went down, speculation that Thomas was running the team behind the scenes was running rampant.
James Dolan holds the New York Knicks fate in his hands. Even during the horrible seasons, attendance was always near the best in the league. In my opinion, Dolan owes the fans for that type of support and shouldn’t derail the progress of the NBA’s most financially valuable team.
6. Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago Bulls
In 1985, Jerry Reinsdorf became owner of the Chicago Bulls and has experienced both success and failure.
Winning six titles is amazing in itself, but allowing Michael Jordan to play baseball for the White Sox—a team Reinsdorf also owns—after leading the Bulls to three straight championships, also deserves praise.
While it could be argued that Reinsdorf owed Jordan the opportunity, some owners may have felt scorned and refused to help.
After Jordan retired for the second time in his career, Chicago went through some enduring periods—missing the playoffs from 1999-2004.
The Bulls reached the postseason from 2005-2007, but failed to do so in 2008. Fortunately for Reinsdorf, the lottery gods blessed him by putting his team in a position to draft Derrick Rose.
Now, Reinsdorf’s Bulls have a bright future and great opportunity to soon get him title No. 7.
5. Dan Gilbert, Cleveland Cavaliers
From penning last summer’s most infamous anti-LeBron James letter, to having his 14-year-old son Nick—who suffers from Neurofibromatosis—represent Cleveland in the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery; Dan Gilbert's been a fixture in the sports media world.
Gilbert became the Cavaliers majority owner in 2005 and his franchise—besides last season—has been pretty successful since. While they didn’t win a championship before LeBron left for South Beach, Cleveland did make its only NBA Finals appearance in 2007 and had the league’s best record in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010.
Gilbert—who renamed the team’s arena after a mortgage lending company he founded called Quicken Loans—has used his clout as Cavaliers owner to help business separate from basketball.
In November 2009, Ohio—via referendum vote—passed a constitutional amendment on gambling that allowed him to build four casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati. Construction stopped this past May, when the state looked to increase taxes and fees on the casinos, but re-started one month later after Governor John Kasich approved tax breaks for Gilbert.
While it should be noted that Gilbert, along with Penn National Gaming, provided $31 million for the campaign to then-make Ohio the 13th state with legalized gambling, David Aldridge brought up a salient fact about the high popularity of his Cavaliers at the time, and how that likely played a role in the vote—which was 1.6 million in favor of and 1.4 million against.
4. Jerry Buss, Los Angeles Lakers
Since taking over the Lakers in 1979, Dr. Jerry Buss has won 10 championships—the most for any owner in NBA history.
Buss has always been one to enjoy himself. He was once charged with DUI in 2007, after driving his gold Mercedes on the wrong side of the road with a 23-year-old woman in the car.
As owner of Hollywood’s favorite sports franchise, he's seen great players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Shaquille O’Neal come and go.
Now, the 77-year-old Hall of Famer is approaching his exit. The shifting of power to his son Jim and daughter Jeanie—girlfriend of former coach Phil Jackson—appears to have already begun, so it’s likely just a matter of time before his professional poker career kicks off.
Buss’s tremendous success in, and contributions to, the sport of basketball should soon get him a statue in front of Staples Center next to the figures of Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Chick Hearn, Wayne Gretzky, Oscar De La Hoya and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—when his gets constructed.
After all, he may be remembered as the most successful owner in NBA history.
3. Mikhail Prokhorov, New Jersey Nets
Lakers fans might think I’m crazy to place Prokhorov ahead of Dr. Buss, and his 10 Larry O’ Brien Trophies, but the New Jersey Nets owner has earned this spot.
According to Forbes, Prokhorov’s the world’s 32nd richest person. The 6’8” martial arts aficionado is Mark Cuban’s only competition for the title of most unconventional owner in the NBA—the two have even had very entertaining public disputes.
When Prokhorov took over New Jersey’s franchise, the 2010 free agency period was just 49 days away, and he was more than ready to open his giant checkbook.
While no big-name players took their talents to East Rutherford in the summer of LeBron, New Jersey landed superstar point guard Deron Williams this past February.
Trading for Williams was risky—his contract will be up after next season—but the Nets hope to keep him around by adding other pieces, including Dwight Howard.
Whether it’s putting up a gigantic billboard that stares down Madison Square Garden and features minority owner Jay-Z—a beloved figure in New York City—or guaranteeing at his inaugural press conference that the Nets would win a championship within five years, Prokhorov's shown he’s not scared of anyone or anything.
2. Michael Jordan, Charlotte Bobcats
Jordan purchased the Bobcats in February 2010. He failed at previous attempts to buy a NBA franchise, but finally broke through and took over the team for which he was Director of Basketball Operations from 2006.
In his first season as owner, the Bobcats made their franchise’s first postseason. In 2010-2011, they just missed the playoffs by three games.
Next season—whenever that may be—they’ll be looking to slide back out of the draft lottery, hoping Kemba Walker will help win games and put people back in the seats—Charlotte was amongst the bottom 10 teams in attendance last season.
Currently, His Airness is in quite the unique position.
In the 1998-1999 NBA lockout, he was a huge asset for the Players Association. Having then-recently retired, after winning his sixth championship, Jordan wasn’t present for initial negotiations or meetings.
However, when he started making appearances, his power and influence with both the public and media brought a cloud of fear upon the owners—who had previously made little concessions to the players.
Now, the first person to both play on and own a team in the NBA is on the other side of the coin. It will be interesting to see if his experience plays a role in any owner-related proposals.
1. Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks
In the 1990s, the Dallas Mavericks were a laughing stock in the NBA.
Plagued with off-the-court issues and a dying fan base, they missed the playoffs every year from 1991-2000.
No one could’ve envisioned the transformation that would take place after Mark Cuban bought the franchise on Jan. 4, 2000.
Over the past 11 consecutive seasons, the Mavericks have won at least 50 games—the second longest streak of all time, behind the Lakers from 1979 to 1991, and the Spurs from 1999-present.
Under Cuban, Dallas has been inconsistent in the playoffs—sometimes advancing far and other times losing in the first round, like in 2007 and 2010—but finally broke through last season to win their franchise’s first Larry O’ Brien Trophy.
Numerous owners in professional sports like to say they’re fans first, and owners second, but don’t actually mean it.
Cuban—who ensures every Maverick player has a height-specific chair on the team’s bench—has proven time and time again how passionate he is about basketball. He always sits near the court for a game, home or away, and I doubt he’s ever been perched up in a skybox.
Cuban’s always been willing to spend as much as possible to help the Mavericks win. His unconventional ownership style has made him the league’s most popular owner.
Over the years, Cuban has developed quite the relationship with commissioner David Stern, racking up countless amounts of fines for getting into it with officials, the league office, other teams, fans at away games and even Kenyon Martin’s mother. Recently, he's toned his behavior down to be less of a distraction for the team.
It’s hard to argue that Cuban doesn’t deserve the No. 1 spot.
What other NBA owner would serve ice cream from Dairy Queen for a day?
Tell Me What You Think
What are your thoughts?
Do I have it wrong at all, by a little or a lot?
Is it a bad time to make a power ranking of the NBA’s owners during a lockout?
Power Rankings of any sort are usually laced with subjectivity, so feedback is a must!
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