Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: NBA teams can thrive in any size market

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

While Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson intensifies his pursuit of a new ownership group for the Kings, there is no one-stop shopping for NBA investors. They come in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of baggage and divergent personalities, and with significantly larger bank accounts than the average Dick and Jane.

High profile. Reclusive. Intrusive. Charismatic. Disconnected. Neglectful. In that sense, the NBA has something for everyone.

Kings fans, for instance, are familiar with charismatic figures and celebrity owners but equally familiar with owners who neglect their franchises, become crippled during an economic downturn, and then get lapped by more business-and-basketball-savvy peers, many of whom continue to thrive in the league's small to midsize markets.

"Big markets have a tremendous edge in what can be done to generate local revenues, salary cap or no salary cap," said former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, who now oversees USA Basketball. "It's very challenging for smaller markets to stay up with the big boys. But you can. I've always felt the cream rises to the top. Look at San Antonio and Utah. If you are consistently doing the job, you'll get your time."

According to Forbes, the NBA already is deriving benefits from a new collective bargaining agreement that reduced players' revenue from 57 percent to 50 percent; increasing television earnings; revenue from new and renovated arenas; and an overall increase in franchise valuations.

While the 30 NBA franchises offer sharp differences in demographics, television market size, population, etc., the successful organizations generally share common characteristics – quality ownership invariably among them. (The Clippers' Donald Sterling being the exception).

Colangelo allowed that the best franchises "have a basket of goodies. It starts with solid ownership, either in the form of a corporation or an individual owner. Then there has to be a willingness to run a good program and invest long term, to be consistent. Finally, there has to be a commitment to the team, but also to the community."

A totally subjective list of the NBA's five best owners suggests that money can't buy love, and that it doesn't guarantee success, either:

• The late Dr. Jerry Buss. The Lakers won 10 NBA championships after Buss purchased the team in 1979, displaying different styles, contrasting coaching personalities, and with his offspring becoming increasingly involved in the final years. Buss was not among the league's wealthiest owners (Forbes lists his net worth at $380 million), but he exploited the L.A. market, hired good people and fired those who didn't produce, and opened his wallet to sign one superstar after another. For all of the Hollywood glitz and glamour and the glory of "Showtime," he ran a mom-and-pop shop – probably the last of its kind in the NBA.

• Peter Holt. His personal wealth ranks him near the bottom (estimated $80 million), yet the small-market San Antonio Spurs have won four titles since 1999 and are threatening to win more. Much credit belongs to the fortuitous presence of David Robinson and Tim Duncan, but also to Holt, who saw something special in Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford. Holt watched them draft and maneuver like geniuses, repeatedly poach the overseas market, and rewarded them with longterm contracts and a sense of stability.

• Mark Cuban. Who wouldn't want to work for Mark Cuban? Now that he's stepped back a little – he no longer visits the Mavericks' huddles during games – his stature and influence within the league has continued to grow. He is one of the smartest, most engaged owners in the NBA; he also is among the richest. Approximately $2.3 billion already is squeezed into his safety deposit box. His Mavs will contend again.

• Les Alexander. The Houston Rockets' owner gets props for having the good sense to fire the despised John Thomas, though he didn't do the Maloofs any favors by offering his ex-employee a glowing recommendation for a similar position with the Kings; the Maloofs were just … duped. But Alexander, one of the league's longest-tenured owners, whose net worth is a modest $80 million, not only cut his losses, he adapted with the times. After experiencing a rash of injuries and a downward cycle, he hired relative unknown Daryl Morey, embraced the new-age significance of statistics and analytics, along with a balance between continuity and change, and has his Rockets poised for launching.

• Micky Arison. The head of the Carnival Cruise line is much more impressive on land. And, yes, the Miami Heat owner is among the NBA owners who operate in that billionaire realm ($4.2 billion net worth). He also hires superstars like Pat Riley, who drafted Dwyane Wade and successfully wooed LeBron James, and created an atmosphere that transformed a once-moribund franchise into a destination.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ailene Voisin



Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a law degree from the University of San Diego before committing full time to journalism.

Her career includes stops at the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and time spent as the backup beat writer for Dodgers and Angels, Clippers and NBA beat writer, sports columnist, along with numerous assignments covering international events and the Olympics. Ailene joined The Sacramento Bee in 1997.

Email: avoisin@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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