Battle Royale: The three worst owners in the NBA

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Battle Royale takes a topic and seeks to settle the pecking order of a given subject. Today’s topic? Who’s the worst owner in the NBA?

You’re only as good as your owner. After all, you can have great chefs but if your owner doesn’t know how to keep the lights on you’re going to get frustrated when the chicken gets half-cooked before the power goes out. In the NBA, you can succeed with bad ownership, but it’s a pretty severe handicap and it’s unlikely to be sustainable.

We’ve had a lot of changes in ownership over the last year. George Shinn is inching closer to finally ditching the Hornets after years of damage. Warrior nation is finally free of the tyranny of Chris Cohan. There’s light at the end of the tunnel for some teams. Other teams are still staring at the blackened darkness of a brick wall, one that also has a sign to inform you there will be budget cutbacks in the near future. But who are the three worst owners in the NBA right now, and where do they rank?

Here are our contenders:

The Bull-God: Michael Heisley

The man in the Bull-God mask is powerful. He leads his people. He commands the throngs with a heavy lash. He is in charge, of that there can be no doubt. But there’s a few problems. For starters, he can’t see in that thing, so he keeps running into walls. His head’s too big to fit through doors, so he keeps trying to turn sideways, but the horns keep getting stuck. And because he has to keep it up right all the time to make sure the mask doesn’t fall off, he keeps stepping in animal feces.

And that’s a lot like Michael Heisley, owner of the Memphis Grizzlies. who consistently fails to recognize that his attempts to be “The Decider” only hinder his team. Heisley has taken over the majority of basketball operation decisions as the years have gone on, progressively making worse decisions and damaging the perception of the franchise. This latest debacle with the rookies he drafted this year, in which he demanded holding them to incentives for their bonuses is the latest example. Asking players to earn a bonus by actually doing something, you know, bonus? That’s completely reasonable. In actuality, Heisley wasn’t being unreasonable in the slightest with Xavier Henry and Vasquez. Asking Henry to make the Rookie All-Star Game, the All-Rookie team, or average 15 minutes per game on a team with the worst backcourt depth in the league is not a stretch. It’s a low-hanging fruit he asked him to grab.

But following that up by going on a radio show and embarrassing yourself by admitting you haven’t read the CBA, hadn’t even known about the clause that allows for this negotiation, and yelling at the radio host? You ruin any credibility you have. And you didn’t have a ton to start with. That interview wasn’t the reason Heisley lost this negotiation, but it was indicative of why he did. He’s in that bull mask, wandering around, trying to bully people and dictate things, only he keeps running into things, tripping over himself, and stepping in feces. Despite Marc Gasol being a terrific player, the Grizzlies were ripped off in the Gasol deal, drafted the worst player they could have in the top 10 last year in Hasheem Thabeet (nearly every point guard was a hit!), and now this. Heisley has a lot of power, and uses it. He just doesn’t use it well, at all.

The Drunk Guy With The Credit Card: James Dolan

You know this guy. The stock market broker type, or investment banker, who wanders into the bar completely trashed. And he’s making an abject fool of himself nearly every single second. But he is willing to make up for every mistake by buying anyone and everyone a drink. He just old the bartender he wants the goat head hanging behind the bar and to put it on his tab. He’s willing to pay top dollar for pretty much anything, and bottle service sounds awesome, even though he’s wandering all over the bar. That’s James Dolan.

Most owners are problematic because they can’t or won’t spend. And that’s not Dolan. It should be noted up front that his willingness to spend on the Knicks is admirable. He could just rake in the dough in his market and not commit to winning. He’s committed to winning. He’s just not very good at it. Think about how long he kept Isiah Thomas around. Despite all the damage Thomas did, despite all the contracts, despite the humiliation and failure and ridicule, Dolan kept Thomas around for a half-decade. Most people graduate college, get a job, and get a raise in the time Dolan gave Thomas the keys to drive the car off a cliff, into a wall, and then bury the pieces in the dirt.

Dolan’s been recalcitrant with the media, despite owning MSG, which is at its heart a media company. He’s gotten better the last few years, hiring Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni, and springing for Amar’e Stoudemire. But there’s still that constant fear that he’s one impulse moment away from re-hiring Isiah in some capacity. Keep spending big guy, the players will just keep putting their drinks on your tab.

The Mega-Buffoon 3000: Donald Sterling

You knew this was coming. Where do you want to start? The off-court disaster that range from racial discrimination to slum lording? How about gambling on bringing in Baron Davis with all his particular risks, only to lose Elton Brand? Maybe you prefer the years and years of thrifty spending, only to be followed by the recent spree of overpaying for low-character guys who don’t help to win an iota of games?

Sterling is the final boss in the video game of Scott Pilgrim vs. The Bad NBA Owners. He’s the big wig. He could hold seminars on how to alienate the media, your fans, and fail to develop a contender in a system which makes it exceedingly difficult for large market teams to fail. He kept Mike Dunleavey on far too long, despite his clearly not being in a good position to manage the team’s roster. He kept Elgin Baylor on board, then fired him in the worst way possible, and may have kept him on without adequate contract and then fired him for race and age issues.

There’s something further that haunts the Clippers. It’s just hard to come to any other conclusion with the number of busts, injuries, and bad luck they’ve endured. But the reason no one cries out for help for the franchise, why no one considers the Clippers tragic (beyond our empathy for their fans as fellow human beings), is that there’s an unspoken sense of “look at their owner, they had it coming.”

In reality, this debate is over before it even begins. If being bad as an NBA owner were good, Donald Sterling would be the best.


1. Donald Sterling
2. Michael Heisley
3. James Dolan

Barack Obama picks Warriors to win title. Like everyone else.

Barack Obama
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The Baller and Chief is on his way out the door.

Barack Obama has been by far the biggest hoops fan to inhabit the White House (with John Quincy Adams a very distant second). He’s put up a basketball court at the White House, filled out NCAA Tournament brackets, jokingly applied for the Wizards’ coaching job, thought about becoming an owner, gone to NBA games, and just been a fan like the rest of us.

And he’s picking the Warriors to win it all. Like everyone else.

In what was primarily a “get out the vote” effort, President Obama called in to ‘Sway in the Morning’ hosted by Sway Calloway on Eminem’s SiriusXM channel Shade 45. Asked to pick the next NBA champ, the Bulls fan went exactly where everyone else did — Golden State.

“I’m going to go with the Warriors just because of [Kevin] Durant, that addition. I think they just have too much firepower,” Obama said. “Although they just got spanked in their first game, so it will take a while to figure things out.”

Obama also picked the Patriots to win the NFL title. He’s such a frontrunner.

Report: NBA owners rejecting expansion ‘at every turn’

Seattle SuperSonics v Denver Nuggets
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With rumors of NBA expansion swirling, it’s time to look at more concrete evidence.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has repeatedly shot down expansion talk, and that’s not him going rogue. His bosses have apparently taken a firm stance.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Basketball Insiders reached out to an NBA owner and a voting member of the Board of Governors and was told flatly that any talk of expansion has been shot down at every turn inside the Board of Governors meetings. It’s been a non-starter.

There is a theoretical one-time expansion fee so high where the current 30 owners would divide their shares of revenue further. But the NBA takes in so much annually, it’s hard to imagine a new ownership group could and would front enough money.

Sorry, Seattle (and Louisville and Las Vegas and…). The evidence is overwhelmingly on the side of the league staying at 30 teams. You’ll probably just have to poach a team from another city.

Greg Oden on basketball career: ‘It’s over’

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 6
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Greg Oden’s multiple injuries dictated the former No. 1 pick wouldn’t have the career forecasted for him.

But he returned from three years off an NBA court to play for the Heat in 2014. He followed that breakthrough with a couple tryouts and a stint in China.

Could he once again return to the league?

Dana Hunsinger Benbow of IndyStar:

Asked whether he’d play basketball again, he said, “I wish. It’s over.” Instead, he is back with the Buckeyes as a student coach, helping out the players and Matta any way he can.

Oden, who was picked one spot before Kevin Durant, once declared: “I know I’m one of the biggest busts in NBA history and I know that it’ll only get worse as Kevin Durant continues doing big things.” That statement is blunt, reality and sad all wrapped into one.

It’s a shame we never got to see Oden healthy for long. There was good reason for the Trail Blazers to pick him first, but injuries ruined what could’ve been an intriguing extend debate over him and Durant.

Hopefully, Oden finds fulfillment in the next chapter of his life.

Report: LeBron James didn’t want to play for Cavaliers before they drafted him

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The Cavaliers landing the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft seemed like a fairytale.

The consensus top choice and one of the most-hyped prospects of all-time was a local kid from nearby Akron, LeBron James.

But this happy accident didn’t come through rainbows and butterflies. To get the top seed in the lottery, Cleveland had to get bad – really bad. The Cavs missed the playoffs five straight years, bottoming out at 17-65 in 2002-03.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

When James was a teenager, he started attending games at the arena, and he couldn’t believe how bad the Cavs were, how empty the arena often was, with its bright blue seats seeming like a neon sign of disinterest. During his senior year of high school, he went to several games, was given courtside seats and visited the locker room. His thought was pretty clear after he watched that 17-win team with the lowest attendance in the league: They were awful, and he didn’t want to be a part of it.

Can we be surprised someone who grew up in Akron, Ohio, as a Bulls, Yankees and Cowboys fan didn’t want to join the Cavs? LeBron was a frontrunner.

What he didn’t realize at the time: He’d gain the power to singlehandedly transform a franchise, and he’d develop an emotional attachment to the Cavaliers.

Cleveland wasn’t going to remain unwatchable with him. He turned the Cavs into a credible championship contender. Then, after leaving for the Heat, he returned. He even delivered delivered its long-awaited title last season.

The tears of joy he cried afterward show just how much that area, including its NBA team, means to him.

That he was initially sour on the Cavaliers adds an interesting twist to the story. It doesn’t detract from it.