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Battle Royale: The three worst owners in the NBA

Sep 18, 2010, 5:30 PM EDT

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.

Results:

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

  1. Josh - Sep 22, 2010 at 6:51 PM

    *sheesh* Yeah, Sterling wins, hands down. Not even close. The Knicks? The Grizzlies? Are you kidding? Grizzlies hired Jerry West. Knicks are rebuilding and got Felton and Amare. Clippers singlehandedly pull down the value of every franchise in the NBA by 10-20 million dollars or more. Clippers are just an investment that leeches off all the marketing and value of all the other NBA teams, just a sea-side vacant lot awaiting a future buyer who will build an NBA team there.

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