Michael Heisley has a contract to sell the Memphis Grizzlies to Robert Pera, a hotshot young internet tycoon. It has been reported that the local ownership is not going to stand in the way of the sale.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The local ownership walked away from the team years ago when they traded their equity stake in the team to cover operating losses on the franchise.
The good news is Memphis Grizzlies fans don’t need local ownership. It has always been just a way to feel better about the team’s prospects of remaining in Memphis but has NEVER been a necessary condition. NBA teams are owned right now by people not calling that city their home town. One NBA team is owned by someone who doesn’t call the USA his home country!
But it does help a city with a confidence issue feel better knowing that the team is owned by someone who calls Memphis home. No one talks about Oklahoma City being moved because local resident Clay Bennett owns the Thunder and he isn’t going to move the team. No one talks anymore about the New Orleans Hornets moving because they have Tom Benson owning the team.
Memphis has a newly minted Silicon Valley near billionaire purchasing the team. He lives in San Jose, California. That’s the same city that Larry Ellison lives in. You may remember that earlier this year Larry Ellison was interested in buying the Grizzlies to move them to California.
It highly unlikely that Pera is using only his own money to purchase the team. He’s not a billionaire anymore thanks to recent stock movements of his company. Common sense suggests he has called on a few of his Silicon Valley buddies to chip in some bucks too.
It’s not exactly reassuring to know that is it.
But here are the facts. Memphis has a close to iron clad contract with the Grizzlies to keep the team here until 2021. That’s nine years from now. In 9 years a lot can happen.
One thing that needs to happen is Memphis to show it deserves to be called a major league city. Memphis fans have shown they are willing to come to the playoffs and be among the most raucous fans in the NBA. Now they need to show they can do that over a full NBA season. No more excuses. Either the city comes to the games or they don’t. If they don’t come out to watch the team play then the city has no one to blame but themselves for the owner making a decision to move the franchise.
If Memphis supports the Grizzlies in the regular season in the same manner they have supported the team in the playoffs then the team will remain in Memphis. The league doesn’t want the black eye moving a franchise that built them a stadium like FedEx Forum would give them. The league also doesn’t want a team to move within 50 miles of another franchise (the Golden State Warriors) who are moving to San Francisco in the near future.
So the owner doesn’t have the collateral by himself. The city has a lock on the franchise for the next 9 years and the rumored desired ultimate location has issues.
All Memphis needs to do is show they are willing and able to support the Grizzlies in a manner that makes financial sense for the team. The Grizzlies were a playoff team last year and had the highest winning percentage in franchise history this season but were 20th in the league in attendance. Right ahead of the Grizzlies were Cleveland and Washington, two teams that had far less to be excited about than Memphis fans.
It is not Pera’s responsibility to show the city he isn’t going to move the team. He doesn’t have to sign an extension on the lease at FedEx Forum. He has shown his commitment to the franchise by willingly putting together between $350-$380 million to buy the team. He has shown his desire to be a part of this community in a big way for the next 9 years.
It is now Memphis’ responsibility to show Pera he’d be foolish to move the team after 9 years. It is Memphis’ responsibility to show the NBA that abandoning this city after they did everything asked. They need to show with their passion and attendance that the league would find it more difficult to get other cities to acquiesce to their demands in the future if they abandoned Memphis after they showed such support. It is Memphis responsibility to stand up and say “we may be smaller than some but we are more passionate and more committed too.”
It is time for Memphis to stand up and show they belong at the big people’s table.