A gentleman walked into the bar the other day which is always my favorite way to start a blogpost.
He works for the Tampa Bay Lightning as some sort of engineer who ensures the ice in the Amalie Arena meets NHL regulations.
As it’s an exciting time to be a Lightning fan, we compared stories. He had never before step foot in our bar, so I regaled him the legendary tales of our watch parties. In turn, he shared stories of what it was like to work for the organization.
The Bolts had just come off a victorious Game Five in Colorado, their first win road win in the Stanley Cup Finals, doling the Avalanche their first, and only, home loss of the post-season. The day before, a video had gone viral of 150 or so Lightning employees being flown up to Colorado for the game, all on the owner’s dime.
The ice man admitted he could have gone but opted to let his people go instead. He had to stay in Tampa and ensure home ice would be ready for Game Six. Wishful thinking indeed.
As now is the ideal time to discuss the Lightning’s most magical run, the conversation ultimately led to Jeffrey Vinik.
“He’s the best owner in professional sports,” said the man.
Now I don’t know exactly how much interaction this gentleman has had with Vinik, or whether he’s ever met him at all. He seemed high up in the food chain but that doesn’t mean he’s playing rounds of golf with Vinik or hobnobbing with him on family vacations.
It’s easy if not dismissive to call someone the best owner in sports when their teams keep winning. Far too often it seems like lip service when champions say these sorts of things about their bosses. The Warriors players say that about Joe Lacob. Patriots and Rams players have said the same about their respective owners when they win as well.
But there seems to be something about Vinik that trickles down throughout the organization. You hear it in the way players talk about their coaches, who then talk about the players, who in turn talk about the man who sets the precedent at the top.
Attitude reflects leadership.
There are bad owners in sport too. Owners who, while eager to spend money, might not spend it wisely. Jerry Jones, and the second generation of Buss and Steinbrenner families come to mind. But at least they’re spending with the ultimate desire to win. There are owners, far removed from any sort of relevance who. if it weren’t for a salary floor, would be greedily counting their ticket revenue with nary a concern about their team’s place in the standings.
We’re eager to measure a player’s historical greatness based not only on statistics but more so on their desire to win. Heck, I did that with Steph Curry just a few posts ago. Sure, his statistics are legendary but it’s more than stats that make the man. Why don’t we measure ownership by the same standard? Owners like Knickerbockers James Dolan is largely perceived as a laughingstock, yet he owns the team and there’s nothing Knicks fans can do about it. Short of him being caught saying something slanderous about a league legend, Dolan’s position is relatively safe.
There’s another ownership group in sports that’s driven me batty for I am constantly led to believe my commitment to his team far outweighs theirs. There is nothing more frustrating for a fan base than caring more about a team than the guy who signs the paychecks.
Of course, I’m talking about the DeVos family and the Orlando Magic. The Orlando Magic have been consistently irrelevant, finishing over .500 only once in the last eleven seasons. And while they continue to build through the draft, with nary a veteran found on the roster, the glass half full Magic fan sees the future bright while the glass half empty Magic fan has grown tired of waiting.
Word recently emerged that Shaquille O’Neal and his former running mate Dennis Scott have interest in buying the team from the DeVos family. The Devos family has never expressed any interest in selling the team and most certainly wouldn’t now that they landed the number one draft pick in Paolo Banchero. Nor is it likely that Shaquille could even afford the Orlando Magic, his net worth a mere pittance compared to the family fortune the DeVos’ have compiled. One can’t help but think, however, that an Orlando Magic legend taking over might be just what the team needs to make a push it in the right direction. After all, with the Magic of late, there’s only one direction to go.
Maybe I’m reading too much into Shaq’s gesture but it sure sounds like a “You don’t know what you’re doing since you got rid of me 30 years ago so let me take the wheel” proposition. There can’t be too many Magic fans who aren’t siding with Shaq at this very moment, as pipedream as this may all be.
Both O’Neal and Scott have played in the NBA and have been commenting on the sport for years since their retirements. That doesn’t qualify them to own a team yet one can’t help but think they’d have a keener eye for talent than those currently running the team.
By no means am I suggesting that, upon purchase, Shaq and company would instantly become the best owners in professional sport, resembling anything remotely Vinik-like, or that players of the next generation will want to come play for him and build their own legacy. But what we’ve learned from watching Shaq on TNT over the years is that, as one of the top ten players ever, he knows talent. More importantly, he knows how to build a brand, which is something Orlando Magic ownership has failed to do since the team’s inception. What we’ve also learned about Shaq is that his innate will to win far exceeds that of current Magic ownership, otherwise they would have done it already. Shaq 4, Orlando Magic 0.
Here’s another reason this sale would unfortunately never take place. The last thing the DeVos family wants to see is the man they let get away turn their franchise into a winner, which is something they’ve been unable to do in thirty years.
While we see former players hold ownership in teams, Jordan in Charlotte, Grant Hill in Atlanta, and Dwyane Wade in Utah, one can’t help but think a struggling franchise like the Magic might in some way benefit by giving Shaq a piece of the pie. They didn’t want him there as a player, maybe it’s time to make amends and consult the guy in retirement.
It’s not like they have any place to go but up.