May 08, 2009
SI's Best & Worst Owners identified the five best and five worst owners in each of the four major team sports. The method was not scientific but based on numerous factors, some of which are indisputable and some of which are intangible. Among the criteria used to evaluate owners was the willingness to spend money to improve the team; the stability and capabilities of the front office and management; the amenities at the team's venue; and the club's culture and interactivity with fans. Of course, weighing heavily in the decision was the team's success or failure on the field. (Note: Records are through 2008-09 regular season.)
Five Best NBA Owners
5 Dan Gilbert Cleveland Cavaliers
Purchased 2005
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$375M $477M 211-117 .643 4 0
In 2005, Gilbert inherited a woeful franchise. The lottery-doomed Cavs were riding a six-year playoff drought, but they did have a draw in a rookie named LeBron James from nearby Akron. After a rough start to his tenure, Gilbert began a process that included surrounding his marquee star with complementary talent, adding an able GM in former Cavalier Danny Ferry and installing a players' coach in Mike Brown. Cleveland made the playoffs in 2006 and hasn't looked back since. A year later, Gilbert funded a state-of-the-art $25 million practice facility for King James & Co. that is among the best in the NBA.
4 Les Alexander Houston Rockets
Purchased 1993
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$85M $469M 722-558 .564 11 2
Alexander's reign in Houston is noted for two championships and a perennial playoff squad that has had only three losing seasons in his 16 years. And while most owners are more or less content to fill their stadiums, Alexander is driven by the desire for hardware, and he's willing to take big Wall Street-like gambles to get there. Not many owners would have gambled so heavily to bring in high-maintenance stars like Ron Artest or Tracy McGrady, trading away key players to get them. Alexander now runs the epitome of a streamlined organization as well: a star-driven team that just clocks in under the luxury-tax threshold, and a financial envy of a franchise that prompted Forbes to name Alexander as the NBA's best owner in December.
3 Mark Cuban Dallas Mavericks
Purchased 2000
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$285M $466M 508-230 .688 9 0
Cuban rubs plenty of people the wrong way with his outspokenness and need to be the center of attention. But then you realize, if you suddenly struck it rich and bought your own NBA team, you'd probably be as giddy and fun-loving as he is. The dot-com billionaire has never been shy with his checkbook, gladly paying over the luxury tax to keep the Mavs competitive -- and for the luxury of letting his own mouth flap despite countless fines for criticizing officials. He tends to put his foot in his mouth (his comment to Kenyon Martin's mother that her son was a thug after Game 3 of the Mavs-Nuggets playoff series was deplorable), but he's a player's owner as much as he is a fan's owner and has generally been a breath of fresh air.
2 Peter Holt San Antonio Spurs
Purchased 1993
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$75M $415M 865-415 .676 15 4
No NBA owner has done more with less. Holt maintains a fiscally responsible franchise that keeps its payroll in the middle of the pack with a cast of team-first, contract-second style players, led by an unwavering coach in Gregg Popovich. The Spurs zeitgeist is one that values hard work, sacrifice and lack of ego, and everyone in the organization has bought into it, thanks in no small part to the cues of steady-as-a-rock franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan. Holt is also one of the few NBA owners who are extremely respected in their communities as the consummate class act. The result is a team that has won four championships and has made the playoffs in 15 years of Holt's 16 as owner.
1 Jerry Buss Los Angeles Lakers
Purchased 1979
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$67.5M $584M 1,606-822 .661 28 8
In retrospect, Lakers fans almost feel silly for calling Buss onto the carpet for dealing Shaquille O'Neal and putting up with Kobe Bryant's repeated trade requests. All is well in Lakerland again, as the organization has rebuilt itself into what may be the third dynasty of Buss' tenure. The Lakers made the postseason for the 28th time during Buss' 31 years. They've also won more than 60 games eight times, not to mention eight championships in 14 NBA Finals appearances. Beneath all that glitz and glamour is an organization that clings fast to its tradition: Magic Johnson is a part-owner, Mitch Kupchak is the GM and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kurt Rambis and Brian Shaw are assistant coaches.
Five Worst NBA Owners
5 R. Johnson/M. Jordan Charlotte Bobcats
Purchased 2004
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$300M $284M 144-266 .417 0 0
The Bobcats' two principle owners should stick to what they know best. Robert Johnson (pictured) made himself into a billionaire with his expert crafting of Black Entertainment Television. And Michael Jordan -- well, he's Michael Jordan. But what they're doing in Charlotte defies logic. For two guys with a combined net worth of more than most NBA owners, there's no reason the Bobcats should be so under-funded every year. They've been in the bottom of the league in payroll in each of their five seasons. Why Johnson and Jordan can't provide more from their deep pockets is still a mystery.
4 Chris Cohan Golden State Warriors
Purchased 1991
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$130M $335M 590-854 .409 3 0
Under Cohan's ownership, Golden State set a record drought of missing out on the postseason for 12 straight years until it reached the playoffs and shocked No. 1 seed Dallas in 2007. But since then it's been back to the status quo for the Warriors, who are stuck in what seems like an everlasting rebuilding mode. In the meantime, Cohan looks almost foolish for sticking with Don Nelson -- a guy he once sued for leaving the club for the Knicks during his first go-around -- now just an outdated dinosaur who openly admits the game is passing him by.
3 Michael Heisley Memphis Grizzlies
Purchased 2000
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$160M $294M 286-452 .388 3 0
The billionaire was eager to move the team after promising not to leave Vancouver when he bought it. Since then it's been a lot of thrift city. Heisley has not allowed the Grizzlies to go anywhere near the luxury-tax threshold in the last few seasons. This season, they flirted with a third straight 60-loss finish, and nothing has drawn the ire of fans and owners across the league like the salary dump of Pau Gasol last season to the Lakers. "What do they want me to spend, $100 million?" he barked at the Memphis Commercial Appeal in '06. "The point is we're out-spending San Antonio and we're out-spending Phoenix. So the point is whether you're spending money means squat." Guess the playoffs mean squat, too.
2 Cablevision/James Dolan New York Knicks
Purchased 1997
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$300M $613M 418-534 .439 7 0
Subterfuging two of the most storied franchises in pro sports at once takes hard work, but Dolan has managed both. The business tycoon took a controlling stake in Cablevision in 1999, and immediately both of his marquee sports properties -- the Knicks and the NHL's Rangers -- tailspun into the most futile eras of their respective histories. The Knicks have been particularly bad, with eight straight seasons of less than 40 wins and one playoff appearance. Most embarrassing was Dolan's stubborn loyalty to Isiah Thomas who, in his 4 1/2 years with the team, failed miserably in his countless attempts to retool the roster, including continuing Dolan's habit of grossly overpaying for oft-injured and underperforming stars like Stephon Marbury.
1 Donald T. Sterling Los Angeles Clippers
Purchased 1981
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$12.5M $297M 773-1,491 .341 4 0
There is no American sports franchise more associated with futility than the Clippers, who have posted only two winning seasons under Sterling's ownership. Marquee players have come and gone -- including Danny Manning, Dominique Wilkins, Lamar Odom, Elton Brand and Baron Davis -- and none has been able to turn around the losing tradition. Though they've achieved some level of stability in the past few years -- notoriously cheap Sterling has cracked his checkbook a tiny bit, and Mike Dunleavy is now the longest-tenured coach in franchise history -- the team is mired in its old losing ways, eclipsing 60 losses for the eighth time under Sterling.

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