Even as baseball and football predominate in the sports headlines, the new season of the National Basketball Association is close upon us, with pre-season action starting next month. The Memphis Grizzlies are notoriously slow starters, but the new management team that will guide the local franchise, taking over from Michael Heisley, is undefeated so far, having won positive nods from the Memphis City Council, the Memphis and Shelby County Sports Authority, and the Shelby County Commission — though approval of the ownership transfer by the latter body turned out on Monday to be anything but a slam dunk.
Several commissioners made it clear that they still smarted from the memory (and the burden, such as it is) of the original deal made by the two local governments and the Sports Authority with Heisley's HOOPS organization more than a decade ago. With the perspective of time, that deal, calling for the construction of FedExForum via a bond issue and the granting of other perks, like the veto power over the scheduling of local entertainment events, came to appear a giveaway (as indeed most arrangements between governmental jurisdictions and team owners are). Several members of the commission were determined to put Heisley's successors to the test on Monday, when a resolution authorizing the change in ownership was on the agenda.
Leading the charge and demanding access to the "financials" of new owner-to-be Robert J. Pera and minority owners, several of whom are prominent members of the Memphis establishment, were the venerable Walter Bailey, who said, "we've got the power" to say yes or no to the arrangement, and Heidi Shafer, who had to have had a sense of déjà vu about the affair, since as a private citizen she had led a local group in opposition to the original deal with Heisley.
Others who voiced discontent or skepticism included the ever-suspicious Terry Roland, James Harvey, and Henri Brooks, none of whom are inclined to let somehing go once they've got their teeth in it. Melvin Burgess, normally a swing voter, was leaning their way, and when Wyatt Bunker said that out of courtesy he might go along with that group of skeptics in seeking a deferral, it appeared that there might actually be a majority inclined to say no to Pera. The new owners didn't make things easier when it turned out they had thus far declined to provide financial information to local government officials and to David Miller, the county's bond counselor.
All of this resistance did succeed in extorting a modicum of useful information, however, most of it already known or suspected — namely, that Pera's net worth is evaluated at something like $700 million, while such locally involved personages as Staley Cates and Pitt Hyde (members of a group that, collectively, will account for one-third of the total ownership) are known to be well-pocketed, as well. The group, as Bunker noted, ranged from "the extremely wealthy to the ridiculously wealthy." Bunker was down with the deal by the end of debate, and so was Shafer.
Points on the board will do it every time. All that remains is for the NBA itself to approve the sale, and that, too, is expected to happen.