Posted Jun 2, 2014 1:59 PM - Updated Jun 2, 2014 5:26 PM
It ended rather quietly, Friday morning. Shelly Sterling had a check for $2 billion waiting, but the NBA had Shelly Sterling over a barrel.
Things were made clear to Mrs. Sterling and her attorneys: If she wanted her sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer to go through, she had to indemnify the NBA against any lawsuits from her husband, Donald. No one at the league knew if the Sterlings truly were, as they claimed, estranged, nor did they really care. But there would be no sale to Ballmer with a potential lawsuit hanging over the league's head. Donald Sterling had not signed the deal with Ballmer, as he should have, as one of the two trustees of the Sterling Family Trust.
The league could just as easily take the Clippers over in less than a week, when it would strip Donald Sterling's ownership of the team at a Board of Governors meeting, and the league could sell the team to Ballmer. Shelly Sterling, with her own controversial past, would never have been approved as an owner.
By contrast, approving Ballmer would be a breeze; Ballmer was already vetted, having tried to buy the Kings last year and the Bucks this year, and was well-liked by other owners. "Great guy, intense, smart," one said Friday.
Not a whole lot of time went by. To save the sale, Shelly Sterling was willing to indemnify.
And by Friday afternoon, the league and the wife announced they had a deal. The NBA would drop its claims to the Clippers, and would move to approve the Ballmer deal with the Sterling Trust for $2 billion, the largest amount ever paid for an NBA team -- by, oh, around $1.5 billion or so.
Donald Sterling indeed filed a $1 billion lawsuit against the NBA Friday afternoon -- a suit that also named Commissioner Adam Silver personally as a defendant (we knew Commishes were getting paid, but ... wow!). But Steve Ballmer had his deal, Shelly Sterling had her parachute and the league, with its indemnification in place, finally saw light at the end of the tunnel, a cave-in that has taken five weeks to dig out of.
The prospect of a summer with any Sterling still in charge of the team, even if just technically, was a nightmare scenario for the league. The idea of Chris Paul refusing to come to training camp, or Doc Rivers walking in September, was jarring.
July 1 wasn't a drop dead date, but every day the Sterling situation wasn't resolved was more problematic. Way too many variables could come into play.
So, in came Ballmer. And his $2 billion.
"Looks good," another owner said Friday.
But this, of course, was not just another sale. The reverberations of Ballmer's mega-purchase will be felt for years, impacting far more than Shelly Sterling's bank account, creating both opportunities and risks for the league, its owners and its players. And for its new commissioner. Adam Silver.
Silver set the tone by banning Donald Sterling from the league for life, less than a week after the TMZ recording of Sterling's comments to his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend were made public. And he never wavered in his desire to see the ban and the $2.5 million fine through. Owners were frantic to get something done; Silver was resolute.
"I believed in him from the beginning," LeBron James said of Silver Friday. "I've always had an open dialog with him, even when he wasn't the Commish. I believe in his morals, his views of what our league should be like. And he's never given me any reason not to. So I gave him my support from the beginning."
Some winners in this deal, in no particular order:
1) Steve Ballmer. The former CEO of Microsoft has sought entry into the NBA club for years now. He was part of the carefully planned but ultimately unsuccessful bid to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle. Ballmer was the moneybags behind the Chris Hansen group (and Hansen had plenty of scratch himself), the immovable object that would make the Seattle bid too good to resist.
Except, David Stern did.
Stern's insistence that Sacramento get a chance to get its act together bought Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson enough time to cobble together a more than representative group that matched Ballmer and Hansen (mostly) dollar for dollar as the franchise valuations went up and up. In the end, the NBA's owners took slightly less from the Vivek Ranadive group to keep the team in Sacramento. Ballmer, I'm told, was furious at what he thought was unfair treatment at the hands of Stern (those feelings may have dissipated with Silver's ascension to Commissioner).
But Ballmer is well-liked among NBA owners, who know about his passion for the game and his business acumen.
ESPN.com reported last week that Ballmer actually bid $650 million for the Bucks, but was rebuffed by former owner Herb Kohl when Ballmer said his intention was to move the team to Seattle when its lease at what is now known as BMO Harris Bradley Center expires in 2017. Kohl ultimately sold the team to venture capitalists Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens for $550 million.
Since Ballmer still lives in Seattle, the optimistic types in the Emerald City hoped he had plans to relocate the Clippers. But that idea is a non-starter. The Clippers' lease with Staples Center runs well into the next decade, by which time Ballmer will have negotiated a tasty new local TV deal that would be greater by a factor of 10 or more anything he could get in Washington state.
Regular Tippers know how I feel about Seattle. But the sad truth is that there's not really a team on the horizon any time soon -- certainly before the new national television deals are completed in the next year or two -- that looks to be moving. The only hope for Seattle is Milwaukee. Silver has said the Bucks need a new arena to stay in Milwaukee. He doesn't want them to leave, so the likelihood is they won't.
"The whole proposition, my aspirations and my dreams for the Clippers, can only be realized in Los Angeles," Ballmer told the Los Angeles Times Friday. "...The only way any of this makes sense -- my desire to spend time in Los Angeles, this team, its aspirations, this community, this purchase price, any of that -- is to really kind of live out the dream and kind of make this America's Team, the Los Angeles Clippers."
Worth an estimated $18 billion by Forbes, Ballmer will not only bring stability to the Clippers, but will help rebuild the franchise's badly damaged brand. That will put a charge into the Lakers, who've owned the town for five decades.
Every NBA event in Los Angeles has to be viewed through a Lakers prism, such has been their reach and breadth across the city. For the last 30 years, they've had to compete ... strike that. They haven't had to compete! The other franchise in town was run by a flinty racist, his team's annual results at the bottom of the standings making it a perennial candidate for worst pro sports franchise in the country.
But now comes Ballmer, respected, as rich -- richer -- than the Buss family that owns the Lakers, talking about making the Clippers "America's Team," and having on day one a superior head coach and two superstar players in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. With Ballmer in charge, the Clippers will not be TMZ Central this offseason, with protests a daily occurrence and free agent defections a certainty.
"If this issue carries over even until July 1 when the free agent market opens -- much less, to the start of next season, when actual games begin -- we would suffer grave damage, with players undoubtedly opting to take their services elsewhere," Ron Klempner, the acting executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, wrote in a memo to players and agents on Friday. "We hope that a finalized sale will allow all 30 teams to actively participate in free agency and will lift any clouds over future Clippers games."
2) NBA owners. Imagine you're Ed Snider, the chair of Comcast-Spectacor and the former owner of the 76ers. You made what seemed to be a solid business deal less than three years ago, selling the 76ers to Josh Harris's group for $280 million. It wasn't ideal, but you were looking to get out and Harris was a hedge fund guy with deep pockets.
Imagine what the Sixers would fetch on the open market today: a team in the nation's fourth-largest media market, with a long, often favorable history of success.
The Clippers' deal will surely have a lot of owners imagining things in the next few years.
"There was a lot of pricing pressure" with the Clippers, said Sal Galatioto, president of Galatioto Sports Partners. That group facilitates the sale of sports teams and has been in the middle of many of the NBA's most recent franchise transactions, including the sale of the Suns for $401 million to Robert Sarver in 2004 and the sale of the Warriors to Joe Lacob and Peter Guber for a then-record (!) $450 million in 2010.
"There was not a lot of time to look at this [Clippers] deal," Galatioto said. "Every time somebody buys a team, the losing bidder always tells me the winner paid too much. Well, of course they say that -- they didn't get the team.
"You get one shot at buying an NBA franchise in L.A. It's a brand new building. Everybody thinks the national TV deal is going to double, and maybe more. In a couple of years they're going to get a local TV contract ... every time somebody says somebody paid too much, I'm wrong. I'm always wrong. Every time I pat myself on the back for what I thought was a great deal, a few years later, somebody pays double that."
The recent confluence of the new collective bargaining agreement, which dramatically cut the players' share of Basketball Related Income from 57 percent to 50 percent, combined with enhanced revenue sharing among teams, has helped most teams either stem recent financial losses or begin turning a profit, and while no one expects every team to go for billions, the floor has been raised.
The Bucks' sale actually did more for franchises across the league than the Ballmer deal; if Milwaukee, a struggling franchise in one of the NBA's smallest markets, can get that much, there isn't likely a team in the league now, according to industry observers, that would go for less than $600 million today.
Sacramento's Vivek Ranadive got the Kings for $534 million last year, and views the franchise not just as an NBA vessel, but an entry point to his native India and other international destinations that the league has yet to fully monetize.
"Guys that used to buy these things because they were fun to own are starting to realize that these are real businesses that can make money," Galatioto said.
But, if it's still a business, how do you make your money back with an outlay like Ballmer's?
"You don't," an executive from a big market team countered Saturday. "It's the sexiness of the opportunity, to come in and be a hero in this situation, and you decide how much you want to do it. I don't think there's any way for it to make economic sense."
How much of an outlier Ballmer's purchase is probably won't be known for a while -- or at least until another top-five market goes on the market. But if the Clippers got $2 billion, you have to imagine the Lakers or Knicks could get a billion or $2 billion more.
"If [Knicks chairman Jim] Dolan ever decided he wanted to sell ... you can just imagine the kind of premium," the big market team executive said. "... Maybe the Lakers. In unique big-market situations, it sends a signal that there's someone out there who will pay a crazy number just for the prestige of being a big player in a big market. I don't think it has the same impact in the smaller markets.
"I don't think Memphis all of a sudden is three times what they thought it was worth, or four times what it was worth ... what you can't get to is that teams are worth $2 billion. I think you can take the idea, justifiably, that there's no such thing as a $300 million NBA team."
Sports events, Galatioto continues to believe, are going to continue to drive television programming for years to come (and, yes, to make a living in his current business, he has to believe that). And, thus, sports teams will continue to be desirable businesses.
"Sports and news, people watch live," Galatioto said. "You're not going to record the news and watch it three days later. You watch the Spurs and Thunder, you watch it live because you don't know who's going to win. If you know the score, do you watch the game? The value of that product is going to continue to go up as the recording technology continues to improve, and you can watch the game on the phone or whatever."
And it's not just NBA teams, obviously. Manchester United, one of the world's great sports brands, fell into the control of the late Malcolm Glazer and his family in 2005 for $1.5 billion. What would the New York Yankees be worth if they were ever sold? Or Real Madrid, valued by Forbes -- currently -- at $3.44 billion?
"The only thing that could change things radically is, if you think the stock market is going to go down 20, 30 percent, maybe," Galatioto said. "That's not just the sports business; that's real estate, everything. Is that possible? Absolutely. Capitalism is in cycles, and we don't know where we are. But unless something really Earth-shattering happens, I don't think these asset values are going to drop. Now, trees don't rise to the sky; at some level, they level off. At some point, you're going to run out of guys who can write these checks. But we always are creating more billionaires."
3) LeBron James. The NBA's best player has been the lynchpin to the NBA's TV renaissance, which has helped make franchises more valuable. Ever since The Decision, people haven't been able to take their eyes off of him, with the unending tug of war between idolaters and haters only creating more viewers.
Eighteen of last year's top 20 playoff games were Miami Heat games, including these monstrous numbers from Game 7 of The Finals against the San Antonio Spurs: a 15.3 rating that drew more than 26 million viewers for ABC. The numbers aren't where they were when Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dominated in the 1990s, but they're the highest they've been in a decade.
And a fourth straight Finals appearance for James and the Heat will likely do nothing but increase the numbers.
"I really haven't gotten to the reaction to it yet, I'm too focused on what we're doing," James said Friday, before Miami dispatched Indiana in Game 6 of the East finals. "Obviously, I've seen '$2 billion.' That gave me a reaction. That was a reaction for sure. As far as everything else, I haven't quite dived into it yet."
James already has more than enough endorsements, but this cementing of the NBA as a business worth investing this kind of money into will certainly benefit the game's biggest stars. At 29, James is into the meat of his prime, and his labor has helped make the game hot again. He said when he first got into the NBA that he wanted to be the first billionaire athlete. He's got another role model now besides Warren Buffett to emulate.
"Any time you're talking about a number with a 'b' on it, that's real money," James said.
4) The National Basketball Players Association. During the last lockout, the NBPA argued strenuously in the court of public opinion that NBA owners were selling fans a bill of goods. Even if teams were losing money, the union claimed, almost all owners more than made up their losses when they ultimately sold their teams.
Donald Sterling bought the Clippers in 1981 for $12 million -- the equivalent of around $32.9 million in today's dollars. His trust is selling them for $2 billion -- or about $1.3 billion after taxes. That's a pretty good return on his investment, wouldn't you say?
"My first analogy is that it's like blocking what would have been a made basket at one end, and making a four point play at the other," Klempner, the acting executive director, said Saturday.
"When it comes to the ownership that was there ... considering everything, the circumstances, he had to go. And when you consider his approach to player signings, the general way he didn't contribute to the innovations, the fact that he was just sort of taking all the time. Not only do you get rid of that, you get someone who's going to be in the forefront of innovation and technology, be a factor in free agency ... it's just a win-win."
In 2010, the union's economist, Kevin Murphy, made a presentation to the league's owners. It showed that even during the most recent recession, franchises continued to rise in value. The union proposed a "windfall tax," which would apply to owners who'd had their teams for x number of years. When and if they sold the team, they'd set aside a certain amount of money from the proceeds of the sale to a fund for retired players. It was not accepted.
No one wants to even think about another work stoppage, certainly. But the players gave back around $300 million in projected salaries over the life of the new CBA. The Sterling Family Trust is about to pocket $2 billion. There will be a reckoning.
"It continues the theme, which is, certainly from the owner's perspective, it makes it harder for them to play the same card that they've played in the past, which is you come out of bargaining and the perceptions is that owners got everything they wanted, and as closer as you come to bargaining, 'Oh, we can't make it work," Klempner said. "I don't think they can play that card again."
James was asked Friday if the Ballmer sale would affect future labor talks.
"That's a conversation that's going to happen later on in time, not right now," he said.
Right now, the league will have to answer Sterling's charges in his lawsuit, which seeks to have the lifetime ban and fine revoked, and to have Andy Roeser, the embattled team president on a league-mandated indefinite leave of absence, reinstated to his former post.
Unless Sterling seeks an expedited hearing, defendants usually get a month or so to prepare. (An interesting issue: Sterling claims in his lawsuit that the league forced him out. The league will surely counter that, as the team was sold before the June 3 BOG meeting, no such vote to remove Sterling actually took place. Sterling will argue that it most certainly would have. As ever, SI.com's Michael McCann adroitly looked into that aspect over the weekend.)
In the meantime, Ballmer can start measuring for drapes in his new office. His really, really, really expensive new office. And yet ...
"I don't think Steve Ballmer is going to be sorry he bought the team," Galatioto said. "I think he's going to enjoy it."
How do you solve a problem like the Pacers?
If you want to just make this about Lance Stephenson and his antics during the Heat series, and make him the bad guy, you can. But the Pacers' problems go well beyond Stephenson -- who, it says here, was one of just two players (David West being the other) who played with the necessary passion it takes to beat a team as good as Miami. He certainly overdid it, but I'd much rather have to chill a guy out than need to pump him up.
Indiana's implosion had many fathers -- Roy Hibbert's mysterious mental checkout the last third of the season, Paul George's maddening inconsistency, point guard George Hill's regression, as well as Stephenson's obvious contract-year push. And Larry Bird has to take some of the heat, too.
The Pacers' president gambled on Evan Turner and Andrew Bynum, neither one of whom made any discernable impact in games and only served to annoy Stephenson and Hibbert, respectively, with their presence. He gave up a lot of potential depth -- Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green and this year's first-round pick -- to Phoenix for Luis Scola, who was not the impact bench player Bird had anticipated he'd be.
Let us pause here to praise Reginald.
Reggie Miller, my TNT colleague and Pacers legend, was the only guy who said 'wait a sec' when the Pacers acquired Turner from Philly at the trade deadline. While the rest of the peanut gallery and I were praising Bird for the Turner trade, Reg asked a simple -- and, as it turned out, on point -- question: Why are you messing with a 40-12 team, as Indiana was at the time?
That question haunted Indiana the rest of the season. Team chemistry, that most fragile of commodities, was shattered. We all know what happened afterward: fights between teammates, "selfish dudes," rumor on top of rumor about off-court dalliances and Coach Frank Vogel's status. The Pacers insisted that Vogel's status for next season was fine weeks ago, but made it official over the weekend.
The issue isn't coaching; Vogel's system has produced two straight Eastern Conference finals teams. The Pacers aren't a team that needs a closer and had a clear identity as a defensive juggernaut when things were going well. The advanced numbers suggested historically good defense was being played in Indianapolis the first half of the season. The issue is the roster. Can this core group still play well together?
The Pacers certainly aren't going to trade George after making him the cornerstone of the franchise with a max deal last summer.
Stephenson and West were the only two guys that showed up Friday for the Pacers' Game 6 demolition by Miami. Stephenson went into his bag of bizarre tricks, to be sure, clucking LeBron James under the chin, whacking Norris Cole across the face pursuing a loose ball and drawing a well-deserved Flagrant 1 foul. His oft-stated desire to get into James' head was the stuff of a clueless narcissist.
But Stephenson also drove the paint, fought for rebounds and competed. Too many of his teammates stood around and watched their season go down the drain.
"They've got that gear that continues to elude us in the moment," West said afterward. "We can beat them for the top seed but it's these moments. It's the Game 2 moments, this Game 6 moment. It just eludes us."
The court of public opinion says that paying Stephenson big money this summer as an unrestricted free agent is crazy. If he acts like this making $981,000, the argument goes, defying Bird's edict to leave James alone, what's he going to act like making $8 million or $9 million?
The same, probably.
But many of those calling for Stephenson's head now are the same who were saying he should have been an All-Star in February.
Stephenson is this generation's John Starks, who also had moments of head-scratching stupidity with the Knicks in the '90s (recall his head butt of Miller during the '93 first-round series). Starks was ultimately the heart of those New York teams that competed head to head with the Bulls and Pacers for East supremacy.
Indiana, though, will not go into the luxury tax to keep him. And, while you should never make decisions right at the end of the season, when emotions are highest, George's "I don't know" answer to whether he thought Stephenson should be back next season must have been received by management.
Could the Pacers do better than "Born Ready"? They could certainly plug in a two/swing next season that won't produce nearly as many headaches as Stephenson. Utah's Brandon Rush, an ex-Pacer/ longtime Bird favorite, is not in the Jazz's future and is 19 months removed from his terrible 2012 knee injury.
But the Heat, unless LeBron shocks the world and bolts in free agency, aren't going anywhere. To beat them, you have to have people who aren't afraid of them. And Stephenson, while being many things, has no fear -- of Miami or anyone else.
The Pacers and Hibbert need a come-to-Bird meeting. Whatever got into Hibbert's head after the All-Star break needs to be expunged, pronto. His dropoff, both in production and confidence, was startling and painful to watch. Hibbert's role as the Pacers' defensive anchor is irreplaceable. He was, and is, the key to the defense, and Indiana's defense is the key to the team's chances at getting back to the conference finals and beyond in the future.
Though ESPN.com reported over the weekend that "Hibbert's camp" would not be averse to a trade, Hibbert's agent, David Falk, pushed back quickly against that notion, texting Saturday:
"From the first day Larry Bird committed to draft Roy Hibbert in June 2008 [Hibbert was actually acquired via a Draft-day trade from Toronto], the Pacers and Roy have been a wonderful fit. Challenges this season have not changed that for Roy ... Roy does not have an entourage. I am his principle advisor ... his 'camp' has not expressed any opinions to [ESPN] whatsoever concerning a trade."
Hibbert may have his sensitivities, but he's not a bad person. And, he's 7-foot-2 and an All-Star center. Those are not easy qualities to find. A year ago, he was the supposed difference between Indiana and Miami; Indy's edge over the Heat remains size, and little else.
What Bird needs to find is a more effective point guard -- Hill, a good dude, hasn't been able to solve Miami's swarming defenses the last two years. Hibbert needs help getting the ball in the paint, and the Pacers need to run better stuff in the halfcourt. But at $8 million per through 2017, it would be hard for Indiana to move Hill or make him a third guard, even if it wanted to.
The hardest thing to do in sports, especially when a team seemingly has maxed out and hit the wall, is to do nothing. But what choice do the Pacers really have? They are what they are, and they're all in financially. There's not a lot of flexibility or tradeable assets on the roster. The splashy move would have been to fire Vogel, but they're not doing that, either.
Improvement, then, has to come from within. As it is not visible to most fans, it's hard to sell. Bird has to get in front on this and take his share of the blame for a disastrous finish to a disappointing year.
(Last week's record in parentheses)
1) San Antonio (2-1) : They've waited a year for their chance at revenge. Now they have it.
2) Miami (2-1) : If I had told you three years ago that Chris (Birdman) Andersen would be an essential, unreplaceable member of a championship team, you'd have laughed so hard your tonsils exploded.
3) Oklahoma City (1-2) : Season complete. OKC is really close, but its problem is clear: if Reggie Jackson starts next season, the bench is awfully thin.
4) Indiana (1-2) : Season complete. Pacers can blame the outside world all they want, but their wounds this season were self-inflicted. And they blew a great opportunity to get to the Finals.
5) L.A. Clippers : Season complete. But the best week for the franchise since the team won the lottery in 2009 and was able to take Blake Griffin with the first pick. Some years, you have to take Michael Olowokandi, you know what I mean?
6) Brooklyn : Season complete.
7) Washington : Season complete. While I had my doubts during the season, Randy Wittman earned his new deal (three years, between $9-10M) during the Wizards' playoff run. He's the right guy for that team.
8) Portland : Season complete.
9) Houston : Season complete.
10) Toronto : Season complete.
11) Memphis : Season complete. Robert Pera's maxima mea culpa somehow convinced Dave Joerger to stay with the Grizzlies. Well, that and the 50-win team. And the new contract.
12) Dallas : Season complete.
13) Golden State : Season complete.
14) Charlotte : Season complete.
15) Atlanta : Season complete.
Miami (2-1): Domination of Indiana in six games launches Heat to its fourth straight Finals appearance, rare air for any team: the feat hadn't been accomplished since the 1984-87 Boston Celtics did it, winning in '84 (Lakers) and '86 (Rockets), and losing twice to L.A. in '85 and '87.
Indiana (1-2): What a strange team. Regression across the board from last season, from Roy Hibbert to Paul George to George Hill to Frank Vogel. And some really tough decisions for Larry Bird to make this offseason.
Can the Bucks' new owners get this new building built in Milwaukee by 2017 without public funding?
Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens made the rounds in Milwaukee last week, trying to make their plans for the team known after their acquisition of the franchise for $550 million last month. As former owner Herb Kohl exited the scene by giving every employee at the BMO Harris Bradley Center a $500 bonus, and Lasry and Edens celebrated the Bucks getting the second pick overall in this month's Draft, the transition appeared smooth.
But behind all the goodwill and sense of hope is a stark reality: the city and surrounding counties remain engaged in a tug-of-war about who should pony up public money to help pay for a new arena to replace the Bradley Center. The NBA has made it clear that Milwaukee will need a new arena soon; the team's lease at the Bradley Center expires in 2017, leaving the Bucks as the team most vulnerable to a potential relocation in the next few years.
Kohl, Edens and Lasry pledged a combined $200 million toward construction of a new building — Kohl giving $100 million, and Edens and Lasry also pledging a combined $100 million. But at least $200 million more will be needed in public dollars to get the arena built. (Sacramento's new building, scheduled to be up in time for the 2017-18 season, is currently pegged at $447 million, for example.) And while Milwaukee officials, including Mayor Tom Barrett, have indicated the city is willing to commit public funds, county officials remain opposed — if not outright hostile — to any notion of helping pay for a new arena.
"I have not sensed a major change in public attitude toward the funding of a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks since the proposed sale was announced," Milwaukee County Board Supervisor David Cullen said in an e-mail. "I would say that the public is pleased that both Senator Kohl and the proposed new owners have made a substantial financial commitment to the cost of building a new arena."
Edens told the Milwaukee Business Journal last month that getting a new arena "is one of the high priorities." He did not call for any new taxes to be implemented to help pay for it, however.
"The Bucks are a great asset of not just the city and county of Milwaukee, but the state of Wisconsin," Edens told the Journal.
Supervisor Deanna Alexander, also on the County Board, said her constituents have begun moving toward supporting some kind of financing mechanism since the sale.
"I think the change in attitude is less about what people are saying and more about what they are not saying," she said in an e-mail early Monday. "Months ago people had a generally negative attitude about financing a new arena. I think that the sale of the Bucks to new owners — who are demonstrating a real interest in Milwaukee — has had a neutralizing effect."
Potentially ominous for public support is a clause in the sale document, first disclosed by ESPN.com last month, that commits the NBA to buying the team back from Lasry and Edens if there is not a new arena built or being built by the start of the 2017-18 season. The NBA bought the then-New Orleans Hornets from former owner George Shinn in 2010 when he faced severe financial pressures and ran it for more than a year before selling it to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson in 2012.
"That's a bit like finding out your betrothed insists on a prenup — something to consider carefully," Alexander said.
Racine, Waukesha and Ozaukee Counties have all passed resolutions in the last year strongly opposing any county dollars be used toward a new Bucks arena — though some business people in those counties support committing public dollars. The Racine Journal Times, in an editorial last month titled "Racine Shouldn't Pay For Milwaukee's Things," solidified that opposition.
"When the Milwaukee Brewers wanted a new baseball stadium, they went scrounging to all area communities; Racine County taxpayers are stuck paying for a seemingly never-ending stadium tax," the newspaper wrote. "Now they are coming to us again, trying to get us to pay for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, as well as, of course, paying to move Milwaukee utilities so they can have their streetcar system."
Racine County Executive Jim Ladwig said by phone Saturday evening that, while a basketball fan, he remains steadfastly opposed to using his county's funds for Milwaukee's arena.
"In our particular case, the objection is that there's no economic value to our county," Ladwig said. "We don't get people staying in our hotels; we don't get people eating in our restaurants; we don't get people going to our bars. The economic value is to Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, in the sales tax. The value to our county is non-existent — I would say miniscule to non-existent. As a result of that, if Milwaukee and Milwaukee County want to provide public financing, that's fine. I'm not arguing that. But they get all the benefits."
When Ladwig went to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Regional in Milwaukee in March, "I paid 50 bucks to pay in their parking lot," he said. "I went to their bars and their restaurants. They're taking money from our county and spending it in theirs."
Racine County, Ladwig said, does not have a county sales tax. "If we did, we could provide all sorts of benefits that would have a direct benefit to them," he said. "So I can't say let's do something that has an indirect benefit, where we could go watch a couple of games."
Alexander allowed that Ladwig's principle is "not unfounded, and could apply to the people of Milwaukee as well; but I think that we need to think like a region, for the benefit of the region, when it comes to investments that will move the region forward. This means that if Milwaukee expects bipartisan support from adjacent areas like Racine and Kenosha, Milwaukee should be willing to support economic investment in their areas too, such as the casino project (a proposed gaming and Hard Rock Live venue in Kenosha) that most of Milwaukee has objected to."
A spokeswoman for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker referred back to the statement Walker made when the proposed sale to Lasry and Edens was announced.
"So far, there is no plan on the table," Walker said at the time. "Once we hear details of a plan from elected officials and civic leaders in Milwaukee, we will review and evaluate any role that might involve the state government. Any further comment right now would be premature."
Funding plans are still in the beginning stages. A proposed referendum, which would be placed on the Nov. 2 electoral ballot to gauge public sentiment on tax money being spent for a new arena, was referred back to the County Board of Supervisors last month. "There is still plenty of time for this to happen," Cullen, a supporter of using public funding, wrote in his e-mail.
Alexander said the County Board supported designating sales tax funding for parks, transit (including a proposed streetcar system for the city) and Emergency Medical Systems, which were priorities.
"That revenue stream never came to fruition, so it would be difficult for the County Board to want to set that goal aside and move toward similar funding for a sports stadium instead," she said in the e-mail. "However, I am concerned that a referendum could work against Milwaukee County's long term goals, regardless of its results. I am hopeful that if we give time to the business and sports community to explore all of the options make a reasonable proposal, perhaps a referendum and public financing could be avoided all together. Either way, now that the team is under new ownership, we should let Lasry & Edens get their bearing in Milwaukee and listen first to the fresh perspective they might bring to the table."
Last week, Edens and Lasry put an ally, Sarah Watterson, on the city's Cultural and Entertainment Needs Task Force, which is shepherding ideas for how to fund a new arena among the city's other capital needs to maintain existing facilities.
One idea being contemplated is a so-called "Super TIF," or Tax Incremental Financing District. Creating such a district within Milwaukee or Milwaukee County could create public funding for projects like a new arena through increased property or sales taxes. Projects in Pennsylvania and Minnesota have been funded, in part, through these so-called Super TIFs.
"The 'super TIF' being discussed by some members of the business community has not been publicly well defined as to its geographic area or its scope," Cullen said. "Because I do not know the specifics of the proposal or its effects on taxpayers of the city of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and the rest of the Greater Milwaukee region I cannot comment on whether or not it is a good idea.
"Lastly I would add that a new arena that would house the Bucks, Marquette University basketball and other major sporting and concert events is a regional attraction. The entire public cost of this project should not fall completely on Milwaukee taxpayers."
Ladwig said the cost overruns of the Milwaukee Brewers' Miller Park, funded in part by a one percent sales tax in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha Counties — a tax that was supposed to end in 2010, but is still being collected in those counties now — soured Milwaukee's surrounding counties to any notion of future taxes to pay for the city's projects.
"I wouldn't be going out on a real far limb on that one," he said.
"I've done three budgets, and I haven't increased the tax levy in the last three budgets," he said. "But by far, I get the most comments about, 'we are not going to pay for that arena. Good job.' Our roads are definitely in need of some repairs and upgrades and everything else. Would you rather have us spend $8 million a year to improve our roads, or pay for a new arena?' I'm guessing 95-5 [against the arena]."
The Weekly Mark Jackson letter. From Lawrence M. Bentley:
"I do not think Joe Lacob, or Bob Myers, are racists. I do not think Mark Jackson was fired because of his race." -- David Aldridge
"Mark needs to learn how to manage across and up" -- Joe Lacob
Mark Jackson: The issue is race. Why? 1) You feel it necessary to say it was not, it is; 2) Black males are only given 3 ways to make it: a) play the "game"; b) Entertain the power structure; c) make the power structure a whole LOT of money. Other groups have the additional option of being themselves, being able to do the task well, be professional and of good behavior. This is never enough for the black male in corporate America. Mark Jackson did a great job, we know that, but he could not entertain the owner, he could not make them any more money than they were already getting and he chooses to have his own life (e.g. church in L.A.). Steve Kerr is not going to be required to win as much because he knows the owner through access and privilege. I know what I speak of, I have been working professionally for 38 years. It is not about if Joe Lacob is racist, it is about he refused to adapt his worldview for a very good NBA Coach because he was black and not "understandable."
I'm not sure what you're saying that is different from what I'm saying, Lawrence. You and I both said that a big reason why Jackson was fired was that Golden State's management was unwilling or unable to accommodate the social differences between themselves and Jackson -- many of which were steeped in race. That's racial. What I said was that wasn't racist on their part; that is, they didn't engage in a predetermined action or behavior to injure Jackson based on his race. This was not, in my view, planned behavior. I do not condone what happened, for the reasons I stated in the column a couple of weeks ago.
Forty-six chromosomes, thirty-two teeth ... but we split on Streisand. From Mindaugas Jancis:
I'm really happy that you actively speak up your mind on race, gender, sexual orientation, and other social issues here in NBA.com.
Though in your previous Morning Tip you've used a concept of "gay rights" which I think should be avoided in this discourse. Thing is there's no such thing as "gay rights", only "human rights" that are being violated in one way or another. When we say "gay rights", some might think that homosexuals want some exclusive rights and this only widens the gap that needs to be filled with mutual understanding and appreciation.
If we think about each other as "humans" first, I guess it would be easier to understand that we all should have the same rights. And if for some reason one thinks that gay people shouldn't be allowed to marry, this means (s)he's not treating them as humans.
While I appreciate the idea, the reality is that gay people do not yet have the ability across the board in the United States to marry, hence the use of the term "gay rights." Whether one has an enumerated "right" to get married is another question, I guess. But I think you know what gay people and those that support them mean when they use that term.
Unsolicited Birddoggin'. From John Steppling:
I live in Europe part time. I see a lot of Euro hoop. (Jusuf) Nukic (sp) is a very good if not excellent defender. He's not a shot blocker but neither is (Nikola) Pekovic. And that's who he is. More to defense than shot blocking. If you watch his film you see his game is pretty advanced, and his defense is excellent, with great position, and the guy cant be moved.
If your report on Nurkic is accurate, John, he won't last long after the Lottery.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and other outstanding ideas to entice recruits to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!
(weekly averages in parentheses)
1) LeBron James (21.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5 apg, .535 FG, .938 FT): Had the perfect retort to Lance Stephenson's antics: "I don't know, I guess I just understand what the bigger picture is." Perfect.
2) Tim Duncan (16.7 ppg, 11 rpg, 2.7 apg, .486 FG, .842 FT): You talk about digging deep: Where did Duncan find the will in overtime Saturday, with Tony Parker out with a bad ankle, having already logged way too minutes for Gregg Popovich's liking, to carry the Spurs to the Western finals-clinching victory?
3) Kevin Durant (29 ppg, 8 rpg, 3 apg, .500 FG, .650 FT): Durant has prided himself on improving every offseason. He has to come back with some kind of post move next season, the same way Dirk Nowitzki had to get in the hole to accelerate his game. With his size and court vision, Durant could shred defenses that try and double him on the block and get the Thunder easier shots in the halfcourt.
4) Dwyane Wade (15.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5 apg, .447 FG, 1.000 FT): Week off and Finals schedule -- with two days off between Games 2 and 3, and between 6 and 7 if it gets that far -- set up beautifully for Wade to be at his physical best for most of the series.
5) Blake Griffin: Season complete.
229 -- Career playoff games for Tim Duncan entering The Finals. The Memphis Grizzlies franchise, which began in 1995 in Vancouver -- two years before Duncan entered the league -- has 54 career playoff games.
.005 -- Percentage of shots made in overtime periods during the playoffs -- 1 of 21 -- by the Thunder's Russell Westbrook. This is one of those stats that, if you look at it long enough, doesn't really mean anything. But it's interesting.
1) Yeah, I can get into Spurs-Heat II -- The Rematch. The best this league can currently offer.
2) This Kawhi Leonard, though. That's just incredible.
3) Very happy for Steve Kerr that he is now free to devote his full attention to the Warriors. Very sad for me and everyone who works at Turner, because you will not find a classier, better person to work with. I learned so much just talking (listening) to him about the game over the eight years he was at TNT (with a GM stint in Phoenix along the way). Good luck, my friend.
4) I thought I knew a lot about the NBA's history. But I had no idea that Bud Grant, the former Minnesota Vikings head coach, a) played basketball, or b) was on the first NBA championship team, the Minneapolis Lakers of George Mikan fame.
5) Stop me if you've heard this story before: at John Burroughs Elementary School, I was the overwhelming favorite to win the school spelling bee. In the first round, other students got words like boat, clothes, kitchen. I got "anesthesia." Repeat: anesthesia. I did not win the school spelling bee, though I've known ever since how to spell anesthesia. So congrats to Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe ... I guess.
1) You can cover this league for decades, and still not fully understand the catch in Derek Fisher's voice early Sunday morning, when he talked about how a season that ended in the Western Conference finals still meant something special, and that he hoped his teammates understood how close they were to being the best team in the league. There remains something unknowable about the sacrifice that athletes make for one another at the highest level, and why people like the 38-year-old Fisher find it so hard to walk away from that kind of quest.
2) Sincere condolences to the family of Lewis Katz, the former Nets owner who died Saturday in a plane crash. Just last week, he'd become co-owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, where I worked just a few years ago. Well before that, I truly enjoyed speaking with Katz when he owned the Nets in Jersey. He was accessible and forthright, and a good guy.
3) RIP, Maya Angelou. A unique, beautiful voice for the powerless and marginalized.
4) Never thought I'd say this, but can we have the British-accented gecko back? Really, really sick of the talking pig.
The boy can eat. Scott Brooks, the Oklahoma City Thunder's Coach, chuckled that his rookie center, Steven Adams, is good for about 10,000 calories a day, eating the Thunder out of per diem and home. The food doesn't go in Adams's gut; the 20-year-old is a pretty well cut 255 pounds. But Adams's growth, both physically and as a player, is something the Thunder monitored all season. His presence was a found plus in OKC this season.
Taken with the 12th pick overall last June (the pick was among the benefits the Thunder got in the James Harden trade with Houston), Adams came on faster than anyone thought he would. His athletic skill set was already known from his one college season, at Pittsburgh, and from impressive performances both at the Chicago pre-Draft camp last year and in individual workouts.
But Adams picked up the pro game quickly, gaining the trust of both Brooks and his teammates, and earning minutes in the rotation. The Thunder hoped that Adams could, someday, be their center of the future. Now, they expect it. And that's a shock to Adams' system, one that already absorbed being one of his father's 18 kids growing up in New Zealand.
Adams has athletic genes throughout his family; his sister, Valarie, is the current Olympic champion in the shot put. But when his father, Sid, died in 2006, Adams was shattered, and started hanging out with questionable characters. Only the intervention of his brother, Warren, who moved him in with his family, and a connection with a friend of Pitt Coach Jamie Dixon, turned Adams's life in the right direction.
Just a few years later, Adams started in the Western Conference finals for OKC when Serge Ibaka missed the first two games against San Antonio with a calf injury. When Ibaka returned, Adams returned to the bench. But he likely won't be there for much longer.
Me: What has the experience of the playoffs been like for you?
Steven Adams: It's been cool. It's been fun. Different than the regular season -- much more intense, the crowd's really into it. Every possession just seems like it's more valuable than the regular season. Everyone's playing really, really hard, and everything like that.
Me: How do you balance playing on the edge with going over the edge?
SA: The coaching staff here and all the players, I don't know, they make it seem comfortable when you're playing as hard as you can. They really control it. They want you to play as hard as you can, but they do it like not making you do too much. For me, they just say go out there and not play hard, not think about anything, and everything just comes instinctively. So that's been a really big help for me.
Me: Was it difficult having to go in and start for Serge when he was injured?
SA: Not really. You don't really replace Serge. He's hard to replace. You can't get his numbers, and what not. But what you can do as a team is just come in, he brought a lot of energy and defense, so we've got to try to do the same thing. Forget about the numbers. Just come in with the same energy and intensity on defense, the passion he has for blocking, you try to do the same thing. We can try and get the stats by saying, we can distribute amongst the team who's going to score like, whatever, to make up his points or his blocks. So I'm going to average point-four more than what they usually do.
Me: What did you have to get used to coming to OKC out of college -- and New Zealand?
SA: Just living, really. Getting a house and all that stuff, and adult-type things. It's weird going from college, because in college, they send everything out to you. Now you just have to kind of look for yourself and do things by yourself. That wasn't hard for me. But it was just something different. And getting my license.
Me: What was that like?
SA: The team hooked me up with some driving dude. And I was driving around in that, like, Prius, with the learner's card. It was legit. I fit in there, so it was all good, but the players were mocking me, and the coaches.
Me: But you got it?
SA: Yeah, I got me a pickup truck.
Me: With your upbringing, I wonder if the concept of having open space is really important to you.
SA: I mean, it's definitely, it definitely has its advantages. But, I don't know, since I grew up like that, you always miss having that sort of company all the time, dudes picking on you, just sort of messing with you. But other than that, it's klnd of peaceful and quiet. I've kind of grown accustomed to it, and my routine is to have nothing around.
Me: Ever compare notes about that with Serge?
SA: Nah. It's hard talking to Serge. Just ask him a question. I get like, half of it.
Me: Did you ever play against Aron Baynes back home?
SA: No. I'd never ever heard of him! And I thought he was an Aussie, Aussie dude, so I didn't like him. But apparently he was born in New Zealand. So I changed my whole perspective about it. Now he's kind of cool.
Me: What is it like being on a team with Westbrook and Durant, who get so much attention?
SA: At first, I found it kind of normal, I guess. But it's all the coaching staff. They just say, it's their team, they show me what they like to do. So, instead of them changing to grow accustomed to me, I just built my game around them, trying to help them out as much as I can. That's worked out really well, just coming in and not trying to be a distraction or anything like that, just help the team, be positive.
Me: Did you see what Tony Allen said about you?
Me: He doesn't care for your style of play. He thinks you're a little too physical.
SA: Tony Allen? He said that about me.
Me: Yes. The whole thing with you and Zach [Randolph].
SA: Oh. I can understand that. I'd be mad, too, if that happened to one of my teammates. But I don't know. Was he giving me kudos?
Me: Not really. But I think if he was your teammate, he'd love you.
SA: Yeah. That's pretty awkward. Isn't he pretty physical?
Me: Yeah. But you don't have a problem with how you play?
SA: No. The coaches, well, they tell me if I'm doing something wrong, but the whole physical thing, they don't ease back. They say to keep doing what I'm doing. I just do what the coaches tell me.
Me: When you were drafted, what was the level of excitement, and the apprehension of going to a really good team with high expectations?
SA: I was really, really excited. You really saw my cheeks after I got drafted, because I was smiling all the time. And it was really cool. That was like for a day. And then Sam Presti came in and had a quick chat. And it was a really intense chat. He just set out the expectations, how high the standards [are] he holds here, and the organization. That kind of just brought me back down to earth straightaway, and just work as hard as I can, to meet the expectations he set out for me. It was nothing to do with numbers or anything to do with that, playing, it was just come in and be consistent every day, come in and work as hard as you can, and do what the coaches say. So I just do that.
Me: Are you comfortable with the idea that you'll be a major part of the team going forward, that Steven Adams is going to be the center of the future?
SA: No one's told me that, unfortunately. But I feel pretty good now. Cool. I'll take it.
Well they got a free trip to Miami!!!
-- Warriors center Marreese Speights (@Mospeights16), Friday, 9:15 p.m., after the Heat's destruction of the Pacers to capture the Eastern Conference finals championship.
"They have no use for a team drafting sixth."
-- Celtics GM Danny Ainge, to the Boston Globe, lamenting the refusal of likely top three picks Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to visit or work out for the Celtics prior to the June 26 Draft.
"Obviously, I had a certain opinion of Coach Jackson that they made a decision otherwise, and I heard the reasons, but I won't dwell on it."
-- Warriors guard Stephen Curry, during a news conference to celebrate his winning the NBA's Community Assist Award for charitable works during the season, on the team's decision to fire Mark Jackson last month. Curry added that he still believes the organization is committed to winning and that he believes new coach Steve Kerr is part of that commitment.
"All I can say is I love Florida, I'm happy here...the school's been great to me. But at the same point, some of the NBA stuff, as I've said before, is intriguing in a lot of ways -- the basketball part of it. That's not to say that I'm unhappy here; that's not the case at all."
-- University of Florida Coach Billy Donovan, addressing rumors that the Cavaliers and other NBA teams have reached out to him to assess his interest in coming to the pros. The 49-year-old Donovan has long intrigued NBA types -- recall his taking the Magic job for about 48 hours in 2007 before changing his mind and returning to Gainesville -- who've seen his success at Florida and his continuous ability to churn out NBA talent, from Joakim Noah to Al Horford to Chandler Parsons.
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