Wizards’ blame belongs to Ernie Grunfeld’s enabler
Ted Leonsis has said he has a vision of what it means to own a sports franchise. He talked about it in a 2001 interview in Cigar Aficionado magazine.
“I honestly do think the community owns the teams, that these are public trusts,” Leonsis said. “And if you can create a winning team, something the community can be proud of, nothing brings the city closer.”
As much as he was able to fulfill that public trust with his hockey team, the Washington Capitals, bringing the community together with the Stanley Cup championship this year, he has sorely betrayed that public trust when it comes to his basketball team, the Washington Wizards.
For that reason, he needs to sell the Wizards.
Leonsis has betrayed a Wizards fan base that had been victimized over and over again for decades. You think the Redskins’ fan base is damaged? Flesh wounds compared to what has been inflicted on fans of Washington’s NBA franchise for nearly 40 years.
Nearly 40 years.
Nearly 40 years since this basketball team has won more than 50 games in a season. Nearly 40 years since they have gotten past the second round of the NBA playoffs. Those damaged fans thought their pain ended eight years ago when Leonsis, after the passing of Abe Pollin, acquired the Wizards, as well as the arena, adding it to his hockey team and becoming the Monumental Sports king. This was an owner, they believed, who would do the right thing.
The right thing, everyone knows, would have been to send a message to Wizards fans that the shame and failure of what had just preceded him the Gilbert Arenas gun debacle and a host of other embarrassments would not happen under his watch because the architect of that chaos, general manager Ernie Grunfeld, would be gone.
It would have been the most important signal to Wizards fans by Leonsis that business would not continue as usual. Of course, as we all know, Leonsis did not do that. Not only that, he has doubled down on one of the worst general managers in the NBA several times, including the most recent contract extension that he apparently was so ashamed of that he kept it secret despite Leonsis’ proclamations of being transparent.
Transparent Ted needs to look in the mirror of this dysfunctional franchise now bickering, overrated high-priced players who embarrass the coach and play with no heart or passion, all assembled yet again by the same general manager who oversaw the Arenas era and realize that he has failed in his public trust as an owner.
Leonsis needs to sell the Wizards.
“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the social ramifications of owning a sports team,” Leonsis said in a 2011 speech to the National Press Club. The responsibility that comes with it is not unlike being an elected public official. There is a silent majority, and you worry about their needs. There’s a very loud grouping on either side of any issue who are quite passionate, quite articulate and activist. It’s your job to be able to filter what each side is saying, but never lose sight that it’s the masses that we have to be concerned with.”
Leonsis has lost that sight. He would have to be blind not to see the despair and distrust Wizards fans hold in their heart for Grunfeld, who, now in his 15th season as the Wizards GM, has posted a 542-689 won-loss record for that time. But it goes deeper than that. He has dismissed character when it comes to building rosters, from Arenas to Andre Blatche and the clown show that was the so-called Big Three, to now John Wall and his highly-paid team-wrecking behavior. And every time a coach tried to enforce a sense of order on the chaos from Eddie Jordan to the late Flip Saunders to Randy Wittman Grunfeld has kneecapped them. And Leonsis, with his shameful continued employment of the general manager, has endorsed it.
Leonsis has wasted eight years of his Wizards ownership. He should have the decency not to waste any more.
There are a number of owners who own several sports franchises, but only two other owners besides Leonsis own both the NBA franchise and the NHL franchise in their town James Dolan, owner of the Knicks and Rangers in New York and Stan Kroenke, owner of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche in Denver.
Leonsis’ plate is plenty full. He seems to spend these days acting as if he is Ace Rothstein, singing the praises of legalized sports betting as if it is some sort of cure for disease. And then there is his E sports team Team Liquid. Leonsis loves his Team Liquid and their video game success. “I do believe this will be as mainstream as Hollywood and the NBA one day,” he said in a 2016 interview.
Based on the crowd that reportedly showed up last weekend at Leonsis’ new Entertainment and Sports Arena for the Red Bull Conquest video game competition about the size of a lunchtime food truck crowd at Farragut Square it may take a while for that success. Who knows, maybe nearly 40 years?
When Leonsis took over full ownership of the Wizards in 2010, he paid a reported $330 million for 56 percent of the basketball team and arena, with the remaining 44 percent already under his ownership. According to Forbes, the Wizards alone are now worth about $1.35 billion. He can make a nice chunk of change by selling the basketball team and investing it in bookies and geeks.
And there would be no shortage of buyers one already in the house. Last year Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple king Steve Jobs who is reportedly worth $21 billion, bought 20 percent of Monumental Sports for a reported $500 million. She had already tried to buy the Los Angeles Clippers several years ago, and also had interest in purchasing the Brooklyn Nets.
Will Leonsis sell the Wizards? Not likely. But if he was truly transparent, he would acknowledge that he has failed miserably when it comes to the public trust and Washington’s basketball team.
Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesdays and Saturdays and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.