If there’s one takeaway for the Houston Rockets in the weeks since their last game, it’s that it could be so much worse. Losing in spectacular fashion is going to sting, and it’s going to sting for about a year. There are coaching problems and personnel problems and discipline problems. There are good reasons for doubt about Houston’s future, but at least the Rockets don’t have to worry about their owner. It’s increasingly clear that having an owner that does no harm to the franchise is more of a luxury than an expectation, something the Rockets and their fans should be thankful for.
The struggles the Los Angeles Clippers have had regarding their ownership have been both televised and undeniable. There’s nothing to be said about Donald Sterling that hasn’t already been said, so let’s say it again. Recent events kicked off with the public release of a recording of Sterling, a recording in which he was heard not only making overtly racist remarks, but also commenting about a seemingly racist community he was part of. This spurred a tide of anti-sterling sentiment, something that was decades in the making. While his comments were hideous, there was already a litany of reasons to want him out of the NBA.
He’d been sued by NBA legend Elgin Baylor for alleged workplace racism. He’d been sued for alleged racist housing practices in his massive apartments empire. He described sexual encounters in needless detail repeatedly under oath, seemingly unaware of the inappropriateness of the situation. Before the Blake Griffin era, Sterling’s practices with his NBA team alone were enough to warrant disgust. Michael Brooks once had to play in a game with his jaw wired shut because the team only had eight active players. The Clippers even denied Kim Hughes medical coverage for necessary surgery for prostate cancer. There’s not a lot to like.
While Sterling might be the worst owner in sports, though thankfully not for long, plenty in the NBA have made their teams wish for new management. The latest is Robert Pera, principal owner of the Memphis Grizzlies. The list of allegations against him is as bizarre as they come, including challenging Tony Allen to a game of one-on-one to then wanting to fire rookie head coach Dave Joerger over Joerger telling Pera that this was unprofessional. Pera allegedly wanted Joerger to wear a headset during games and would have liked Mike Miller to be a player coach. This has culminated with Joerger interviewing with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but then having proceedings stall for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Pera then took to twitter to call out Sports Illustrated writer Chris Mannix, something that you just don’t see very often.
This is far from the worst of NBA ownership. The Sacramento Kings, for example, are overjoyed to be rid of the Maloof family, or at least the Maloof siblings who ran the team into the ground. Vivek Ranadive has been a welcome breath of fresh air for them. Anybody with a passing familiarity with the New York Knicks is aware of the meddling ways of James Dolan, an owner who is if anything too interested. While Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban can be a PR frustration from time to time, at least he seems to leave the basketball operations to the experts and trust their judgement. No such luck from Dolan, who is allegedly even encroaching on the authority of NBA legend Phil Jackson.
The moral of the story, if there is one, is that NBA owners are often a source of frustration rather than a net positive for a team. The best possible owner is one who has a passion for winning, knows enough to keep out of the way of the professionals, is willing to spend to get a ring, trusts his front office and stays out of the tabloid pages. Not many teams have found owners like that, though the ranks have been increasing. The NBA seems to be more proactive in courting more presentable owners, something that fans of the sport worldwide should be glad for.
The Rockets, for their part, have had an owner in Les Alexander who has been doing all of that for two decades now. His track record hasn’t been perfect, but he’s never been a meddler or an embarrassment at all. He’s willing to spend and he’s willing to give general manager Daryl Morey as much latitude as he needs. No matter what happens to the Rockets next year, and no matter how grim the ending of their season was this year, that’s something important to hold on to. In a league where so many teams are inadvertently sabotaged from above, Houston’s lucky to have an owner who’s actively helping.