A Nod To The Michael Heisley Era.


May 9, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley during the second half of game five in the Western Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers at FedEx Forum. The Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 92-80. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

The Grizzlies’ home opener was played in front of a packed house at FedEx Forum on the day that the franchise was officially sold to Robert Pera’s ownership group. There will be more on the sale coming up in the following days, but I can say that it’s an exciting time for Grizzlies fans.

Pera is a young guy that has drawn comparisons to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. In case you aren’t familiar with Cuban, he’s the youngest owner in NBA history and has drawn praise and criticism for his day-to-day involvement with the team. He’s done everything from shooting around with the team, to sitting right behind the bench on the road and even going after officials before, during and after games.

The Mavericks have also been quite successful since he took over the team as well. In addition to their 2011 World Championship, the Mavericks have been a lock for the playoffs every year and had their streak of 11 straight 50 wins seasons snapped during the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 regular season.

Obviously, the Mavericks had Dirk Nowitzki on their team and anytime you have a top-15 player in NBA history, it’s an easier task than most to be excellent. That said, Cuban often opened up his pocket book and paid large luxury tax penalties to keep the Mavericks afloat.

In fact, during their 2011 title run, the Mavericks had the third highest payroll in the entire NBA. That led to almost $45 million worth of luxury tax payments under the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, but it paid off with  a long-awaited World Championship. I think Cuban makes the same deal because he feels like the fans deserved it.

It remains to be seen whether Pera will have that same type of attitude towards the Grizzlies, but we know that Michael Heisley never invested that much in the team.

Don’t worry, I’m not here to trash Mr. Heisley. For all of his faults, he is still the biggest reason that we have an NBA team in Memphis. For a long time, many fans wondered if going to watch a mediocre-to-bad basketball team play at The Pyramid, and it was a fair question.

The team was bad, but what did Memphians really expect? The Vancouver Grizzlies were the worst franchise in NBA history by any measure possible, so to expect an immediate rejuvenation was not entirely reasonable. Also, the Grizzlies moved in with eventual All-Star Pau Gasol. Even with Gasol on the team, it took two seasons before the team sniffed the playoffs.

Even during the Grizzlies’ rejuvenation over the past two years, not enough credit was given to the usually stubborn Heisley for giving up on Hasheem Thabeet, his hand-selected draft pick from UCONN in 2009. In case you were wondering, Thabeet went ahead of notables such as James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Stephan Curry and Brandon Jennings.

The old Heisley would have insisted on seeing Thabeet’s development to the end. The evolved Heisley saw it was time to cut ties and the addition of Shane Battier helped the Grizzlies win their first playoff game and series in their franchise history.

Even during the Grizzlies’ best days, relocation always hung over the team like a permanent black cloud. When Pera first surfaced as a potential buyer, a lot of local fans thought that the team was gone. After he secured enough local, minority owners, that fear was been quieted substantially. The team will remain in Memphis at least 15 years past the time that the lease with FedEx Forum runs out.

Basically, if Memphis wants to keep the Grizzlies, they’re going to have to pony up and support the team. If they don’t, then the owner may have to look at other options. For the time being however, this team belongs to Memphis.

At the end of the day, a new ownership team is always very exciting, especially to an owner like Robert Pera from whom nobody really knows what to expect. But I hope that Memphis Grizzlies fans remember the Michael Heisley era fondly. He did a lot for Memphis and while he didn’t spend as freely as many of the other owners around the league, he still kept the team relatively competitive. When the team was good, he recognized that and made more of an attempt to keep the team good.

Heisley may be gone, but he’ll never be forgotten, at least not by me. Thanks, Mr. Heisley.