Craziest Owners in Sports History
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling may soon be cut from his own team following the release of an audio tape in which Sterling admonishes his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, for posting to Instagram photos of her associating with "black people." The person with whom she was appearing, the one who led to Sterling's racist comments, was none other than basketball legend Magic Johnson.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Tuesday in a press conference that Sterling would be banned from the league for life and subjected to a $2.5 million fine. Silver further declared that the league would begin the process of forcing Sterling to sell the Clippers.
Sterling, a billionaire real estate developer with three decades as an owner in the NBA, has had a history of controversy, including a wrongful termination suit by a former general manager as well as accusations of housing discrimination. Sterling isn't alone, however, in the history of eccentric if not downright offensive owners of major sports franchises.
Before there was Donald Sterling, the sports world had Marge Schott to contend with. Owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball franchise from 1984 to 1999, Schott set a standard for lunacy unmatched by owners of her era or any other.
Sure, she lets her St. Bernard dogs have the run of the baseball field, doing their business wherever they pleased. Her miserliness was also legendary, charging one manager for three bats he donated to charity, requiring another to pay his way to the World Series he orchestrated, and insisting upon signing any check on behalf of the organization for any amount over $50.
But what set Schott apart was a series of racially insensitive remarks brought to light in the wake of a wrongful termination suit in 1992, as recounted by Sports Illustrated. Schott had shown racial bias toward front office hirings and once called former Reds outfielders Eric Davis and Dave Parker her "million-dollar n-----s]". Later, during an interview with a reporter in which she was asked to explain the possession of a swastika armband in her home, Schott was quoted as saying: "Hitler was good in the beginning, but he went too far."
Despite being suspended for the 1993 season and ordered to pay a $25,000 fine, Schott apparently couldn't keep quiet, continuing her pattern of racial invective and praise for Hitler. Eventually, the league pushed Schott to sell her controlling stake in the Reds in 1999.
Whatever you think about George Steinbrenner, the controversial long-time owner of the New York Yankees for nearly four decades, it's impossible to deny that the man loved to win, and he would go to sometimes extreme lengths to ensure he had a winning team.
As an owner, Steinbrenner was ruthless, overseeing a stream of 19 managers over his tenure, including the five times manager Billy Martin was fired and rehired. Steinbrenner also enforced a dress code among his players, requiring players to keep their hair short and shave their beards, benching players who didn't follow the rules. He even hired a gambler-turned-private investigator to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield, a former Yankees outfielder, which earned Steinbrenner a permanent ban from the Yankees' day-to-day management in 1991.
However over-the-top Steinbrenner's tactics may have been, he is arguably the most successful sports owner in history. Despite his quarrels with the press and his fans -- even allegedly getting into a physical altercation with Dodgers fans in 1981 -- his management of the Yankees led them to become one of the most valuable franchises of any sport.
To look at the career of former Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard, you'd have to wonder whether the man knew anything about the sport he bought into in 1971.
Ballard, a notorious cheapskate, evicted a portrait of Queen Elizabeth that hung in the rink upon assuming ownership to make room for more seats. "She never gave me anything," he told one biographer. "Never paid any taxes for me." And neither did Ballard, apparently, as tenure as owner immediately hit a rough patch when he was convicted of tax evasion a year after acquiring the Maple Leafs.
In addition to a tenure marked by a steep drop in the performance of his team, Ballard was also known for controversial statements, including called an NHL president "know-nothing shrimp" and describing his own daughter as a "reptile," according to the New York Times. Ballard also wasn't a stranger to violent confrontations, even standing up for a former player by knocking out a fan.
Baseball players are notoriously superstitious, and apparently, so are some of the clubs' owners.
Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt enlisted the services of Vladimir Shpunt, a Russian emigre who identifies himself as a scientist and healer, to "think blue," thereby channeling his mental energy to the benefit of the team, according to the L.A. Times. And it wasn't just for the one Dodgers game that Shpunt actually attended, but instead Shpunt's good vibrations were paid for for a full five years.
McCourt became acquainted with Shpunt when his daughter, Jamie, contracted an eye infection that threatened her sight. Shpunt was referred by a friend of McCourt, and he treated Jaime, who recovered from the ordeal.
Whatever ability as a business manager John Spano may have brought to the New York Islanders hockey team, there is one thing he lacked that every other sports owner seems to have plenty of: money. In fact, Spano might not even really be considered an owner given that he never had the cash to actually buy the team he was in charge of.
Claiming to have a net worth north of $200 million at the time, Spano agreed to purchase the Islanders for $165 million from then-owner John Pickett. Despite multiple promises of wire transfers worth millions of dollars to Pickett following the deal's closing, Spano turned out to be worth much less than he claimed, following an investigation by Newsday.
The episode proved an embarrassment for the NHL. Spano would be brought to court on charges of fraud and ordered to serve 71 months in prison and pay nearly $11 million in fines. The controversy was later documented as part of ESPN's film series 30 for 30.
Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder has the third most valuable franchise in the NFL on his hands, according to Forbes, no easy feat for a team that has had losing seasons for the past four out of five years.
The fans of the D.C. metro area are still loyal to their team in spite of a list of fumbles by its owner so long that the Washington City Paper put together an A-to-Z listing of all of Snyder's blunders, which triggered a lawsuit by Snyder.
The team also continues to employ what is widely considered a racially insensitive mascot. Despite being urged by the Native American groups, Congress and the president to consider a new name for the team, Snyder has declared that he will never change the team's name, even insisting the word "never" be written in all caps to emphasize his commitment to the mascot.
He criticizes refs officiating a game and mouths off routinely at other teams' players, hurling insults both on and off the court. Were he not the billionaire owner of one of the NBA's most successful franchises, the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban could easily be mistaken for a bullying sports dad in a high school league.
Cuban has paid for his on- and off-court behavior quite literally by shelling out around $1.9 million in fines. In fact, before former commissioner David Stern retired, Cuban of drawing the final fine that Stern would issue in his career.
Cuban isn't just a talker, however, when it comes to what he considers some of the major challenges facing NBA officiating. Last year, he provided $100,000 to Southern Methodist University for a study on flopping (an intentional fall by a player after little or no physical contact by an opposing player in order to draw a personal foul), as reported by ESPN.
Al Davis devoted his life to the game of football, but had a contentious relationship with just about anyone who was affiliated with his team or dared to tell him how to run it.
In addition to engaging in numerous feuds with player and coaches alike, Davis was in and out of court with the NFL and the cities that hosted his team over the years, Oakland and Los Angeles. Davis sued in 1980 to relocate the Oakland Raiders to Los Angeles in 1980, and later sued the NFL to claim exclusive rights to football in Los Angeles even after the team returned to Oakland.
Bill Veeck was a baseball owner who knew how to turn the game into a show, a marketing genius with a touch of madness.
A promoter above all else, Veeck at different times in his career the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox, consistently breaking attendance records with each team. During his time with various teams, Veeck was responsible for coming up with fan appreciation days, door prizes, exploding scoreboards and fireworks at games. He also once employed a dwarf to take a turn at bat.
Veeck's fun-loving nature could turn a loss into a win even under tragic circumstances. After serving in World War II, Veeck lost a leg to an anti-aircraft gun. When he returned home, he wore a wooden leg, which would be otherwise unnoticeable were it not for the ashtray built into in it.