This morning at 10:00am, the voice of the Grizzlies, Pete Pranica, introduced 34-year-old billionaire and self-proclaimed NBA “uber fan” Robert Pera as the new Chairman of the Memphis Grizzlies. Pera’s close friend Jason Levien, the “old” one of the group at age 41, will serve as the CEO of the newly formed Memphis Basketball, LLC that operates the Memphis Grizzlies and the FedEx Forum. The two men will oversee the two-dozen or so local celebrity owners ranging from Justin Timberlake to Pitt Hyde to Ashley (Mrs. Peyton) Manning and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.
Pera, who looked as baby faced as I did in high school, sat confident yet camera-shy as only a true Silicon Valley, self-made billionaire could on stage in the foyer of the Forum. Rumors swirled that Pera can dunk, and when asked if he would for the fans, Pera replied a meek, “Sure, yeah I can do that.” Levien stepped in as the resident legal advisor to clarify that our new Chairman would be dunking at a later date, properly outfitted and in front of a much larger crowd. I sat thinking to myself: who are these young guys, and where are the old guys who are actually going to run the franchise?
“Wildly successful” was a phrase tossed around this morning. The phrase was used to describe the goals that these new owners have for this franchise on and off the court. However, the phrase could be used more aptly to describe Pera and Levien than our beloved Grizzly bears…for the time being. Don’t get me wrong, consecutive winning seasons filled with two exciting, overachieving* playoff endeavors put these young Grizzlies on the map; they’re at “successful” pointed toward “wildly successful” but are not there just yet. Pera and Levien are.
I’ll speak about Pera briefly, based solely on what I observed in the hour-long press conference, you can read his bio on Wikipedia. Pera made brief introductory comments that you could tell he anticipated would get more of a rise from the crowd. He then passed the torch to Levien, a former sports agent, Harvard law fellow and previously a part-owner of MLS’s DC United and NBA’s 76ers. Pretty standard, highly optimistic introductory statements from both men, but what got me fired up was seeing Pera’s face light up when he talked about his passion for the sport and the league, even more so when he began talking about his company Ubiquiti Networks. Pera, with $30,000 in savings, started his own tech hardware company that provides affordable, high-caliber internet service to remote areas of the world. Without taking out any loans to get the ball rolling, Pera in five years grew his company to $350 million in sales with $103 million in earnings. This guy is good, and what I liked most about him was his genuineness. He was genuinely not the best behind the mic. He was genuinely not a slick dresser or fast-talker. He genuinely lit up when it came to talking basketball, growing companies, and especially the fusion of the two. We’ll see a few years from now how his business savvy pans out for the Grizz faithful, but for now Grizzlife is behind you Mr. Pera.
Home-opener tips tonight at 7:00pm in the Forum against Utah. Be there.
*by everyone else’s predictions