Every indication we have says that Wyc Grousbeck plays to win. He pays the luxury tax every season, opened his pockets to retain both Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, and generally makes every effort to field the winningest team possible. Including luxury tax last season, Celtics player salaries totaled $82 million, and Grousbeck is the man signing those checks.
Yet there have been grumblings that Grousbeck is among the hard-lining owners willing to lose the entire season if that’s what it takes to re-work the Collective Bargaining Agreement in the owners’ favor. Yahoo’s Kelly Dwyer revisited those claims today.
“With Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce all on the downside (if, in Pierce’s case, just barely) of brilliant careers, why would the owner of the most ‘WIN NOW!’ of the win-now teams want to lose the 2011-12 season?” Dwyer asks. “Or why would he want a truncated season in its place, when the 50-game sprint during the post-lockout 1999 run destroyed veteran teams?”
Because he’s a smart business-man, Dwyer assserts.
“Grousbeck knows what’s good for his bottom line,” Dwyer writes. “And if we can get cynical and Donald Sterling-y with things, he’s really under no obligation beyond that.”
Judging in a strictly Donald Sterling-y fashion, there really is no other obligation. Grousbeck is free to suck the players dry of as much money as he can manage, and he is free to suggest that the owners lengthen the lockout as long as necessary to achieve the desired concessions from the players. That’s his right, and if you consider a business owner a blood-sucking leech whose only obligation is making money for himself, that’s precisely the way Grousbeck should act.
But I’d like to think there’s a lot more to owning a sports franchise than the thirst for as much money as possible. When an individual buys a sports franchise, he should enter the purchase with the intent to field a winning product. I don’t say that because I’m an eternal optimist who thinks all business owners operate with impeccable morals. But mega-millionaires like Grousbeck and other sports owners could afford any business, so if they want to penny-pinch, why choose sports, where a losing product affects more people and affects those people more strongly?
For example: If Grousbeck bought Levi jeans and put out a shitty product, sure, Levi jeans fans would be upset that their favorite jeans suddenly sucked. But those same fans would soon forget about Levi entirely and move onto Guess jeans, or whatever jeans the kids are wearing these days, because the brand loyalty to Levi cannot survive such a shitty product. Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs have sucked for the last century. Yet even in Massachusetts, I know Cubs fans who suffer through season after season. Rooting for a sports team is a far deeper bond than choosing a pair of pants.
I’m not suggesting that Grousbeck is a penny-pincher, nor does he put out a shitty product. He has run the Celtics the right way since buying them. He turned my favorite team into a champion and he has kept them a contender ever since, paying well into the luxury tax every season in order to field a winner. He has earned some good faith.
But if he is really willing to miss the entire season in order to get the best deal — and maybe we shouldn’t even be having this conversation now that the NBA lockout is looking at least slightly more optimistic, two months after the report of Grousbeck’s hard stance — then Grousbeck should be on every Celtics fan’s shit list.
Grousbeck was worth a reported $360 million in 2005 and is now an owner of the reportedly-worth-$452 million Boston Celtics. Even in a down economy with a collective bargaining agreement that will undoubtedly improve for the owners, the Celtics made millions of dollars last season, and that’s not including any other local businesses Grousbeck owns that flourish due to the Celtics presence in Boston — common benefits NBA owners receive from their franchises but don’t have to report in the accounting books, benefits that Deadspin’s Tommy Craggs calls “interconnected wealth-generating mechanisms.” And after the season, the Celtics are close to signing (or have already signed?) a deal with Comcast that will reportedly afford them a 20% equity stake in Comcast and a “healthy increase” in the annual rights fee Comcast pays to telecast games (the Celtics currently receive between $15 million and $20 million per year).
Grousbeck is millions and millions of dollars away from starving for money and the Celtics are doing well financially, yet Grousbeck is reportedly willing to sacrifice what could be the final year of the Big Three — or at least what will assuredly be their last chance to contend, if their window hasn’t already closed. Rationally, I understand why — Grousbeck wants to secure a collective bargaining agreement that will keep money flowing into his pockets. The NBA is suffering and Grousbeck wants the landscape significantly altered. But damn it. Grousbeck — owner of a win-now team, owner of a franchise that still makes plenty of money if not heaps of it — should be the owner most desperate to see this lockout end.
Cynics will say Grousbeck owes fans nothing, but we buy the tickets, the jerseys, the hats, the NBA league pass subscriptions, the Celtics DVDs, and we are the reason the Celtics and Comcast are entering a partnership. And if he doesn’t want the lockout to end for the fans, most of whom Grousbeck will never meet, he should at least want the lockout to end for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, a trio Grousbeck presumably knows well, a trio that could see their last meaningful season together crumble under the NBA lockout.
If Grousbeck doesn’t see the importance of having an NBA season, especially for the Celtics, well then hell:
Maybe he should just buy Levi.