New chairman says Memphis really owns Grizzlies
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The new chairman of the Grizzlies said he "fully understands" that the people of Memphis really own the NBA team, even though he's the controlling owner.
Robert J. Pera introduced himself Monday morning along with the new chief executive officer of Memphis Basketball, LLC, the group that bought the Grizzlies from Michael Heisley for $377 million in a sale finalized last week. The 34-year-old former Apple engineer who started his own communications technology company in 2005 described himself as an NBA "super fan."
"I believe it's the greatest sport in the world just from a fan perspective, from a player's perspective," Pera said. "Memphis as a city, it's unbelievable. The people have been great. I can tell the community is really special, and those two things combined I consider myself very, very fortunate. Probably the luckiest man in the world right now."
The Grizzlies' new owners held the news conference in the lobby of the FedExForum and it was open to the public. There were even inflatable slides for children on hand for Memphis' home opener Monday night against the Utah Jazz. Pera, wearing a dark blazer and black shirt, sat at the podium along with Jason Levien, his new CEO and managing partner of Memphis Basketball, LLC.
Levien will be in charge of the ownership group operating both the Grizzlies and FedExForum. Pera said Levien — a lawyer and former agent — is one of his best friends and described him as a cross between Jerry Maguire and Ari Gold. Levien also was a team executive with the Sacramento Kings and was a co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers until recently. He also is a general partner for Major League Soccer's DC United.
"Obviously, one of the things is we want to win, and we want to consistently win ...," Levien said. "We're inheriting a terrific team and some great people, so I'm excited to get to know them as well as we move forward."
The Grizzlies are coming off two straight playoff appearances. They went 41-25 last season, setting a franchise-record with their 62.1 winning percentage and were the No. 4 seed in the West last season.
Levien introduced the new owners, a large group with at least 23 members listed Monday. Levien helped Pera put together the ownership group that includes AutoZone founder J.R. "Pitt" Hyde and businessman Staley Cates. Both were minority owners with Heisley, who brought the Grizzlies to Memphis from Vancouver in 2001.
The ownership group is loaded with local star power as well.
Entertainer Justin Timberlake is part of the ownership group along with former NBA player Penny Hardaway and Ashley Manning, wife of four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning.
Pera, who described himself as last on the bench when he took a job as an engineer with Apple out of college, opened Ubiquiti Networks in 2005 in California. Pera said he had been looking to buy a professional team and is happy to be part of the Grizzlies.