Out of the 30 teams in the National Basketball Association today, 14 are owned by billionaires. The rest of the owners may not be billionaires, but they are, without a doubt, extremely rich. If some day you dream of owning an NBA team, it would certainly help to start planning now for a lucrative career in the financial or real estate industries. As you are about to learn, a great many current NBA owners made their money (and their connections) in one or both of those fields. Every once in awhile a psychologist, technology billionaire or even a chemist sneaks into this ultra exclusive club, but by and large, being involved in private venture capital or real estate will give your visions of NBA team ownership a big leg up.
And who wouldn't want to own an NBA team if you had the means to buy one? Not only have NBA franchises proven over the years to be highly lucrative investments, as the team owner you get to be on a first name basis with some of the biggest sports superstars in the world. I mean, how many times a week do you think Mark Cuban calls Dirk Nowitzki late at night just to say hi and chit chat? I bet Micky Arison tries to FaceTime with LeBron James constantly. But we're getting off topic. Let's take a look at how each and every one of these businessmen, tycoons, magnates, and entrepreneurs became rich enough to own an NBA team.
Owner: Atlanta Spirit, LLC – Net worth: N/A
Atlanta is a special case as the team is owned by a partnership comprised of seven partners: Michael Gearon, Jr., Bruce Levenson, Ed Peskowitz, J. Rutherford Seydel, Todd Foreman, J. Michael Gearon, Sr., and Beau Turner.
The Atlanta Spirit bought the Hawks from Ted Turner in 2005. It should be noted that Beau Turner is the youngest son of Ted Turner, J. Rutherford Seydel is a son-in-law of Ted Turner., and Michael Gearon Sr. was the general manager (1977–79), president (1977–1986) and chairman of the board (1986–2004) of the Atlanta Hawks under Turner's ownership.
Michael Gearon, Jr. started telecommunications enterprise Gearon Communications in 1990 at the age of 25. In 1998, he sold his then multi-million dollar business to American Tower, one of the largest providers of communications towers in the world.
Bruce Levenson and Ed Peskowitz co-founded United Communications Group (UCG), a portfolio of professional business information companies, in 1977. UCG, which is now one of the largest privately held business information companies in the world, provides specialized information to more than two million clients in numerous business sectors, including healthcare, technology, energy, telecommunications, and financial services.
J. Rutherford Seydel is a partner in the law firm of Davis, Pickren & Seydel and is active in the firm's fast growing real estate, franchising and business transactions practices. He has been a season ticket holder of the Hawks for more 20 years.
Todd Foreman is a partner in United Communications Group (UCG). Foreman joined the company in 1992 to head their financial operations, oversee several of UCG's businesses and also focuses on UCG's acquisition strategy.
J. Michael Gearon, Sr. has spent almost 30 years in various capacities with the Atlanta Hawks, including general manager (1977-79), president (1977-1986) and chairman of the board (1986-2004). Gearon built one of the top real estate development companies in the country. Gearon & Company, which pioneered the concept of large-scale suburban office parks, was responsible for many of the business developments in Atlanta. A longtime associate and close friend of Ted Turner, Gearon is a former director of Turner Broadcasting.
Beau Turner is Ted Turner's son. He is involved in charitable pursuits. Enough said.
Owner: Boston Basketball Partners – Net Worth: N/A
Boston Basketball Partners L.L.C. is a private investment group formed to purchase the Boston Celtics. The executive committee is comprised of the four members of the Managing Board: Wyc Grousbeck, H. Irving Grousbek, Steve Pagliuca, and The Abbey Group, represented by Robert Epstein, Paul Edgerley, Glenn Hutchins, and James Pallotta. Other notable investors are: David Bonderman, Jim Breyer, James Cash, Jr.; William P. Egan, and Stephen J. Luczon. For the purposes of this article we will look at the Executive Committee only .
Wyc Grousbeck spent seven years as a partner at the venture capital firm, Highland Capital Partners. Grousbeck, along with his father H. Irving Grousbeck founded the group Boston Basketball Partners L.L.C. that bought the Boston Celtics for $360 million in 2002.
H. Irving Grousbeck co-founded Continental Cablevision in 1964 with his college roommate. He served as President of from 1964 through 1980 and was chairman from 1980 through 1985. He is a director of the Stanford Business School's Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.
Steve Pagliuca is a Managing Director of Bain Capital Partners, LLC and is also a Managing General Partner and co-owner of the Boston Celtics basketball franchise. Mr. Pagliuca joined Bain & Company in 1982 and founded the Information Partners private equity fund for Bain Capital in 1989.
Robert Epstein, representing the Abbey Group, is a psychologist, professor, author, and journalist who earned his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1981.
Owner: Michael Jordan – Net Worth: $650 million
Michael Jordan needs no introduction. The legendary Chicago Bull set sports records by becoming the first athlete to earn a salary of over $30 million per year. Even though he retired from professional basketball (for the final time) in 2003, he still earns about $80 million per year from endorsements, with $60 million of that coming from royalties on Nike-Jordan branded merchandise.
Owner: Jerry Reinsdorf – Net Worth: $350 million
Jerry Reinsdorf is a CPA and lawyer who made his (first) fortune in real estate by taking advantage of the Frank Lyon Co. vs. United States ruling from the United State Supreme Court which allowed owners of realty to sell property and lease it back while the new owner was responsible for the taxes on the property. He started his career with the IRS as a tax attorney. He has owned the Bulls and the Chicago White Sox for over 20 years.
Owner: Dan Gilbert – Net Worth: $3.9 billion
Dan Gilbert founded Rock Financial in 1985. The company grew to become one of the largest independent mortgage lenders in the U.S. In the late 1990s, Rock Financial launched its internet strategy and quickly became the fastest growing direct mortgage lender on the Internet while let Intuit to purchase Rock Financial in 2000 and rebrand it as Quicken Loans. Gilbert remained with the company as CEO. In 2002, he formed a group of private investors to purchase Quicken Loans back from Intuit. He also owns Rock Ventures, of which Rock Gaming is a division. Rock Gaming opened its first casino in downtown Cleveland in 2012.
Owner: Mark Cuban – Net Worth: $2.5 billion
Cuban began his career in Dallas in 1982 as a bartender before landing at Your Business Software, one of the first PC software retailers in Dallas, as a salesperson. Less than a year later, Cuban started MicroSolutions with support from his previous customers. In 1990, he sold MicroSolutions to CompuServe for $6 million. In 1995, Cuban, with a partner, started Audionet, which in 1998 would become Broadcast.com. In 1999 Broadcast.com was acquired by Yahoo! for $5.9 billion in Yahoo! stock.
After that, Cuban diversified his wealth to avoid being too heavily invested in any one industry that could suffer a crash. In 2003, he purchased Landmark Theatres. He is also one of the Sharks on ABC's Shark Tank.
Owner: Stan Kroenke – Net Worth: $5 billion
How did Stan Kroenke make the money he needed to buy the Denver Nuggets? He married Wal-Mart heiress Ann Walton. OK, to be fair, in 1983, he started his real estate company, Kroenke Group. It developed shopping plazas around Wal-Mart stores. When did he and Ann marry? 1973. So how did he make the money to buy the Nuggets, St. Louis Rams, Colorado Avalanche, and soccer club Arsenel? He married Ann Walton.
Owner: Tom Gores – Net Worth: $2.7 billion
Israel born Tom Gores made his money through private equity investments. Not sexy, but effective. He is the founder of Platinum Equity, a global private equity firm headquartered in Beverly Hills.
Golden State Warriors
Owner: Joe Lacob – Net Worth: $325 million
Joe Lacob has been a partner at venture capital investment firm Kleiner Partners since 1987. While there, his investments have centered around life sciences, medical technology, energy, and the Internet. Some of his involvement has been in AutoTrader.com, Invisalign and NuVasive. Amongst his pre-Kleiner Partner jobs, Lacob was a part of the management-consulting firm of Booz, Allen, & Hamilton, where he credited his epidemiology degree for his background in statistics that fed his longtime interest in sports.
Lacob was a primary investor in the American Basketball League, a professional women's league that folded due to its inability to compete with the WBNA. In 2006, he became part-owner of the Boston Celtics, which he was required to sell in 2010 when he and the group of investors he led agreed to buy the Golden State Warriors for $450 million.
Owner: Leslie Alexander – Net Worth: $1.2 billion
Leslie Alexander has owned the Rockets since 1993. He is a former stock trader who started trading options and bonds for a Wall Street firm before he broke off to form his own investment company, The Alexander Group, in 1980. He also owns a 20% stake in First Marblehead, a private student loan company.
Owner: Herb Simon – Net Worth: $1.9 billion
It would be good to own shopping malls, as business magnate Herb Simon does though Simon Property Group. He also owns Kirkus Reviews.
Los Angeles Clippers
Owner: Donald Sterling – Net Worth: $1.9 billion
In Los Angeles, it is all about real estate. For real, my personal retirement plan is to buy an apartment building just as Donald Sterling did. In 1961 he was making his career as a divorce and personal injury attorney, when he purchased a 26-unit apartment building in Beverly Hills. He purchased the Clippers in 1981 for $12.5 million. As of 2014, the team is worth $700 million. After the death of beloved Lakers owner Jerry Buss, Sterling became the longest-tenured owner in the NBA.
Los Angeles Lakers
Owner: Jerry Buss Family Trust – Net Worth: $600 million
Dr. Jerry Buss was beloved in Los Angeles. A two-time University of Southern California Alumnus (MA, Ph.D), he was a Los Angeles institution who won 10 NBA championships as majority owner of the Lakers, highlighted by the Showtime era of the 1980s.
Buss, who had an MA and Ph.D in chemistry began his career as a chemist for the Bureau of Mines. He went on to be on the faulty of USC's chemistry department. He started investing in real estate in order to provide an income so he could keep teaching. (See? My apartment building in Los Angeles plan isn't so out there!) He invested $1,000 in a West Los Angeles apartment building in 1960. Finding great success with that, he decided to pursue it full time. In 1979 Dr. Buss purchased the former estate of Mary Pickford, in Beverly Hills and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Owner: Robert Pera – Net Worth: $1.95 billion
Robert Pera is the founder of Ubiquiti Networks, Inc. He has been CEO since October 2005. Prior to that he was a hardware engineer with Apple. He went out on his own with the goal of bringing affordable wireless internet access to emerging markets.
Owner: Micky Arison – Net Worth: $4.2 billion
Mickey Arison's is heir to the Carnival Cruise empire. His father Ted founded the company which Micky now runs. Ted Arison is also one of the original owners of the Miami Heat and the richest person in Florida.
Owner: Herb Kohl – Net Worth: $215 million
Herb Kohl is the Kohl's heir with a legitimate business and political career of his own. He is a former US Senator from Wisconsin. After graduate school at Harvard, Kohl worked as an investor in real estate and the stock market, eventually spinning off his own company, Kohl Investments, to manage these assets. He and his brother became heir to a family-owned chain (Kohl's) that included 50 grocery stores and several department stores, pharmacies, and liquor stores. In 1970, Kohl was named President of Kohl's and stayed on as an executive until 1979.
Owner: Glen Taylor – Net Worth: $1.7 billion
Glen Taylor worked at Carlson Wedding Service during and after college. The shop was a print shop specializing in formal invitations. In 1973, owner Bill Carlson wanted to retire and Taylor offered him $2 million over 10 years to buy the company. This purchase (which he paid off early) formed the basis for the Taylor Corporation, a privately held multinational printing company with more than 15,000 employees and based in Minnesota. Taylor continues to serve as chairman and CEO. Taylor was a Minnesota State Senator from 1981 to 1990, serving as assistant minority leader from 1983 to 1985 and Minority Leader from 1985 to 1988. Taylor purchased majority ownership of the Timberwolves basketball team in 1994.
New Orleans Pelicans
Owner: Tom Benson – Net Worth: $1.3 billion
Tom Benson is the owner of several automobile dealerships in the New Orleans and San Antonio. Benson became wealthy by investing profits from his dealerships in local banks. He eventually purchased several small Southern banks and formed Benson Financial, which he sold to Wells Fargo in 1996.
New Jersey Nets
Owner: Mikhail Prokhorov – Net Worth: $13.5 billion
Russian Mikhail Prokhorov is the second richest owner in the NBA. He made his money through investments, mainly a nickel mining company. He sold his stake in the mining company shortly before the financial crisis of 2008. He purchased an 805 ownership stake in the nets in 2010. At 6'8″ tall, Prokorov could be an NBA player himself, in stature at least.
New York Knicks
Owner: James Dolan – Net Worth: $3.3 billion
James Dolan is the son of Charles Dolan, an American billionaire and founder of Cablevision and HBO. Dolan today controlled Cablevision, AMC Networks, and Madison Square Garden, Inc, which owns the New York Knicks. James Dolan serves as President and CEO of Cablevision Systems Corporation and Executive Chairman of The Madison Square Garden Company.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Owner: Clayton Bennett – Net Worth: $400 million
Clayton Bennett is businessman and chairman of the Professional Basketball Club LLC, the ownership group of the Oklahoma City Thunder, formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics. Bennett is the chairman of Oklahoma City-based Dorchester Capital Corporation. Bennett was one of the principal owners of the San Antonio Spurs in the mid-1990s. Prior to the 2005-06 NBA season, Bennett, along with a group of investors, partnered with the city of Oklahoma City and the state of Oklahoma in providing a revenue guarantee for the NBA's New Orleans Hornets. This resulted in the relocation of the Hornets to Oklahoma City for two seasons due damage to the arena and infrastructure in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Bennett's group purchased the SuperSonics from Howard Schultz in 2006 for approximately $350 million on condition that Bennett would give a good-faith effort to keep the team in Seattle. We all know how that worked out.
Owner: Richard DeVos – Net Worth: $6.3 billion
Richard DeVos, one of the richest NBA owners, made his fortune with Amway, which he co-founded in 1959. He purchased the Magic in 1991.
Owner: Robert Sarver – Net Worth: $400 million
In 1982, Robert Sarver founded the National Bank of Arizona. He sold it to Zions Bancorporation in 1994. Prior to the sale, National Bank of Arizona had become the largest independent bank in the state. In 1995 he acquired Grossmont Bank, one of San Diego's largest community banks.
Portland Trail Blazers
Owner: Paul Allen – Net Worth: $15 billion
Paul Allen bought the Trail Blazers on 1988. Allen, of course, made his money as a co-founder of Microsoft. Allen also owns the Seattle Seahawks.
Owner: Joshua Harris – Net Worth: $2.1 billion
Joshua Harris an American private equity investor who co-founded Apollo Global Management, one of the world's largest alternative investment firms. Harris also owns the NHL's New Jersey Devils. H worked at Drexel Burnham Lambert before co-founding Apollo in 1990 with fellow Drexel alumnus Leon Black and Marc Rowan. He is currently one of three managing partners of Apollo, along with Black and Rowan.
Owner: Vivek Ranadiv – Net Worth: $700 million
Vivek Ranadiv is an Indian businessman and engineer who is the founder of TIBCO, a multi-billion dollar real-time computing company. Ranadiv is largely credited with digitizing Wall Street in the 1980s with his first company, Teknekron Software Systems. He is the leader of the ownership group for the Sacramento Kings.
San Antonio Spurs
Owner: Peter Holt – Net Worth: $200 million
Peter Holt is the CEO of Holt Cat, the largest Caterpillar dealership in the country. He is also CEO, and owner of Spurs Sports & Entertainment. Peter Holt went into the Army for two years, including a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam. After his Army career, Holt moved to California, where he worked for an investment banking firm and got involved in a bar and restaurant business. Holt rejoined his father in the Holt Companies in 1983 in Corpus Christi. As president and CEO, Holt implemented a strategy to diversify the company's markets, taking it from one of the smallest Caterpillar dealerships to the largest one in the country today.
Owner: Richard Peddie – Net Worth: $1 billion
In addition to the Raptors, Peddie owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, and is credited with making the Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment organizations into a $1.5 billion franchise. He has stated that the most important part of his tenure as CEO is to satisfy the fans, improve facilities, and grow the franchise.
Owner: Greg Miller – Net Worth: $480 million
Son of the late Larry Miller, owner of the Jazz, Greg took over after his father's death. He is a former car dealership owner turned NBA franchise inheritor.
Owner: Ted Leonsis – Net Worth: $1 billion
Ted Leonsis is a venture capital investor who's new media company Redgate Communications was acquired by AOL in 1994. Leonsis was a senior AOL executive for the next 13 years. He is the majority owner of the NHL's Washington Capitals, the Washington Wizards, the WNBA's Washington Mystics and the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. He is an investor and chairman of the board of directors of Groupon and is on the board of American Express and other companies.