After a private meeting with team employees that reportedly lasted about five minutes and included no big news, the new Grizzlies “controlling owner” Robert Pera and his right-hand man Jason Levien made their first public appearance at a 10 a.m. press conference in the lobby of FedExForum.
Pera, looking even younger than his 34 years, made very brief comments before turning most of the press conference over the Levien, who will oversee the organization from a newly created post of Chief Executive Officer & Managing Partner of Memphis Basketball, LLC. Where in the past the organization has had business and basketball operations honchos who separately reported to owner Michael Heisley, now Levien seems to have total control, and sole access to Pera's ear. Instantly, he's become the most powerful person in the organization's history to not have an ownership stake.
From the way the press conference went, you'd be forgiven if you got the impression that Levien was a co-owner.
Pera, who came across as calm and sincere, said, “I consider myself very, very fortunate. Probably the luckiest man in the world right now.” Pera spoke about his belief in recruiting talented people and empowering them and about the importance of the Grizzlies to the Memphis community. But then Levien took over, making it clear that he's one of the talented people that Pera is now empowering.
Pera joked that Levien, a former agent and Sacramento Kings executive whom Pera called one of his best friends, is “a cross between Jerry Maguire and Ari Gold from Entourage, only smarter.”
Levien, in return, said “I'm so lucky to have [Pera] involved in this and be my partner in this,” making sound like pursing an NBA team was very much a joint venture between the two.
Levien announced Los Angeles investor Steve Kaplan as “Vice Chairman of the Grizzlies ownership group,” and then proceeded to reveal other previously unreported minority owners, among them locals such as Pace Cooper, Steve Ehrhart, Al Gossett, Bill Rhodes, and members of the Kemmons Wilson family.
Levien reiterated during the public press conference that there are no current plans to replace any of the organization's top decision makers, instead suggesting that he and Pera's team would be evaluating what's already in place.
“I know Chris [Wallace] and I have a lot of respect for Chris. I'm looking forward to sitting down with them in this process,” Levien said in regard to current vice president of basketball operations Chris Wallace, coach Lionel Hollins, and the rest of the basketball staff.
As to the constant questions about the team's local stability, Pera said, “I think you can tell by the local ownership group we put together that we're fully committed to Memphis.”
After the press conference, new local minority owner Edward Dobbs sounded a very optimistic tone, saying that the team was in Memphis to stay and that, with all respect to Michael Heisley, he was anticipating the organization taking better care of sponsors and season-ticket holders under the new regime.
I'll have more, including more detail on Levien's plans for the organization, coverage of tonight's game, and more elaborate thoughts on where the organization could be heading over the next day or two.
**In news that broke just as I'm posting, the Grizzlies have confirmed that NBA commissioner David Stern will be at tonight's game.