Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck: ‘There’s some sort of nuclear reactor’ in Kevin Garnett
|08.15.12 at 2:33 pm ET|
Celtics co-owner and CEO Wyc Grousbeck appeared on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” He talked business — which we’ll get to in a moment — but once the host ceased his endless string of incorrect basketball facts (He thought this happened: “And now there’s a steal by DJ, underneath to Bird, he lays it in.”), Bostonian Ben Mezrich, author of both “Bringing Down the House” and “The Accidental Billionaires,” snuck in a couple basketball questions.
Mezrich: “What’s your favorite Kevin Garnett story?”
Grousbeck: “The funny thing about KG is that there’s really no story, because there’s a 24/7 continuous loop. You couldn’t even break it up into stories. You’ll be on the team plane at three or four in the morning, you’ll hear this noise nonstop — it’s someone talking at the top of his voice — and it’s KG. From the moment you take off to the moment you land, whatever hour of the day, he’s talking to rookies, he’s telling stories. He’s just nonstop. there’s some sort of nuclear reactor inside him that never quits.”
Mezrich: “How does a guy like Rajon Rondo happen?”
Grousbeck: “We’re lucky to have Danny Ainge here. Ryan McDonough was an early scout who saw Rondo. Danny and Ryan saw him at Oak Hill Academy in high school. Basically, Danny said at that point he was going to be the starting point guard of the Celtics three or four years later, and that’s what happened. Danny had his eye on him very, very early. That’s a competitive advantage we have — having Danny Ainge as president of basketball.”
Grousbeck touched on a number of other topics, including the Olympics, team ownership as investment and the NBA lockout. Here’s a rundown of the highlights from the 10-minutes discussion.
On the Olympics: “It was a great week for basketball worldwide, and the NBA stars brought the gold home. I’m real happy about that. I know those guys wanted to win by 40 or 50 points, but the truth of it is the game is international. With soccer, we’re the two biggest international sports in the world. Those guys have been gunning for us for years, and right now they’re all getting ready for Rio in 2016. That’s the fun thing about basketball: Anybody can win any game. And we almost proved that against Spain, but we pulled it out in the end.”
On the Bird-Magic rivalry: “That propelled the NBA to a new stratosphere in the ’80s, and it made everything go great, and we’re trying to get back to that level. We may be entering a new golden age of the NBA right now with these stars and the media interest in these teams. With the fan support, attendance, media revenues, new labor deal and everything, things are going great in the NBA right now. It’s not the ‘80s. We aren’t the Dream Team of the ‘90s, but it’s going pretty well. We’re really happy to be a part of it.”
On owning the Celtics: “I bought the team with my partners for reasons other than business. It’s because we love Boston, we love the Celtics and we love the chance to take on a great challenge of trying to win a championship, but underneath that there is a real business, and it’s more than doubled since we came in. Everything’s gone well — not every single year, but things have gone so well.
“It’s the only hobby or toy I’ve ever had that turned out to be a great investment, but we’re here for other reasons. That’s probably why we enjoy it so much. The wins are great. Even the losses remind you that you’re human and that the wins are special. It’s so much fun and such a challenge that it probably is a good business because it’s so interesting to people. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
On team price tags: We’ve seen teams in the NBA have media deals, partnerships that are three to five times higher than they were in the previous round of contract discussions. When you’ve got that kind of money coming in — that’s what I think fueled the Dodgers sale: A multi-billion dollar expectation of future TV rights — and when it turns out that sports is driving cable subscriber pickup and is driving the bus when it comes to people choosing entertainment options, it becomes a very valuable business. Again, that’s not the reason you should probably get into it, but it’s the reason that these teams are selling for what they sell for. There are real numbers behind it.”
On team investments: “You can make money in sports. It’s a $100 billion-plus business that’s going to be $200 billion or $300 billion before too, too long, I guess — I hope. But having said that, I think the best ownership — my partners are examples — is local people who love their teams and care enough to go over and above to try to put the best team on the court. So, if you lose that connection with really caring about the team, you’re going to lose something in your investment. If you can do them both at the same time — you can love the team and run it well — then things can really work out.”
On Bain Capital (a company founded by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney that features fellow Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca as a managing partner): “I have maybe eight or nine investors in the Celtics who are Bain Capital partners, and these are some of the finest and most charitable and most generous people I know. I’m glad they’re working on what they’re doing. I think they’re employing people. I have a bias, because I know them so well, and I’ve seen them for 10 years. And they’re the real deal.”
On the NBA lockout: “It did almost happen. I think that’s fair to say. I was part of those negotiations, part of the group in December that really got together and said, ‘Let’s settle this thing.’ So, I’m really proud of that, to be honest. I’m glad we settled it. I’m glad the players are happy. I’m glad the owners are happy. If we stick together, we’ve got a great thing going. We managed to settle it in December, but definitely during negotiations there were times when it wasn’t clear when my summer vacation was going to start. It might have been starting in January.”
It must be refreshing for someone like Garnett, who voiced his frustration over negotiating tactics of league owners during and after the lockout, to hear his owner say he’s more than doubled his $360 million investment since buying the Celtics in 2002, that media deals like the one the C’s recently entered with Comcast are quintupling in value and that the sports industry could triple to a $300 billion business relatively soon. Yet, the owners conceded little, if anything, to the players from the previous collective bargaining agreement. Good times.
That’s enough of opening old lockout wounds. Back to the interview at hand for a moment. The two best parts came at the end: 1) When CNBC host Joe Kernen mentioned James Worthy, Grousbeck said, “Please don’t mention any Lakers in this interview. You can have Jerry Buss on.” And 2) When Kernen kept harping on Celtics players of the ’80s, Grousbeck responded, “Come sit courtside with us — with me and my wife Corinne. Come on up. We’ve got room for you, and you can learn all the new players. That’s a real offer.”