Although there are always exceptions, a good rule of thumb is that if you want to know how good a team is on the field or court or ice, all you need to do is see how ownership and management conduct their business. The same can also be said vice versa, but considering we all know which way the proverbial poop flows, lets just stick with analyzing the top end of the spectrum. This week at various times there were two owners (outside of the New England Patriots Robert Kraft that is) that grabbed our attention. The first was Mike Ilitch who was mourned by both the hockey and baseball worlds as he passed away at the age of 87.
Ilitch owned Little Caesars pizza before he decided to buy the Detroit Red Wings and ten years later also bought the Detroit Tigers. He introduced the concept of family to a floundering Red Wing team in 1982 and went out of his way to make sure every player, office or stadium worker was shown respect and treated like family. It took some time, but a decade later the Red Wings started making trips to the Stanley Cup Finals and finally won it during the 1997/98 season. It was a grand moment for the Ilitch family and the city of Detroit. The Red Wings went on to make the playoffs for 25 consecutive years which also, sadly, may come to an end this year. That long term success does not happen by accident. It is a carefully maintained atmosphere that is created by the top people of an organization and echoed all the way down. Players decided to remain there like Steve Yzerman did for his 20+ years in the league. Low end draft picks were allowed to grow and mature into superstars like 6th round pick Pavel Datsyuk and 7th round pick Henrik Zetterberg. Yes, part of the reason why these and many other players wanted to stay was because of the success on the ice as they won two more championships, but above all it was the way everyone was made to feel. That of course started and ended with Mike Ilitch.
Trust me when I say it wasn’t the sunny climate, nightly entertainment or the warm friendly people of a city like Detroit that prompted such devotion from players. In fact, also credit Mr. Ilitch again by helping to rebuild downtown Detroit into an area people are not as afraid to go to anymore. Businesses began to re-establish themselves downtown around the sporting venues. This is a prime example of how you build a successful franchise. Even the Toronto Maple Leafs since Brendan Shanahan took over have shown the proper signs. They have treated not only their existing players with that same respect, but have finally laid to rest any ghosts of Leafs past. Dave Keon ended his bitter feud and all those Leaf greats finally had their jerseys retired in proper fashion. Does it surprise you that Shanahan spent nearly a decade with the Red Wings? Of course it doesn’t. How the former players of a team are treated speaks volumes about management and can be a huge difference between a star player signing there or not signing there. This unfortunately leads to our second owner of discussion.
You may or may not have heard of James Dolan, but you have heard about one of the most storied franchises in the NBA, the New York Knicks. If you are not familiar with the Knicks, think of how bad the Toronto Maple Leafs were through most of the last 40 years and then double it. Knicks aren’t bad, they are horribly dysfunctional with no sign of improvement at any time soon. They have been one of the ten worst teams in the league for what seems like ever, yet because they have traded away most of their number one picks, they aren’t improving. They have a star in Carmelo Anthony who they want to trade, but he has a no-trade clause and almost out of spite now, won’t change that. So what kind of owner do you think Dolan is?
This past week he was again at the forefront of the utter nonsense that happened with Charles Oakley being arrested at Madison Square Garden. Yes they have a storied past and yes it was wrong for Oakley to push security, but you know it all starts with Dolan. For an owner to refuse to meet with a retired player, who was a fan favourite, who gave 10 years of blood and sweat to this team is selfish. To not include Oakley in this year’s 70th Anniversary festivities is equal to a school yard tantrum. To infer that Charles is an alcoholic or drug abuser by publicly stating, “We hope he gets some help soon.” shows that James Dolan has absolutely none, zippo, zilch, zero class whatsoever. Dolan proves his classlessness further by banning Charles Oakley from MSG. Forget about trading players, firing another coach or getting rid of Phil Jackson. If you want to turn the Knick franchise around find a way to get Dolan out of there. The sooner the better.
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