Friday, April 11, 2008

Michael Heisley Tells It Like It Is - Part Five

This the continuation of the interview 3 Shades Of Blue had with Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley on Friday, April 4th before the Chalk Talk. Due to the length of the interview it is being presented in sections to make it easier to read. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 were posted earlier.

3 Shades of Blue appreciates Mr. Heisley taking the time to do this interview.

3SOB: If I can interject and respectfully disagree with you on one thing, people didn't feel you were an idiot for the Shane Battier trade, they just hated to see him go. Now the Pau Gasol trade is a little harder for people to understand but even now many people feel that we couldn't get there with Pau Gasol and that maybe we could have gotten more but the best thing to help you...
MH: I wish someone could tell me what could I have gotten for Pau. See that's what always gets me. Everybody assumes that we started off with the idea to get money and not to get players. Do you know how long we tried to get quality players?

3SOB: That's what we read...
MH: We had discussions for months with Chicago, who were interested in Pau Gasol, but they refused to trade any of the players they considered their core, namely, Deng, Gordon or Hinrich. They offered Nocioni, who we felt was not fair value. I wouldn’t trade Pau Gasol for Nocioni. Later on, we offered to try to put together a trade similar to what we did with LA, but the Bulls were not interested because it would put them in the Luxury Tax.

What I don’t understand, I when I was on a couple of talk shows in Memphis, I listened to callers and read the papers. A number of them were urging us to trade Gasol. They said he’s got the wrong attitude, he doesn’t like it here, take what you can get for him. I’m not upset about this, but I knew this would happen. When we made the trade, a number of these people were saying oh my God, why did you do this?

You can't make the trades people want to make because. #1 it's very complex to make a trade in the NBA; #2 the people don't know everything there is to know about it. We don't either, but at least we know more than the average person knows. I hear friends who know if this guy is a problem in the locker room. Some players get traded because there are locker room problems. People say why would you make that trade? Well it's because the guy is making it almost impossible for the coach to coach the team. You're better off getting rid of him and taking someone else and let him take his problems with him. Now maybe he goes to the next location and he turns over a new leaf. Maybe he becomes motivated to do different and everybody says what a stupid trade that was. It might be, but if you were sitting where the coach was sitting and this guy was threatening to beat up people in the locker room, it isn't such a bad trade.

3SOB: I was going to say that when Popovich came out and said he didn't like the Gasol trade but hadn't made a better offer it really took some heat off of the team. A lot of people went wait a minute. You didn't know Pau Gasol was on the blocks or you just didn't offer enough yourself?
MH: He was just upset. He felt we sent him there and got nothing back. Can I tell you something. Popovich does not have a player on his payroll that can do for us what Kwame Brown can do.

3SOB: $9 million dollars in cap space.
MH: Exactly. Kwame was the largest contract offered to us who was coming off the payroll.

3SOB: You're maybe the first owner to allow himself to be interviewed by a true blogger outside of Mark Cuban. Mark also was reported to give you some advice about not listening only to the basketball minds, you touched on this earlier, but to do what your heart and mind tells you is best. Are you following Mark's lead in how to connect with fans or is this a coincidence?
MH:No. I am just talking to you because Stan talked to you, he read your blog and he thought it would be a good idea . . . I would like to communicate more. I will say this to you. I will not be answering any more e-mails.

3SOB: Yeah, we heard about that from Ron Tillery today.
MH: Well that's true. I'm not going to be doing that. I feel that was pretty reprehensible. I only answered about 10. All 9 of them before the people took it between me and them. None of them went public with my comments. They wrote me back thanking me for the comments because I took them at face value. This young man, whoever he is, took it immediately to the news media. He was obviously not interested in having a discussion like he had portrayed in the email and have a real conversation with me like a telephone conversation. It was almost like he taped the conversation and sent the tape out to all of his friends. It was like his purpose was to get me on tape.

I guess I learned something from that. I guess I should have known it before. I was pretty naive to think he would keep that between him and me. Quite honestly if I had wanted that to go to the media I would have sat Down and had a media review for that. I would have basically portrayed it in a way that was meant to go out to a lot of people. I wouldn't have made it so personal, like you said this and I said this back to you. So I will have to tell from all of the things that have happened in the news that is probably the one that touched me the worst. I really was very disappointed that the guy did that.

They have every right to do it. Don't get me wrong. I mean it's just that now all of sudden people who would have written me emails won't get written back and that is sad. Mark Cuban may be like that. Mark does Dancing with the Stars and things like that. He does that fantasy thing. I love Mark Cuban. When Mark Cuban wasn't so popular, when he first came into the league, Mark will tell you his strongest supporter in the NBA was me. I defended him. Well not defended him per se but basically supported him. I think he is the prototype of what a good owner should be in the NBA. I've said so many times in the press.

It would be a blessing for Memphis to have a Mark Cuban and I'm sorry they don't. It seems to me that he and the Malouf Brothers are the perfect type owners. They are owners that are there. They interact with the fans. They're demonstrative. I come from a different era. Mark is the age of some of my youngest children. He's someone who came from a different world just like my father came from a different world than me. When I grew up sportsmanship trophies were very important. Sportsmanship trophies now are sort of for wusses. I mean literally you would almost be embarrassed to get a sportsmanship trophy. Trash talking and so on is the way. It doesn't mean trash talking is bad, it's just from a different time and a different era.

I was stunned, I can't tell you how surprised I was after I bought the Grizzlies they wanted me to walk into a room to meet the press. I walked into this room that wasn't that big - about four times the size of a conference room maybe a little bigger - and there were 75-100 people in that room. There were cameras and lights and the lights hit me and I said Oh ****! Happy Birthday! I'm sitting there and I could not believe it—my wife was absolutely appalled because we have a very low profile. We're from a small town called St. Charles. When the [Vancouver] Sun called up to find out something about me they went to a newspaper that was in our town, a small paper controlled by the Chicago Sun Times. Well the Sun-Times called our little paper in St. Charles and they asked them who Mike Heisley was and were told we don't know who he is and St Charles has 17,000 people. Then they called the mayor and I just happened to be on a school board with her and she told the press who I was, but she didn't know a lot about me either.

Now all of a sudden that life is gone and my wife will never forgive me. I'm not kidding. So the reality is I'm a different person. I'm not Mark. He answers all the emails. He likes that. He likes to get on and interact. I'm doing my best to try and communicate. I'm trying my best to communicate with the fans and let them know what is going on. Maybe this is the right move. Maybe after meeting with you I will realize that was a mistake. I have no idea how this is going to come out. It could come out fine. It could turn out to be a disaster.

I've been very blunt. I try to be very blunt with everyone of the news reporters. Any time Calkins calls me he gets a telephone call back. I do my best. He doesn't call me all that often. Sam Smith, who wrote about me in Chicago more than I got written about in Memphis for a while—he never once picked up the phone to call me and ask whether or not what he was about to say was accurate or not. Why? Because I might tell him that it's not the truth. Then he may be obligated to look further or not print it. That's not what they want to do. They want to print the story that they've gone to their publisher and gotten approved. Otherwise get the story. That's the way it works. If you got the story why do you want to call me? Better to say sources said this and sources said that. If you went to the source and he said it was bull**** then you have a bunch of problems.

3SOB: I assume Mitch Lawrence falls into the same category.
MH: Who?

3SOB: Mitch Lawrence wrote an article saying you were interviewing other people for a coaching position.
MH: Who's Mitch Lawrence? I've never heard of the guy. He said I said that to him?

3SOB: No. He said he had been told by 'sources' that this is what you were doing.
MH: Sure he's told. Who's he told by? They never tell you that. Who's the source? You know what. You can write in your thing and it fits it that I said I wasn't moving the team.

3SOB: The Vancouver paper.
MH: That's right and that's the source so what do you do about it? It's like someone told me that with the internet now. It's like the prosecutors today that go out and talk about things and destroy a person's reputation. It doesn't go away tomorrow. It's with you the rest of your life because someone writes a story and he looks it up and he's got yours and he's got the guy in Vancouver. So how do I get rid of it? Say it 50 times? My only point is that guy I never talked to in my life.

Obviously if I was going to go out and say something. Have I ever talked to Larry Brown? Twice in my whole life. Did I seriously consider him the last time I looked? He was. Have I ever offered him a job? No. So that's where I am. If I'm out doing this, have I ever told Marc Iavaroni he won't have his job next year? No. Have I ever told him he is going to have his job next year? No. I don't know what to tell people. I'm looking and evaluating Marc Iavaroni over the job he's doing. Everybody here seems to be talking with their pocketbook. They aren't showing up at the games. Why? Because the team's not doing very well. So what does that mean? Who's responsible? I don't know how to handle that.

I will evaluate Marc. I will evaluate my options. I'll do what I think is best for the team but I have not even addressed that issue. And I would be a nitwit to address it before the seasons over. And that's what I've told everyone until I'm horse. I can't say it anymore. Isn't it interesting if he has a source why didn't he pick up the phone and call me? I'm the ultimate source. I'm the guy who supposedly will make the offer. Why didn't he call me? I guess he called Larry although I doubt it. You'd think instead of sources he'd say Larry Brown. That'd be better wouldn't it?

Now don't make it come across that I'm angry with the system because I'm not. It's just been an education for me. The biggest education with me is the dealings with the press.

3SOB: How do you view the first seven years in Memphis? Is it a success or a failure or somewhere in between?
MH: I think based on what I'm talking about and you need to talk to more people but based on the opportunity to do good I think it's been an outstanding success. It's the thing I'm proudest of. It's the thing that was the most important thing to me.

Obviously how would I view our performance as a basketball team? I think it's been pretty good. I think we took a franchise that never won more than 21 games in a season and put them in the playoffs three years in a row. If you measure it on how we've done building up a fan base I'd say it's not very good. To me a fan base stays with you in good years and bad years and you always lose a portion of that fan base. I think we've lost a lot more than I would have hoped for. I would be less than honest to tell you I'm not disappointed to be in a situation where sometimes we draw 4,000 fans.

3SOB: Last question. Ron Tillery wrote today that you were truthful in your email about Coach Iavaroni but you wish you hadn't responded. Now that you are done with this interview do you feel the same way?
MH: I don't know. I haven't seen what the blog is going to write about. If the tenor that I tried to put across comes across then Id say okay it's been a success. Would I do another blog? I may. If it turns out terrible for the franchise or causes problems, not because you wrote it but from the news media or the league calls me or something happens, then obviously that's different but right now I feel I made up my mind if I was going to meet with you, I was going to try and tell you to the best I could the answer to your questions. I told you if I've got something I don't want to talk about I won't.

I hope the tenor isn't that I had a battle going on with the minority shareholders, not for any other reason than they are good people. If you meet good people and you end up in some way at odds with them, and you don't know why, it isn't a very satisfying situation. That's the way I feel about the minority shareholders.

I would hope, I feel comfortable in some ways that we still have a relationship. My reaction is I think they do fantastic things for the city and I'm not just trying to color it. I really mean it. I feel proud to be associated with them because the thing that means the most to me they did the most. They showed me what a real good philanthropic citizen really is. Both of them are really special and I never met anyone who are more generous and involved in my life than these two guys. That's the truth. That doesn't make me and them great partners. I have always felt a little uncomfortable because they take such a back row. They don't want to get out front and yet they do so much for the Grizzlies foundation that they are truly what makes it a success. We would not be anywhere near as successful if it hadn't been for them.

If they don't buy the team, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. The idea that I'm suddenly going to do something to the team if they don't buy it, I just don't understand that.

When I talked about bringing Jerry West to Memphis people asked why Jerry West would leave Los Angeles to come to Memphis. I said have you ever lived in Los Angeles because I did. Do you know how long it takes to get to the airport? It takes you like an hour and a half. You know how long it takes you in Memphis? 15 minutes. Memphis rush hour has less traffic than Los Angeles Ventura Freeway has at 3 o'clock in the morning.

I mean it's a different way of life. If you are a hunter or a fisherman and come from West Virginia where do you want to be? Do you want to be on a quarter acre lot in Beverly Hills or do you want to live someplace where you can go with friends and go hunting and fishing down in Mississippi down on a plantation? I just don't understand why people thought Jerry wouldn’t love Memphis.

Then I finally realized that there is just a bad self-image or something. I don't know what the hell it is. I like Memphis. If my wife would move here, I would move here. I like the community. I really do. I don't understand why people think I've got to pack it up and move it out of here. For the health of a franchise its important for you to win games, but you also have to be financially responsible. Nobody over the long run is going to sit here and drop hundreds of millions of dollars into a losing franchise. I've got to get this thing in line with what people are going to support but we can do that and we can have a good team and we can get a break and actually have a championship team.

Is it harder here than in Chicago. You bet your ass it's harder to build a championship team here because there you can take more risks and you can spend more money because you have more support what people don't understand is all of that revolves around the athletes. They want to play before 15,000 people.

So we've got to build a fan base, we've got to have a payroll that's balanced with the size of a market until hopefully at some point the league gets revenue sharing and puts us on even footing with some of the others. As it is right now I've got to be more fiscally responsible. Does that mean I won't go after free agents? No it does not but it does mean there are free agents out there I can't compete with Chicago for.

I really do believe we can have a good franchise here.

Mr. Heisley and I chatted about some other things while he waited to go to the chalk talk. That was when I saw, really for the first time during the two hours we spent together, the fan Mr. Heisley tells us he is. I wish more people could spend time with that man. To hear him describe the joy he felt watching the Grizzlies fourth quarter rally against the Hawks the other night. To hear him relate the pain he felt during game 3 of the Mavs series and the frustration he felt watching the Clippers be rewarded for throwing games at the end of the 2005 season while Memphis was punished for doing the right things. That man would really turn some heads and get people wanting to be a part of his vision. Mr. Heisley the business man doesn't really create a lot of empathy. Mike Heisley the fan is someone you could be sitting next to at a bar and strike up a conversation with.

And remember that Mr. Heisley the businessman has been pretty successful turning things around. I wouldn't bet against him turning things around again.

I really do appreciate the time he spent with me and I hope the Grizzlies fans who read our blog enjoy the interview as well.

BallHype: hype it up!


ht said...

wow. congrats guys. you did a phenenomenal interview- i would definitely say the best stuff 3sob has done yet. i thoroughly enjoyed it all week, and it definitely changed my perception of heisley. thanks again and keep it up!

a-town grzz fan said...

This deserves a Pulitzer Prize for blogging. Thanks to Mr. Heisley and 3SoB for this insightful interview. It was refreshing to see Heisley's words and opinions without someone randomly assigning him quotes and point of views from "sources" I would love to see more of this on 3SoB. Keep up the good work.

August West said...

The whole Sam Smith rant was money! Smith was a joke or a columnist who blatantly made up trade rumors that made us look bad. He was an embarrassment to NBA reporters in that sense.

Great jobs 3SoB! This whole series has been great, and it's amazingly ballsy for Heisley to speak so unfiltered... bravo!

August West said...

edit: ...joke OF a columnist...

GrizzledGrizzFan said...

Awesome job chip! 5 stars

Anonymous said...

again nice work. The media def. just makes shit up, then blames it on other people if it turns out not to be true. I wonder how people like smith even get jobs....

Kudos to MH for giving the interview, i think he will appreciate the job you guys do of putting out some straight talk about the grizz and the situation surrounding the grizz.

Come on ping pong balls!!!

Jason said...

Excellent interview. Clear cut and to the point. Good to hear these things from the man himself.

All these other blogs need to step their game up! The bar has been raised! Props to 3SOB.

Bouncing Billy Bob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bouncing Billy Bob said...

3SoB, simply put the best sports blog article I’ve read to date. Michael Heisley showed true grit after being maligned in the press repeated times, to step up and grant this interview. He held no punches in his honest assessment of the current affairs of the Grizzlies and the NBA. The 5 part article opened up the organization from the inside looking out, certainly a refreshing view for those looking in. Mr. Heisley met all questions head on and the revealing interworkings of the team’s finances where very eye opening. I appreciate his candor. The team owner hit the nail on the head when he stated “Then I finally realized that there is just a bad self-image or something. I don't know what the hell it is. I like Memphis.”
Memphians have to let this statement sink in. We are the problem the Grizzlies are having the toughest time with. We are only willing to support a winner WHILE they are winning. Maybe with Heisley’s determination and our help as fans and team supporters we can get this losing mentality off our backs and move towards the winning attitude we both deserve (and long for).
Bouncing Billy Bob (Fantasy GM)

Rob Mahoney said...

That interview was absolutely wonderful, and particularly helpful in painting an image of a vilified owner who is oft-criticized. I have to say, I view Mr. Heisley in a completely different light after reading your post. Great job, as always.

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