US team owners can prove to be wild cards

HELP OR HINDRANCE: New York Knicks' owner James Dolan.
HELP OR HINDRANCE: New York Knicks' owner James Dolan.

In New Zealand there is a relatively simple recipe for sporting success - take a good coach, give him (or her) some good players and success should follow.

But in the United States they have an extra joker in the pack - the team owner.

Owners can make or break teams on a whim. Their only qualification to be in sports is often down to one simple fact - they have made oodles and oodles of cash (or even worse, their dad did). But the bulk of them also have one other thing in the common: they like giving orders.

Ignorance and power are uneasy bedfellows as America found to its cost under former Texas Rangers owner George W Bush, famous for selling Sammy Sosa to the Cubs.

One of the world's most storied franchises, the New York Knicks have been a mess for years.

And that's down to one reason - one bad owner.

James Dolan demonstrated this last week when he let Jeremy Lin go to Houston.

Lin galvanised New York fans like no player in years.

But Dolan let him leave because he didn't like the way Lin and his agent handled free agency, thereby violating one of the fundamental tenets of sport and business - never let an asset go without getting something in return.

Dolan is a repeat offender over many years when it comes to bad decisions - across two sports. He took over the New York Rangers along with the Knicks in 1999 and has run both equally poorly. But he's probably not the worst in a crowded field.

Sticking with basketball, there's Dan Gilbert in Cleveland who hit the jackpot with LeBron James and then surrounded him with no talent for seven seasons. Then he acted like a jilted lover when James took his talents to Miami in search of a title.

What was that promise he made to Cleveland fans?

That's right: "I personally guarantee that Cleveland will win an NBA championship before the self-titled former ‘king' does."

So congrats on Cleveland's win over the Thunder this year. Oh, it was the Heat?

Here in Portland, we have Paul Allen, Microsoft founder and terrible owner. He's had four general managers in four years and last year fired one of the league's better and hardest working coaches.

And Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player ever but is proving to be one of the worst owners - in Charlotte. He's made a succession of woeful draft picks (although this year's looked more promising) and last year he let the team's only star player, Gerald Wallace, come to Portland.

In football there are plenty to choose from, with Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins being the worst.

This was a man who banned negative signs from fans and then sued a newspaper columnist who detailed his many mistakes while in charge.

In 2009, Snyder tried to get coach Jim Zorn to quit, so he wouldn't have to pay severance, by handing his play-calling duties to a man working as a bingo-caller at retirement communities.

But former LA Dodgers owner Frank McCourt takes the cake. And he took the cake home too when he sold them.

McCourt and his now ex-wife, Jamie, looted US$189 million (NZ$238.5m) from team funds to fund their extravagant lifestyle, forcing the league to take over the running of the team. Then he sold them this year for a record price of more than $US2 billion, clearing $US1b on the deal. Sometimes life isn't fair. But console yourself with the thought that things could be worse - one of these men could own the Crusaders.

Phil Hamilton is a former Press journalist who now lives in the United States.