This motherfucker. Here’s Ted Leonsis, majority owner of the Washington Capitals, the Washington Wizards, and the arena in which both those teams play their home games, D.C.’s Verizon Center, mewling to the Washington Post because he has to pay his own mortgage and building costs instead of passing them on to the taxpayers of the city:
“No more paying four, five times the rent compared to other teams that we compete with,” he said. “I know that sounds silly. But you’re competing with a team that pays $3 million in rent, and you’re paying $40 million in [building costs] . . . When we finish paying the mortgage, that will right-size the business, and for once we would be advantaged [economically], as opposed to disadvantaged.”
The teams I own suck every year because the city won’t pay my bills for me. That is the substance of the argument being put forth here. Coming from the mouth of the owner of the Wizards and Capitals, in the context of hinting around about moving those teams, it amounts to a ransom demand: Buy me a new arena, or I will continue throttling the local NBA and NHL teams’ prospects in perpetuity.
Mind you, his argument is horseshit on its face, even if his building deal truly is, as he says, “the worst ... in professional sports.” In particular, the Wizards’ shittiness throughout Leonsis’s time as owner needs no economic hardship to explain it: They’ve signed bad players (often for lots and lots of money!); they’ve pissed away draft picks; they’ve buried and neglected young players who then failed to develop; they’ve put their eggs in stupid baskets. All of this can be explained by Leonsis’s repeatedly renewed decision to employ Ernie Grunfeld, the incompetent general manager and NBA lifer he inherited from the team’s previous owner, Abe Pollin. Grunfeld is not working for free! He is drawing a salary that could just as easily go to someone, y’know, good at the job of running an NBA team. Or at least to someone who has not shown, incontrovertibly, over the course of a decade on the job, that he is bad at it.
Economic disadvantage has not forced Leonsis to keep Grunfeld. It did not force him to give bad head coach Randy Wittman a contract extension after the 2013-14 season. It did not force the Wizards to draft extremely useless Czech goober Jan Veselý over Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson in 2011, or to trade away, repeatedly, second-round draft choices—the kinds of assets a purportedly cash-strapped front office would be expected to prize for their cheapness—for nothing at all, or worse. It did not force the Wizards to stunt their own forward progress by skimping on a supporting cast full of bad players on one-year deals last season; they did that to clear cap space for a foolish, embarrassing, dead-on-arrival free-agency pitch to Kevin Durant. Economic disadvantage did not prevent the Wizards, when Durant chose Golden State, from using that abundant cap space to snag anyone more consequential than 29-year-old journeyman backup center Ian Mahinmi out of one of the deeper free-agency pools in memory; that happened because they had no real backup plan after Durant spurned them, panicked, went all-in on a bid for Al Horford, and had to pick from among the scraps when he chose the Celtics. A supposedly burdensome mortgage deal is not why highly suspect shooting guard Bradley Beal is one of the NBA’s highest-paid players today.
Here are some things that are true. The Wizards and Capitals are not strapped small-market teams scrounging for revenue in the couch cushions. They play their games smack dab in the downtown heart of one of the most affluent and desirable media markets on the fucking planet (in a sector of D.C. that was revitalized by the presence of their arena precisely because Pollin, and not the city, paid to build it); they have plenty of money. They are not handcuffed by anything but their organizational ineptitude, which is real and chronic and predates Leonsis’s ownership. Ted Leonsis would like to have more money is neither a convincing defense of their failures nor a compelling argument for turning their bills over to the city’s taxpayers. Sports owners are the scum of the earth.