These may not be the guys attracting the cameras on the court, but this list includes some of the biggest names in sports. There’s Michael Jordan, possibly the most polarizing and influential guy to ever play the game of basketball. There’s also guys like Mark Cuban, a tech billionaire who seems to be on camera more than most of the players on his team.
Owning a professional sports team is one of the ultimate dreams. The owners are rich, famous and have a lot of influence in one of the world’s largest industries – professional sports. So, it’s not surprising these guys get a lot of attention in the media and around the league. They may not be the primary decision makers for what’s happening on the court, but they are the bankroll making everything possible. That means they have more influence than you may think for what ends up happening on the court.
In the NBA, there are owners who are beloved by fans. Heck, some owners are loved so much that it begins to attract a lot of negativity and criticism from the opposition. It’s a lot like players in the league. The better teams get, at times, the more hated the management up top becomes. And the head of that beast is the owner, who seemingly can’t get out of the spotlight no matter how good or bad a team gets.
With this list, we look at the owners across the NBA. We’re taking the good and the bad and dumping them into this list together. With this list, we rank the NBA’s eight most loved owners and the seven most hated.
15 Loved: Dan Gilbert, Cleveland Cavaliers
Dan Gilbert has been a rock for Cleveland as well as a superstar in the city. Gilbert had long promised Cleveland its first championship in decades, and when LeBron left for Miami, Gilbert doubled up on that promise and became the city’s biggest cheerleader during a time when everyone started looking to Miami. Gilbert even became Cleveland’s loudest voice as he openly criticized the way LeBron communicated his decision across the nation during an ESPN special. Although Gilbert didn’t get his championship until King James returned to Cleveland, the fans still credited Gilbert for his work in the city. Gilbert has helped revitalize Cleveland’s downtown area, which included opening the city’s first casino in 2012, and he seems to be a guy that will do whatever it takes to get the city more championships.
14 Hated: Michael Jordan, Charlotte Hornets
Michael Jordan leads off the list of unpopular NBA owners because of his lack of success in that realm. The fact that he was possibly the best player of all time really begins to hurt his popularity as an owner. It’s like we all expected him to go out and pay for the best talent and bring in championship after championship.
After we watched Jordan win six NBA championships and five MVP awards, it seemed like he could do nothing wrong in terms of basketball. I mean the guy came out with a blockbuster movie – Space Jam – and he developed a multi-billion dollar image for Nike – Air Jordan.
With all that, it seemed a for sure bet that anything Jordan touched in the basketball would be gold. But it wasn’t. Once he took over at the top of the then Charlotte Hornets organization, it became obvious that Jordan could fail in the world of basketball.
13 Loved: Clay Bennett, Oklahoma City Thunder
Let’s face it. The Oklahoma City Thunder have been much more entertaining than the Seattle SuperSonics ever were during their time in the league. Sure, it was a bit shady that Clay Bennett (Pictured Right) moved the team after saying he wouldn’t. But the move was a great decision for the franchise. The league owners game him approval and Oklahoma City has become one of the league’s powerhouse performers.
The ironic thing is that after some controversy about this move, Bennett was named the chairman of the NBA’s relocation committee in 2011. So, it doesn’t seem like anyone really cares about the move anymore. (Side note: Bennett was a part of the relocation committee that unanimously voted against a proposed relocation of the Sacramento Kings to Seattle in 2013)
12 Hated: The Buss Family Los Angeles Lakers
Jerry Buss was a king in Los Angeles and everyone loved him for the elite team he built on the court. The Lakers were a force while Buss was at the top, and fans in one of the league’s biggest markets cherished him for that. He’s gone now and the team is led by his family – Jeanie Buss, Jim Buss and Johnny Buss, along with siblings in the Jerry Buss family trust.
Jerry Buss won 10 league championships and is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, the team has weakened since the family took over and the Lakers are struggling. This has hurt the Buss family reputation among fans.
11 Loved: Peter Holt, San Antonio Spurs
Peter Holt has built a classy reputation for his San Antonio Spurs organization. And he’s in a small market so those wins don’t tend to piss off as many people as if the Knicks were to find a way to compete for, and win a championship. Plus, holts served in Vietnam as a soldier for the U.S. Army. Who doesn’t love a guy who used to serve our country?
Also, Holt has tirelessly worked to provide a winning team that was able to remain in its city. Back in 2000 he paved the way for a new arena that allowed the team to stay in San Antonio. He may not be among the richest owners (actually he’s one of the poorest with a net worth of about 200 million), but he is one of the most liked NBA owners.
10 Hated: Micky Arison, Miami Heat
Micky Arison may not have invented the concept of the Big-3 (signing three superstars for your starting rotation), but he’s sure as heck blamed for it in a lot of cases. This college dropout turned billionaire has a good back story, and he’s seen three championships with Miami since 2006. Although he’s owned the team since 1995, he’s proven to know how to get his organization to victory. Giving front office control to Pat Riley was probably the best decision he’s made.
But he was the guy who signed the contracts for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. He facilitated the most hated trio of players in league history. He may not be the most hated, but he doesn’t have a lot of fans for those moves.
9 Loved: Robert Pera Memphis Grizzlies
Sure, you may not have heard much of Robert Pera before now. He’s only been at the helm of the Grizzlies organization since 2012. Despite his short time as owner the Grizzlies have seen significant investments from Pera and their business and basketball operations have been lifted to new heights. Since taking over, the Grizzlies have set the club record for wins in a season with 56 and reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time. Pera’s young too, so we expect great things to continue coming from this young billionaire. He’s currently 38. Two years ago, he earned a spot on Forbes list of 10 youngest billionaires in the world. So, expect to see more from Pera as he’s setting himself up for long-term success in Memphis. And yes, that is Pera driving to the basket.
8 Hated: Joe Lacob, Golden State Warriors
Joe Lacob may be loved among fans for the Golden State Warriors, but a good chunk of the rest of the league despises the guy. He brags about his team a bit too much, and he does it in a very condescending way. He once said his team was “light years” ahead of the rest of the league and boasts about how the organization is forward thinking like the tech giants in Silicon Valley.
What’s worse? He seems to be just throwing money at his team now and doesn’t seem to be any more forward thinking than any other of the rich guys just trying to dump money for success. Paying for Kevin Durant on an already talent-filled team was fun for Warriors fans, but it was a slap in the face to the rest of the league.
7 Loved: Peter Guber: Golden State Warriors
Although Joe Lacob is the majority owner for the Golden State Warriors, Peter Guber’s name is still listed at the top. He may not have control, but he is still considered an owner for the Warriors, which all fans and players should be thankful for. Guber seems to be the complete opposite of Lacob.
Guber also owns the Dodgers and the MLS team Los Angeles FC (along with a pro eSports organization called Team Liquid). He’s also a New York Times bestselling author and is the Chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, which has produced films that have earned more than $3 billion world-wide and more than 50 Academy Award nominations. He’s widely popular, and although it may not be due to his ownership in the Warriors, he remains one of the most popular owners in the league.
6 Hated: Jerry Reinsdorf Chicago Bulls
When talking about Michael Jordan, Jerry Reinsdorf (Pictured Left) often comes to mind. Partly because of the fact that Reinsdorf underpaid the greatest player in basketball for years. Reinsdorf was labeled a “cheapskate” by Time for the way he aced as a owner of both the Bulls as well as the Chicago White Sox. He was actually called out as being “one of the hardest heads in the 1994 baseball strike” by Newsweek. Another aspect hurting Reinsdorf among fans is that he was often blamed for breaking up the Bulls after they had won their sixth title in eight years.
Things have calmed down for the Bulls owner in the time since all of that controversy went down, but he’s still on a lot of players and fans list for guys who just aren’t liked all that much.
5 Loved: Steve Ballmer, Los Angeles Clippers
Steve Ballmer was almost an instant success in the league after taking over for the disgraced Donald Sterling. Sterling was forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers by NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Balmer became the official owner August 2014. Ballmer, who was the Microsoft CEO prior to this position, is one of the richest men on the planet with a net worth of more than $28 billion.
Ballmer is a high energy guy who is meant for the sports world. Look him up on YouTube. This guy is meant to be in the world of professional sports. He seems like a super rich fanboy. He was even on a recent episode of Celebrity Apprentice boasting about his passion and enthusiasm for his favorite team – the Clippers.
4 Hated: James Dolan, New York Knicks
I don’t know if you can insert any rich guy to lead the New York Knicks and expect them to be liked. Playing in Madison Square Garden for a majority of the season is going to bring a heck of a lot of fans, and a heck of a lot of critics…especially in the media. New York is the most watched city for sports and the Knicks are one of the most scrutinized team in the league.
It really hasn’t helped James Dolan. A big part of the negative feedback derives from the early 2000s. The Knicks just couldn’t seem to make the playoffs and in 2007, then NBA commissioner David Stern said the Knicks were “not a model of intelligent management.” That’s a tough hit to take.
3 Loved: Leslie Alexander, Houston Rockets
Leslie Alexander is still riding on a lot of the popularity built from his first couple of year’s owning the Houston Rockets. Alexander originally bought the team in 1993 for $85 million. He won championships in those first two seasons as an owner. He’s proved to be a good luck charm for the team that has had a lot of winning seasons since those early years.
Alexander is one of those guys who has quietly built a smaller market team into a powerhouse. During his time as an owner, the Rockets have the second highest winning percentage in the NBA (they trail the Spurs). In 2008, Forbes named Alexander, who has continually built up the organization since he started in the early '90s, the best owner in the NBA.
2 Hated: Glen Taylor, Minnesota Timberwolves
Glen Taylor has been the Minnesota Timberwolves majority owner since 1995. The first thing that irks some people is that Taylor used to be a politician. Though he gave that up in 1990, it’s a bit of an uneasy subject for some sports fans. More discerning is the lackluster play his team has displayed during just about the entirety of his time as an owner. The Timberwolves just haven’t been that good since 1995 and any time good talent shows up, they’re not properly complimented with other talent.
Plus, he’s proven to be a bit of a shady business man. Before Donald Sterling, Taylor was the only NBA owner to be suspended for more than a couple games. He was banned for nearly a year for signing Joe Smith to a secret contract that violated salary cap rules. Currently he’s the chairman of the board of governors for the NBA.
1 Hated: Mark Cuban Dallas Mavericks
Mark Cuban is a guy that you either love or hate. Cuban is the most visible owner in professional sports. He’s got his own TV show, he’s all over the ESPN when the Mavs are doing good and he’s constantly got a back-and-forth going on Twitter about President Donald Trump and politically charged Tweets. He’s a guy a lot of people love, but a lot of people fume with hate from how open he is about certain opinions.
Although the billionaire doesn’t have bad opinions in most cases, the sheer number of fans he has brings a lot of criticism Cuban’s way. But Cuban has an overwhelmingly large number of supporters which far outweigh his naysayers. Cuban is without a doubt, the most loved owner in the league and he’s deserving of that title.