At a Monday afternoon press conference, Rockets CEO Tad Brown announced owner Leslie Alexander would be putting the franchise up for sale. The surprise announcement comes after Alexander's 23 seasons as owner of the most successful sports team in Houston history. While Alexander didn't construct the first Rockets team that won the city's first title, in 1994, he presided over it and was instrumental in acquiring Clyde Drexler, leading to the second championship in 1995. By virtually any measure, he has been the best pro sports owner in the history of Houston.
He bought the team in 1993 for $85 million. Recently, Forbes valued the Rockets at $1.65 billion. Some sports experts have suggested the team could go for more than $2 billion. That's a hell of a return on an investment.
The biggest questions now loom for Houstonians: Who will the next owner be and will he or she (or they) be good for the team and the city? The last change of ownership occurred when Drayton McLane sold the Astros to Jim Crane in 2011 for $683 million. So far, that has worked out quite well despite a brutal stretch of seasons while the team rebuilt. But the Rockets, on the court and off, are already well-positioned for success, which is why we all should hope any new owner takes our advice.
When asked if Alexander intended to find a buyer who wanted to keep the team in Houston, Brown simply answered "Yes." For anyone who lived through the pair of referendums in 1999 and 2000, you will remember how uncertain it was that the Rockets would stay here. However, with the voters' support in 2000, Toyota Center was built and has served as home to the Rockets since 2003.
The good news is the team has a long-term lease with the city along with a non-relocation agreement that runs through 2033, making it extremely unlikely the team would be allowed to move. Additionally, the franchise remains highly successful, with a favorable lease in the fourth-largest city in the United States. It would be hard to imagine the NBA owners looking upon a Rockets relocation with favor. But any discussion of a sale must begin and end with a commitment to keeping the Rockets in Houston, where they have been since 1971, if for no other reason than to assuage the fears of fans.
Maintain team continuity.
Team ownership changes can often have a destabilizing impact both on the floor and off. With such an exciting offseason, no fan wants to see it dampened by a new maverick owner hell-bent on change that likely is unnecessary. Of course, if you buy something, you want to do with it what YOU want, so anything is possible.
Fortunately, Alexander ran a very tight ship over on La Branch and the team has new contract extensions with its best player and its general manager. Little is likely to change in that regard anytime soon.
Be willing to spend, aggressively if necessary.
One of the most important questions for any owner is will he spend when he needs to? The best owners are willing to break out the checkbook if it means success on the floor. Generally, a single owner with the resources to buy a team outright is ideal compared to a group of owners, each with a smaller stake. Regardless, when the need arises, the last thing anyone wants is a cheapskate at the helm.
Be a good steward.
Obviously, someone who takes good care of the team is critical, but having an owner who recognizes the importance of his place in the community is equally important. Alexander has been one of the most charitable owners in the history of basketball, and any new owner should continue that trend.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Fans mostly want their teams to win. Deliver that and they will love you. Don't and there's trouble. Alexander took over at an ideal time, and a new owner, it would appear, will do the same. However, while winning represents perhaps 90 percent of the wish list for fans, the other 10 percent can be tricky. How an owner handles his public persona can have an impact on how the team is supported. Proceed with caution.
Recognize the history of the team and the city.
Any new owner will want to understand Houstonians, particularly our often miserable and unfortunate sports history. The more he or she knows, the easier the transition will be. As great an owner as Alexander has been, he sometimes missed the mark with how he handled the franchise. It was rare, but it did happen. Any new owner can certainly learn from that and, one hopes, keep the Rockets as successful as they have been the past 23 years.
The new boss will have some mighty big shoes to fill.