Q: Is there one of those teams you think should be your priority coming in?
A: My number 1 passion at AEG was always the Kings, so the Maple Leafs are obviously a brand that gets me very excited, but I think they probably are further along than the other two teams. The Raptors are the team that needs the most help: they haven’t been in the playoffs in six years and I think that’s a trend that we have to change. So I’ll probably spend more time on the Raptors to begin with, but from a passion standpoint, I love the National Hockey League. One of the major reasons I took this is the platform that is the Maple Leafs, and I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen when we win that Stanley Cup. And that’s our goal.Q: I know you haven’t had a chance to really delve into the Raptors yet, but as someone who knows basketball, what do you think the problem is with that organization?
A: Well, I guess I look at it differently, which is: what do I think the opportunity is with that organization? And what I know is there are 36 million-plus potential fans for the Raptors, which gives it the largest single fan base in the NBA. It has the most upside of any team in the NBA, and now we just have to build a vision and a business plan to attack that. And some of that is going to require success on the hardwood, and some of that is going to require us thinking outside the box and rebuilding that brand in the rest of Canada, as well as in Toronto.I find this whole paragraph contradictory. On one hand he has family in LA. On the other hand he has Canadian family, he likes Toronto, he wants to see the Raptors succeed.... but is the 2nd last sentence foreshadowing? It sounds as if Phil Jackson is coming at some point in the near future. I think Bryan Shaw not being hired by Detroit will be like throwing a jug of gasoline on a fire on the Raptor-Jackson talk.Q: You worked closely with Phil Jackson in L.A., and his name is now being bandied about. Is he the type of person who can help you fix the situation?
A: Well, I think it’s nice to throw Phil’s name out there, but he’s newly engaged and his fiancée lives in L.A. He has grandkids now. So I think that although Phil will certainly be—and has been—someone I’ve gone to for advice and input, I don’t think people should expect he is going to be the saviour. We have a current GM, Bryan [Colangelo]. So, first and foremost, I need to go spend time with Bryan before we can define problems, solutions and answers. Phil Jackson knows the city well, by the way—he has a bunch of Canadians in his family, so he’s very partial to Toronto and wants the Raptors to have success. But I don’t want people to think he is going to ride in on a white horse and fix this. It’s not that easy.
Oh yeah, I'd love to be a fly on the wall when Leiweke is looking for problems, solutions, and answers while Colangelo is doing more circles than a spin class describing how Gay and DeRozan have set the foundation for a championship team.
Q: MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum says one of the problems for all the teams is attracting top-flight free agents; that, in some ways, Toronto is a well-kept secret. What can you do to change that?
A: I never thought I was a top free agent in the business sense, but it seems that the media thought that, and I did have a lot of other opportunities and I turned them all down to come to Toronto. I said “no” to the other offers because I see the future here. Now we have to convey that enthusiasm. MLSE has a new salesman and a new chief spokesman and a new Energizer bunny whose job is to go out and make people understand this is a great city, it’s a great organization. We’re going to put that to work for us and make sure this is a place that, when people think of New York, of L.A., they’re going to think of Toronto, too, as one of the great destinations for players.
Q: You’ve said you’re most interested in creating a championship mentality. How do you do that?
A: Well, I was blessed to be a part of the Lakers organization, so I learned about a championship mentality and environment from Dr. Jerry Buss and from Jerry West and from Phil Jackson, and I studied that, I consumed that, and we built that into everything else we did at AEG. There was an expectation within our organization to win championships, and that’s what we have to do now with all of the teams in the Maple Leaf Sports family. I think, first and foremost, it’s hard work and being dedicated to doing what it takes to win. It’s all you think about. We are going to absolutely put those trophies front and centre and say, “Now, what do we have to do to win ’em?”Q: Is there anything in particular that you’re going to do to try and sound out the fans, or to interact with them?
A: Go sit with them. I bought season tickets with the Kings and sat in the bowl with the fans and heard what they said, good and bad. They’re going to see me, they’re going to hear from me. I will try to understand what they’re thinking about, and they will have access to me. I’ve been in sports my whole life, so I’m not your typical CEO who sits in the tower; I will get involved. And my guess is, I’ll have an even more passionate group of fans than we had in L.A.