Ujiri had been with the Raptors when Bryan Colangelo had his plans for a practice facility turned down by the MLSE board, and wanted assurances that the franchise’s new ownership would make the facility a priority.
Leiweke didn’t exactly make the promise in his own blood, but it was close.
“I told him if I didn’t get it done he could have my first born and he could leave and I’d have to pay him forever,” said Leiweke. “It’s in his contract.”
It wasn’t easy.
Two initial plans to get either the government or the NBA to share costs – under the auspices of the supporting Canada Basketball – were rejected, so Leiweke found himself trying to convince the board at MLSE that spending $32-million with no prospect of a return on the investment was a good idea. This was on top of a $120-million investment to renovate BMO Field and $100 million spent on bringing in Jermaine Defoe and Michael Bradley to Toronto FC.
“You can imagine how that went over,” Leiweke said.
But Leiweke was adamant. He says his first ally on the MLSE board was Bell Canada chief executive officer George Cope, with MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum next.
“We needed something, some bricks and mortar, that was a symbol that Raptors were important,” said Leiweke. “The board needed to make a commitment that the Raptors were as high a priority as the Leafs.”