After Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux threatened to move to Kansas City if he didn’t get a new arena, then got a new arena, he admitted that it was all just a bluff to shake down the city for public money. Which may not have been a great look, but it was belatedly honest, and had the benefit of making him look less like a carpetbagger (if more like an extortionist).
The Milwaukee Bucks just opened their new arena that was built with $505 million in public money obtained under threat of the team leaving, and team co-owner Wes Edens has forgone Lemieuxesque mea culpas in favor of doubling down on those threats — but, in a twist, saying it was never the team owners who wanted them to leave, it was the NBA:
“Either the team had to build a suitable venue that’s appropriate for the NBA or they had to move,” Edens told USA TODAY Sports.
When Lasry, Edens and ownership partners bought the Bucks for $550 million in 2014, the purchase agreement included a clause allowing the NBA to buy back the team for a potential relocation if the new owners didn’t get a formal arena construction plan in place.
That makes it sound like the NBA made the buyback clause a condition of the sale, which is certainly the way Edens and his fellow owner Mark Lasry painted it back in 2014. But it was almost certainly something that was negotiated by all parties as a way of shifting the blame, as I wrote at the time:
This is, frankly, totally brilliant, in an evil genius sort of way. The NBA would never forcibly seize a franchise without its owners’ consent, so rest assured that this whole buyback clause was arrived at with the full cooperation (if not at the behest of) Edens, Lasry, and Kohl. Now, though, Edens and Lasry are in a perfect position to play Good Cop: We want to stay in Milwaukee, but that mean old NBA will take our team and move it somewhere else if we don’t get a new arena, so you’d better make that happen or else Adam Silver will nail your head to the floor.
To my knowledge, no Wisconsin reporters have ever dug into whether the NBA move-threat clause was a conspiracy with the Bucks owners or not, which is a shame. It’s too late for Wisconsin residents to get their $505 million back, but it’s not too late to stop Edens and Lasry for shifting the blame on why it happened.