There has been some smoke swirling around this fire, and today’s report from The Athletic is a billowing cloud of the stuff. According to Shams Charania, Sam Amick, and our old friend Eric Nehm, Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry is exploring the process of selling his stake in the franchise.
American businessman/Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Haslam Sports Group are in serious talks to buy Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry's stake in the Bucks, sources tell me, @sam_amick and @eric_nehm.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 10, 2023
Story at @TheAthletic: https://t.co/SoHa0IPIBE
To be clear, this story is ongoing, and nothing that is done today will affect the Bucks tomorrow, or even this year. However, the ramifications of this decision have the potential to be massive. Ownership is one of the biggest competitive advantages in the NBA (s/o to Danny Leroux), and the current group of Lasry, Wes Edens, and Jamie Dinan (among others) have done their part to impart every possible advantage to the Bucks. Milwaukee has been a luxury tax team for years now, and while a handful of moves have been motivated primarily by finances the owners get credit for putting the right people in the right places and positioning them for success, from general manager Jon Horst to head coach Mike Budenholzer, to the rest of the staff and employees that support the franchise and the players who represent it on the court.
If you’re interested in knowing Marc Lasry’s backstory, we’ve got you covered. The broad strokes are this: former owner Herb Kohl had presided over the Bucks during their decades of mediocrity, and in 2014 he finally sold the team to Lasry and Edens. The Bucks’ turnaround is clearly due to the ascension of Giannis Antetokounmpo, but ownership did enough to clear the path to reinforce the team around him, and it paid off in 2021 when Milwaukee found victory in the NBA Finals and brought home a championship for the first time in 50 years.
Now? It seems that Lasry has calculated that his investment has matured and he might be ready to bounce. Per The Athletic, Lasry has been working on this for a while, including nearly going forward with the man on the receiving end of the NBA’s most recent ownership change, Matt Ishiba.
Sources who were granted anonymity so that they could speak freely tell The Athletic this process with Haslam began after Lasry considered selling his stake in the Bucks to American businessman Mat Ishbia before Ishbia bought controlling interest of the Phoenix Suns. Haslam entered the conversation after Ishbia moved on to the Suns and joined Edens courtside for the Bucks’ 123-114 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Dec. 30, 2022.
So, who is Jimmy Haslam, and why should we care? A perfunctory Google search tells us that Haslam, 68, is the chairman of the board of the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain. More relevantly, he and his spouse own both the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League and the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer. Presumably, this purchase would put his count of “professional sports franchises owned” at 3, which is precisely 3 more than you or me.
Why now? Curiously, it turns out that Haslam’s non-sports interests are being acquired by Warren Buffet’s giant corporate conglomerate, meaning Haslam has money to spend. While you might not think that a chain of truck stops comes with much drama, there was a federal investigation in 2013 regarding rebate fraud, which was settled out of court. Again, whatever happened during Haslam’s time overseeing his sports franchises feels more relevant, and the obvious story that raises eyebrows in relation to the Cleveland Browns (besides the fact that they’ve been hapless for...basically ever?) is that the team willingly signed Deshaun Watson despite the significant legal issues he faces concerning sexual misconduct. Now, it’s not the Browns’ fault that Watson is credibly accused of several crimes, but nobody forced them to trade for him and offer him a contract on par with the NBA supermax either. Presumably, Jimmy Haslam would have had to approve that deal, and all of Watson’s baggage was public knowledge and therefore would have been considered, regardless of what that would do for the team on the field.
Again, all of this is still theoretical at this point, but if Marc Lasry wants to cut bait with the Bucks, there’s nothing stopping him. He got Giannis to re-sign with a supermax, he got his picture with the trophy, his son tried (and failed) to win the 2022 election for US Senate in Wisconsin. What’s left for Lasry to do, besides turn his millions into billions?
Anyways, it’s been a busy day and there have been several other stories to pay attention to, but this one deserves monitoring rather than be lost in the shuffle.