COMMENTARY | At this time last year, few outside of Memphis were familiar with the name Robert Pera.
But over the past several weeks, Pera has become one of the most talked about professional sports owners around.
Initially, it seemed Pera would be taking the hands-off approach of many other professional sports owners. After a press conference and an introduction to the fans preceding the Grizzlies' 2012 home opener against the Utah Jazz, sightings of Pera were few and far between. Almost immediately after taking control of the franchise, Pera brought in Jason Levien (a veteran in the world of sports management) to handle day-to-day operations as the CEO.
Entering his second season as the Grizzlies' majority owner, Pera has oddly emerged as a highly visible boss. It started in September when Pera challenged Grizzlies starter Tony Allen to a game of one-on-one on Twitter.
What seemed like a joke at first quickly became a must-see event for Grizzlies fans. A date and time were set for the showdown to take place at Fedex Forum in Memphis with $100,000 being offered up to charity. The event was even going to be carried on the Grizzlies' local radio station with Memphis' regular play-by-play commentator making the call. At the last minute, however, the event was strangely "postponed" and has yet to take place.
Then earlier this week, Pera was spotted working out at the Grizzlies' practice facility. The video, which shows Pera engaging in shooting and one-on-one drills, was quite impressive to many Grizzlies fans. This then culminated with more Twitter-challenges involving Pera. The notion that Pera should go one-on-one with Mavericks high-profile owner Mark Cuban began circling the web. Although Robert Pera was apparently uninterested (even taking a lighthearted jab at the Dallas owner), he proposed an alternative.
On Tuesday, Pera challenged NBA legend Michael Jordan to a game of one-on-one with the stakes much higher than the postponed Tony Allen event: $1 million for charity. Pera's challenge quickly became national news with some wondering why the previously low-profile owner is now wanting to play one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
So why the sudden change in visibility for Robert Pera? Perhaps he was simply shy before. A technology mogul, Pera was never in the spotlight of the mainstream public before taking control of the Grizzlies. Maybe after a year at the controls, Pera (who claims to be a basketball super-fan) is ready to put himself out there.
The other possibility could be that this may all be a publicity stunt. Despite being one of the top contenders in the NBA's Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies have never received much attention from the national media and still struggle with regular-season attendance numbers. Pera is obviously a successful business man and having an owner who is being recognized nationally for his Twitter comments and YouTube videos could be an effective marketing ploy. I would argue, however, that this is the less likely of the two explanations.
Pera is a fan of the game. Perhaps he decided to enter professional sports ownership not for business, but simply for pleasure. With this in mind, maybe Robert Pera is simply having fun now. Either way, it is exciting for Memphis fans to see an owner do more than sit in the shadows and collect a check. Could Pera be on his way to becoming one of the highest-profile owners in the league?
Let's see who he challenges to a game of one-on-one next...
Nicholas Naveiras is a lifelong Memphian, college student, and diehard Memphis Grizzlies follower. He has followed the franchise's on- and off-court progress since 2001.
- Sports & Recreation
- Robert Pera
- Memphis Grizzlies