How much do you know about Gary Bettman?
You no doubt are aware that he came to the NHL from the NBA in 1993, hired as the first commissioner in League history. That he was born in Queens and went to Cornell. That he pushed for NHL expansion into Southern U.S. markets, while he pushed for the Canadian Assistance Plan to help struggling franchises north of the border. That he's presided over a hat trick of work stoppages. That his middle name is Bruce.
Oh, but there's so much more. Jonathan Gatehouse's new book "The Instigator: How Gary Bettman Remade the League and Changed the Game Forever" is a must-read for any fan that's seen the NHL reshaped during Bettman's reign. ("The Instigator" is released on Monday, Oct. 1.) It's also a treasure trove of anecdotes — some well-known, some previously unknown and some that simply had been lost in the timeline.
Here are 10 things we didn't know about Gary Bettman until we devoured Gatehouse's prose.
1. Gary Bettman's Father And Grandfather Owned a Nut Company
Gary Bettman's father Howard operated a business on Canal Street called the Bettman Nut Company, whose tag line was "Betty Nuts Are Better".
Here's a tin in which Howard Bettman stored his nuts.
2. Gary Bettman Doesn't Stop Talking During Car Crashes
Michael Cardozo, a lawyer who worked with the NBA during Bettman's tenure there, remembers him being one the first people he knew with a cell phone. One night, Bettman was driving back to the New Jersey while in contact with the NBA offices on his mobile. He hit some black ice and started skidding.
Bettman, taking a brief beat away from the conversation, said: "I think you're going to hear a crash in a moment."
There was a crash. And Bettman continued the office chatter.
3. Gary Bettman Threw a Tantrum
The labor negotiations in 1994 were intense. So intense that this happened, according to Gatehouse:
Tempers were fraying. At a session in Buffalo—an easy flight from Manhattan and quick drive from Toronto—Bettman himself threw a tantrum, screaming about the unreasonableness of his opponents before stomping out of the room. One of the NHLPA representatives still wonders to this day whether it was real or a tactic—an attempt to channel the NBA's David Stern, a famed and feared yeller: "It didn't really work. It was almost like he was trying it on for size. It was kind of comical, actually."
Well, that probably depended on the amount of stomping we're talking about here: Angry teacher, frustrated younger sibling or Veruca Salt?
4. Gary Bettman Owns a Cartoon of Himself as a Superhero
Bettman has some cool keepsakes in his office, including a 6,000-piece Lego Stanley Cup and a copy of "Canada's Olympic Hockey History" autographed by Stephen Harper. But he also has "a large poster of the commissioner as a costumed superhero, rendered by Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee."
Wonder if Stan Lee based it on this design from our "Gary Bettman: Portraits in Heroism" contest? Excelsior!
5. Gary Bettman Made Owners Meetings More Than Cocktail Hours
'Twas a time when Board of Governors meetings were unruly affairs held on Bill Wirtz's yacht; the stereotypical 'hard drinks in a smoke-filled room' motif where little was accomplished beyond personality clashes and pettiness.
Enter Bettman, who took the thing from the frat house to the boardroom:
One of Gary Bettman's first innovations as the new NHL commissioner was to place microphones around the board table. The owners now had to wait for the little red light to go on to speak, and more importantly, there was a means to cut them off.
The agendas became more formal, too, with reports, presentations, and brief discussion periods rather than formless crosstalk. And it all unfolded according to Robert's Rules of Order, just like the high school debating club back on Long Island. The format hasn't changed in two decades.
So he runs his B.O.G. meetings like an AM political talk radio host controls his callers. Nice.
6. Gary Bettman Wants His Owners To Shut Their Yaps
Jimmy Devellano, you are not alone.
Before the last lockout in 2004-05, Pat Quinn of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pierre Boivin of the Montreal Canadiens and Tim Leiweke of the Los Angeles Kings were docked "significant amounts of money" for predicting when the lockout would end. Former Atlanta Thrashers owner Steve Belkin was fined $250,000 for informing a Boston newspaper that the NHL was going to use replacement players.
And now you know why the owners aren't squawking to the press.
7. Gary Bettman Is a Telemarketer
According to Gatehouse, Bettman keeps a contact file that's "stuffed with the names and numbers of anyone with money who has ever expressed even a passing interest in the sport" and makes dozens of "cold calls" every month to potential NHL investors and owners.
Keep it up, sir, and one day you'll get those Glengarry leads.
8. Gary Bettman's Biggest Embarrassment Might Be John Spano
Spano was a 33-year-old who claimed to own 10 companies around the world. In 1997, he made a deal to buy the New York Islanders for $165 million. Then things got hinky: He missed payments, wired $5 instead of $5000 and so on. Spoiler: He was broke. Bettman considers it an embarrassment he wishes he could take back, telling Gatehouse:
"We learned from that, and we have better ways of checking now. We use private investigators to probe people's backgrounds—have they been arrested, have they done anything they shouldn't, talk to their references and neighbours, so you know what you are getting. And we use forensic accountants to dig in and make sure the money is really there."
And yet 'Boots' Del Biaggio still happened.
9. Gary Bettman Once Sounded Like a Duck
Anaheim was awarded an expansion franchise the day before Bettman was announced as the new commissioner on Dec. 11, 1992.
The next March, Bettman took part in a press event to officially christen the team as the "Mighty Ducks." As part of the event, Disney head Michael Eisner gave Bettman and Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall duck calls, like a hunter would use before blasting mallards out of the sky with a rifle.
The trio tooted them in unison, in what Eisner called the quack heard 'round the world."
Eisner resigned as CEO three years later.
10. Gary Bettman Was Locked In The Canucks Dressing Room During Gretzky's Record-Breaking Night
We'll just let Gatehouse take this one, from the March 23, 1994, Los Angeles Kings game at the LA Forum, in which Gretzky passed Howe:
The magic moment didn't come in the first period. Still, Bettman followed through with plans for a live, between-periods TV interview in a studio down at ice level. By the time it finished, just before play was to resume, he was in desperate need of a washroom. The nearest at hand was in the visitors' dressing room.
But while the commissioner was using the facilities the Canucks departed for their bench, padlocking the door behind them. Bettman didn't have his cell phone with him, so for long minutes he screamed and pounded on the door, hoping to attract someone's attention. He got lucky. A Vancouver trainer returned to the room to sharpen a skate and set him free.
The commissioner made it back to his seat just in time to see Gretzky snap a Marty McSorley feed past the Canucks' Kirk McLean at 14:47 of the second period. (Vancouver went on to win 6—3, spoiling the party.)
Oh, if only Bettman had been stuck in the actual bathroom and had a wireless mic like in "The Naked Gun". Gretzky scores, ceremony begins, disembodied Bettman voice intones:
"Wayne, they used to call you 'The Great One' (FLUSHES TOILET) but now you're the 'Greatest One'! (HAND DRYER BLOWING) ..."
• • •
So those are 10 things we learned about Gary Bettman. If you have any Gary Bettman Facts you'd like to share, please do so in the comments or on the Twitter with a #GaryBettmanFacts hashtag.
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