Michael Heisley, seen here in 2011, not only brought the NBA to Memphis, but turned the Grizzlies into contenders on the court and made the franchise a major presence in charitable work within the city off of it.
Michael Heisley, the billionaire businessman who bought the Vancouver Grizzlies and moved the NBA team to Memphis, died Saturday. He was 77.
The Grizzlies said Saturday night that a family member confirmed Heisley’s death. The Commercial Appeal reported that Heisley died in Illinois of complications from a massive stroke he suffered nearly 15 months ago.
Heisley sold the team to Robert Pera before the start of the 2012-13 season.
Heisley, chairman emeritus and co-founder of The Heico Companies, LLC, bought the team in April 2000. He moved the club from Vancouver to Memphis and hired NBA great Jerry West as president of basketball operations.
The team held a moment of silence for Heisley before their playoff game Saturday night against Oklahoma City.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver addressed Heisley’s death before the game.
"Michael was responsible for moving the Grizzlies from Vancouver to Memphis and really for getting (FedExForum, the Grizzlies’ home arena) built as well as a long-time friend of the league," Silver said. ‘"’He was a wonderful owner, a terrific friend and I want to send my deepest condolences to his wife, Agnes, to his children, and all his friends."
Heisley was instrumental in getting the Grizzlies active in the community, forming the Memphis Grizzlies Charitable Foundation to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Among its projects, the foundation helped build the Memphis Grizzlies House, a temporary on-campus residence for families with children being treated at the hospital, according to the media guide.
Heisley, who had considered selling the team for several years, finally sold it to current owner Pera, founder and chief administrative officer of Ubiquiti Networks. The deal, completed in October 2012, was worth an estimated $377 million.
By the time Heisley sold the team, he had worked to rebuild the Grizzlies into contenders behind the core group of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, along with defensive star Tony Allen.
"I’m really sad, really, really sad," Gasol said after a 92-89 overtime loss to the Thunder. "Mr. Heisley was a person that really loved this team. He always cared a lot about us and we always had a great relationship. I hope that his wife Agnes is doing well. I am keeping her in my mind because they are really good people."
Conley said it was tough to hear about Heisley’s death.
"He really took me under his wing when he drafted me," Conley said. "He was nothing but kind to me since I became a Grizzly. I thank him for the opportunity and I just wish his family the best."
Allen credited Heisley with bringing him to Memphis as a free agent from Boston for the 2010-11 season, the first of the Grizzlies’ franchise-record four straight playoff berths. Allen tweeted after the game that Heisley was a very honorable man.
"I send my condolences to his family and I know he is in a better place," Allen said.