MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Conley says the Grizzlies’ new owner doesn’t look much older than he is. The Memphis guard is right.
Robert J. Pera, the Grizzlies’ new chairman and majority owner, is only nine years older than his point guard. The 34-year-old California businessman is a fresh face from a much different generation than the Grizzlies’ previous owner — 75-year-old billionaire Michael Heisley.
“I like it,” Pera said of being called an NBA owner. “It has a nice ring to it.”
He became one of the youngest owners ever of a major professional sports team when he paid $377 million for the team.
Mark Cuban was 41 when he bought the Dallas Mavericks in 2000, and Eddie DeBartolo became the youngest NFL owner ever when he took over the San Francisco 49ers at 30, according to STATS LLC.
Pera, looking relaxed wearing a suit jacket with his black shirt unbuttoned at the top, chatted with the more conservative, gray-haired Heisley in his suit and tie Monday night before the Grizzlies beat Utah 103-94.
Pera may be young, but NBA commissioner David Stern said Monday night the league’s newest owner has the three things he looks for: passion, deep pockets and knowing how to delegate and hire top management.
Stern called Pera passionate as a “basketball junkie.”
Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph has heard Pera not only loves basketball but plays often and can even dunk.
“I’m going to challenge him one-on-one, three dribbles,” Randolph said.
The Memphis big-man better not be fooled by the new owner’s youthful appearance; Pera’s shrewd and doesn’t appear to lose much.
“He has the wherewithal, and he put together a great group. I’ll throw into that wherewithal his intellectual wherewithal,” Stern said of Pera. “He’s a smart businessman, and he’s a driven businessman and he understands the potential because of the business he’s in, which is basically how to deliver content through the internet to communities that don’t easily get it.
“And we’re nothing if we’re not content.”
Pera, who grew up in San Carlos, Calif., had his own computer services company by the time he was 16. He has degrees in Japanese and electrical engineering along with a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of California-San Diego and worked at Apple as an engineer.
He started Ubiquiti Networks in March 2005 and went public in October 2011. The communications technology company taps into Wi-Fi technology to extend Internet access into underserved and rural areas, and Pera wants to use some of the ideas with the Grizzlies.
Pera wants more branding and marketing of the team. He talked of bringing more technology not just to the Grizzlies’ FedExForum arena but Memphis schools as well. And he plans to use the same management approach with the Grizzlies by not having a bunch of management and letting engineers make decisions.
“One of the things I’d like to see moving forward in the culture is to really empower the players to have input on who they want to play with and make them accountable for creating their own team and their own culture,” Pera said. “I think when you empower people like that you bring out the best in them.”
The Grizzlies haven’t had much time to get to know Pera, whose purchase was finalized last week. He spoke to them before Monday night’s home opener, and forward Rudy Gay liked what he heard.
“He didn’t say much,” Gay said of Pera. “My kind of guy.”
What plans Pera and his close friend Jason Levien, the new chief executive officer and managing partner in charge of the Grizzlies, have for the actual roster remain to be seen. They’ve been consumed the past few months with meeting the NBA’s exhaustive vetting for buying a team, and now they can start the work of running the Grizzlies.
“I don’t think it’s too far off,” Pera said. “It’s going to take a couple smart moves, and I think we could be very competitive.”