In order to adequately appreciate what has gone on in both Seattle and Sacramento the last five years, it's important to look at the Nuggets own history. A history which includes a Commissioner altruistically and unwittingly nearly destroying the franchise, five separate owners in 11 years, and a fateful decision by one ownership group to finance a brand new arena.
The story begins right here ...
David Stern and the pursuit of minority ownership
In 1989, at the behest of Commissioner David Stern, an ownership group comprised of four African American businessmen led by Peter Bynoe and Bertram Lee (along with former US Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and tennis legend Arthur Ashe) purchased the Denver Nuggets from Sidney Shlenker for roughly $65 million. This was met with much pomp and circumstance, and was even announced at big press conference at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. There was every reason to believe that this was a great moment in Denver history and NBA history. There was one only one problem. They (specifically Bertram Lee) couldn't afford to purchase an NBA franchise.
Shlenker set a deadline for purchase for six months after the much ballyhooed press conference. With the help of elements outside the NBA, COMSAT Video Entertainment group purchased 62.5% of the team. What followed was an absurd kabuki theater, with Bynoe and Lee being put up front as the team "owners" while one of the partners, Lee, was virtually bankrupt and was evicted from his Boston apartment.
Things got so difficult that Lee was later "removed" in 1991 and the Nuggets as a team were in chaos (a 20-62 record in the 1990-91 season). In 1992 Peter Bynoe (who for all intents and purposes was the genuine article, stand up guy who provided his share of money) finally sold his stake to COMSAT and left after publicly feuding with COMSAT Chairman Robert Wussler Jr.
While it's easy to point a finger at Bynoe and Lee for their attempts to own an NBA franchise - let us not forget the vital role David Stern played in this episode. Stern's well-meaning zeal for minority ownership in the NBA caused him to make a near-fatal mistake with the Nuggets franchise. Not properly vetting the ownership group prior to that (in hindsight) overblown press conference in New York resulted in two solid years of ownership chaos that almost crippled the franchise itself. This set the tone for one of the worst decades of basketball in NBA history (despite going to the playoffs in 1994 and 1995, the Nuggets went 279-509 from 1990-2000).
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