Canzano: Phil Knight's bid to buy Trail Blazers blooms in the desert
Knight was interested in buying an NBA team once before.
There’s a luxurious home at the prestigious Madison Club in LaQuinta, Calif. currently on the market if you’re in the mood.
It includes 17,500 square feet of living space and sits on nearly two acres. The home has a private driving range and a pickleball court. The listing highlights the dwelling’s “soaring ceilings, majestic fireplace and spa-like bath” and points out the home also has “a massage room and Zen garden.”
List price: $34.5 million.
There are more affordable homes in the neighborhood, but if you want to rub elbows with high-profile residents such as Cindy Crawford, Kris Jenner, Sly Stallone, Scooter Braun and Ray Romano, this is the place to be.
Phil and Penny Knight own property in Madison Club, too. So does Alan Smolinisky, co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. This Coachella Valley development — I’m told — is where the $2 billion-plus plan to buy the Portland Trail Blazers was hatched.
Over golf? Cocktails? A hike?
Knight and Smolinisky are neighbors, though. They play the same championship-caliber golf course and frequent the Madison Club’s restaurants, spa and hiking trails. The 84-year old founder of Nike and the 42-year old USC graduate are an interesting tandem. But they’re exactly what Portland’s NBA franchise needs.
One of them is a visionary who rose from selling sneakers out of the trunk of his car to become arguably the most influential sports figure on the planet. The other is a shrewd investor who noted as a student at USC that there was a shortage of housing around the campus. Smolinisky found a partner. They built and renovated properties until they became the largest provider of student housing at USC.
Think of the upside of having an NBA team owned by a couple of ambitious, forward-thinking, passionate stakeholders. For the Portland-born Knight, it’s a legacy play all the way. For Smolinisky? I’ll bet he looks at the undeveloped Rose Quarter neighborhood around Moda Center and sees an entertainment-district opportunity.
The Trail Blazers confirm that they’ve received a written offer to purchase the NBA franchise from Knight and Smolinisky. The franchise also said it’s not for sale. Which is only to say those with the keys to the Paul G. Allen Trust would like to field some other offers. This is a public negotiation now. One that I believe Knight and Smolinsky will eventually win if they truly want the franchise.
Former long-time Trail Blazers’ vice president Michael Lewellen worked as an executive Nike, too. He said, “there’s a real genius with Phil Knight” and pointed to the exponential growth of Nike and rising sports profile of the University of Oregon.
Lewellen believes NBA commissioner Adam Silver would covet Knight as a potential owner. Also, he thinks last week’s news leak may have been just the beginning of what could become an extended negotiation.
“You and I both know this — when it comes to Negotiation 101,” said Lewellen, “your first offer that you put on the table is not all the money you’ve got to work with.”
This is also not the first time Knight has dabbled with NBA ownership. I met with a source earlier this week who told me that the Nike founder nearly bought the San Diego Clippers in 1980.
Sales price: $11 million.
Then-Clippers owners Irving Levin and Harold Lipton believed they had a deal to sell the team to Knight in 1980. Commissioner David Stern even green lit the move. But Knight never signed paperwork and backed out. The parties ended up in court over the next several years after Levin and Lipton sued. Knight’s legal team won.
The Clippers were eventually sold to Donald Sterling, who moved them to Los Angeles. The embattled owner sold the NBA team in 2014 to Steve Balmer for $2 billion. Now, Knight again appears interested in NBA ownership.
A source told me the target price for the Blazers is $3 billion. It’s an ambitious valuation. Forbes estimated the franchise’s value at nearly $1 billion less. However, the NBA’s domestic television rights are expected to boost revenue dramatically in 2025 and industry insiders believe the franchise is baking in that increase at a premium.
I’m fascinated by the public negotiation going on. I don’t blame the Blazers for claiming they’re not for sale. Not until they hear the right number anyway. I also don’t blame Knight and Smolinisky for firing the first public strike in the negotiation. It was a solid initial pull in this tug-of-war. I wonder if it keeps a few other potential ownership groups away.
So yeah, if you’re in the market, there’s a $34.5 million property available in Madison Club. With the purchase you get access to country-club golf, a wellness center, and may find yourself rubbing elbows with a couple of future NBA owners.
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