Latest News, NBA / Jun 8, 2010 / 12:00 pm

The Top 5 Best & Worst NBA Owners

With Mikhail Prokhorov making waves around the League, and showing just how important an owner can be to a team’s success, we decided to rank the five best and five worst owners in the NBA based on their popularity with fans and players as well as their team’s on-court performance.


1. Mark Cuban
Any discussion of the best owner in basketball begins and ends with Mark Cuban. This man has poured his heart and soul into the Mavericks (and his cash) making them a mainstay in the NBA playoffs come April. Despite the fact that Dallas has yet to win a title in his tenure, Cuban has done everything short of playing for the Mavs in trying to get it done, and is also beloved by the team’s fans.

2. Jerry Buss
Buss has been a great owner because of his willingness to stay out of the way and let the basketball people handle their jobs. Under his watch since 1979, the Lakers have won nine championships – which is truly remarkable considering they have won over a quarter of the championships since Buss took over. He has also been willing to spend the money to keep marquee players, and bring in excellent coaches like Pat Riley and Phil Jackson.

3. Peter Holt
Holt saved the Spurs from relocating from San Antonio and his community-based philosophy has made the Spurs the pride of the city. Under his leadership, the Spurs have won four championships, and his organization has remained a model of stability with R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich at the helm of basketball operations for years; and Tim Duncan the face of the franchise for just as long.

4. Dan Gilbert
Gilbert purchased the Cavaliers from long-time owner Gordon Gund, and has made a lot of improvements to the team as owner. He refurbished the Quicken Loans Arena and built a new practice facility for the team. He has also gave Danny Ferry and the front-office the means to make any trade or move necessary for the betterment of the franchise. He has also done all he can to entice LeBron to stay with the Cavs.

5. Leslie Alexander
Alexander purchased the Rockets in 1993 right before their championships in 1994 and 1995. The franchise has been very successful in his tenure as owner, and Alexander deserves a lot of credit for being an innovative basketball man. It was his decision to bring on numbers freak Daryl Morey when not many NBA teams would, and the decision has paid off as Morey has built a very good Rockets team.


1. Donald Sterling
Probably one of the worst owners in all of sports, not just the NBA. Sterling is a notorious penny-pincher who has refused to invest in the Clippers – and as a result has made them a laughingstock during his entire tenure as owner. All of this on top of the fact that the Clippers have won only one playoff series in Sterling’s nearly 30-year tenure solidifies him as by far the worst owner in the NBA.

2. Chris Cohan
Cohan is in the process of selling the team, but since he is still currently the owner, he falls on this list right behind Sterling. Cohan’s Warriors have only made the playoffs once in Cohan’s 15 years of ownership, and he is much maligned amongst the super-loyal Warrior fan base. The fact that the Warriors still draw fans at a high level is a testament to their love for the team not the product Cohan has put on the court.

3. James Dolan
Dolan has transformed the Knicks from marquee NBA franchise into a joke. He is responsible for hiring Isiah Thomas and allowing him to run the team into the ground for way too long, and is also responsible for David Stern‘s 2007 remark that the Knicks are “not a model of intelligent management.” Dolan also has isolated the media which can be a problem owning a team in the world’s largest market. If he does get one high mark, it is for his willingness to spend money even if he spends it irresponsibly.

4. Michael Jordan
Despite only being the majority owner of the Bobcats for half of this past season, Jordan’s tenures as minority owner have been rocky to say the least. With the Wizards as a minority owner and director of basketball operations, Jordan drafted Kwame Brown and traded Rip Hamilton, eventually being fired by the late Abe Pollin. With Charlotte, after buying a share of the team, he made himself director of basketball ops again and has made some mind-boggling basketball moves. As long as Jordan owns the Bobcats and is in control, I don’t see much hope for Charlotte basketball.

5. Robert Sarver
Sarver bought the team from basketball lifer Jerry Colangelo and has yet to live up to Colangelo’s legacy. The Suns have been successful over the past few years despite Sarver’s ownership, not because of it. He has been very frugal when spending money on the team, and his reluctance to go over the luxury tax (despite having a team that could potentially win a championship) has been troubling. Also, his decision to sell numerous draft picks over the years has stunted the Suns’ development of youth, making him an owner that is unpopular with his fans.

What do you think? Who are the best and worst NBA owners?

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  • Heckler

    for #5 Robert Starver; I dont know much about him, but how can you call someone a bad owner for NOT going over the luxury tax?

    as a businessman, I think that is rather smart. why pay a dollar-for-dollar tax penalty? thats just a waste of money! especially in a place like Phoenix.

    OVERspending doesnt win you championships (NY has proven that).

    so, i would need better reasoning from you before I can co-sign on Robert Starver being a bad/poor owner.

    saving against luxury tax isnt a good example. again, i think that is smart business to NOT go over the luxury tax.

  • Heckler

    also, is George Shinn still an NBA owner?
    does he own the Hornets?

  • Celts Fan

    Sarver HAS TO BE #2 worst owner (only reason he’s not 1 is Sterling is both cheap and a notorious and settled-in-court-multiple-times racist in a sport dominated by minorities.) He literally cost the Suns a title by being super cheap. He ran off Joe Johnson then sold draft picks that could have been Rondo, Luol Deng, Nate Robinson, Rudi Fernandez, and many others WHILE THEY WERE TITLE CONTENDERS. You worry about the bottom line when your team sucks. When the window’s open as a title favorite, you spend whatever you need to. If he’d done this in a more sports-crazy town (aka one with nothing better to do during the winter) like Boston or NYC, he’d’ve been forced to sell the team or go into hiding years ago…

    On that same note, gotta give a shout out to Wyc Grossbeck here. He had been on the record as saying he’d never pay the luxury tax, but then the chance to win came up and he realized that a long playoff run and subsequent bulge in popularity would off-set the $$$ losses.

    What it comes down to is that owning a team HAS TO BE a labor of love. It can’t be your main money-maker. You need to just be the richest fan in the building or your team will fail. Good owners get this, bad ones don’t. They don’t need to be the “Hey, look at me!” type you get w/ Cuban and some others but they damn well better care more about winning on the court than on a spreadsheet.

  • CTP

    Absolute shame that you guys didn’t mention Larry Miller (Jazz). Keeping a thriving team in probably what is the smallest NBA market in the country doesn’t even get a mention, but Mark Cuban gets first?!?!

    Jazz have missed the playoffs 1 time in 20+ years, and keep a competitve team every year!!!!

  • Heckler

    where do the following fit in, good or bad?

    Mickey Arison (Heat)
    Paul Allen (Blazers)
    Michael Heisley (Grizz)
    Maloof boys (Kings)

  • Celts Fan

    @Heckler – you can’t care about the bottom-line when you have a potential title team. Your NYK comparison is off-base because the Knicks sucked when they were over-spending. When you have a team that’s one of the 2 or 3 favorites to win it all, you CANNOT alienate one of your best players (Joe Johnson) to the point he says, “Don’t match my contract. I want out of here,” and you cannot sell off draft picks just to save $. If you’re that concerned about money even when the team’s contending for a title, you have no business owning a team.

  • Heckler

    sorry Celtsfan, but you are WRONG!

    as a business owner, your spreadsheet becomes the bottom line. or else, you’ll be LOSING money and eventually LOSING your business.

    you wrote your piece speaking as a FAN; nothing wrong with that. But think as a BUSINESS-OWNER. as a business owner your main objective is to turn a profit. thats it. profit. the best way to turn a profit is to win a championship and make your team/business more valuable; but thats not the only way.

    as a business owner, you cannot make stupid decisions to cut into your profit margin. because when you do, then you have to start cutting back on operations, productions or even employees.

    think about why the Phoenix Suns had to trade their draft picks (rajon rondo, nate robinson, luol deng, rudy fernandex, sergio rod). They were all traded as draft picks for various reasons but mainly to free up cap room and relieve the Suns of luxury tax issues.

    when you go over the luxury tax and pay the dollar-for-dollar penalty, that can upwards of what…$15 million.

    would you as a business owner give $15mil OUT OF YOUR POCKET to the league and still not get to the NBA finals?

    is that SMART business to you?!!?

  • Bobb23

    Ed Snyder is an ass

  • Brown

    “Buss has been a great owner because of his willingness to stay out of the way and let the basketball people handle their jobs.”

    Mark Cuban is the exact opposite of this, so how does that make him a great owner? If he’d play the background like most owners, I’d be fine with him, but he conducts himself like a spoiled teenager and I can’t respect someone like that. Just because he’s willing to spend money doesn’t make him a good owner.

  • datdood

    as a die hard warriors fan, i would like to say that chris cohen better pack his bags and leave town. guy is a bum. bring on larry ellison!!!!

  • MenoRikey

    Michael Heisley should be in the Top 5 for giving Gasol away.

  • stillanetsfan

    mikhail prokhorov haha

  • KenAdams

    I think Mark Cuban is #1, but #2 has to be Miller (Jazz). They were going to be moved to Las Vegas, but he bought them out and kept them in Utah. It has to be one of the smallest markets in the NBA, but the Jazz keep winning and keep producing quality teams. They have had a couple of the NBA’s best players and they have good ones now. Dime you should just do a list of 1 – 30 for us all.

  • Celts Fan

    You said it yourself that “the best way to turn a profit is to win a championship and make your team/business more valuable;” Sarver’s horrendous because he had the chance to do that, but instead of rolling the dice, spending the money, and going for it, he low-balled Joe Johnson to the point he demanded they not match his deal as a RFA, then sold off draft picks when the 7 Seconds or Less offense was at the peak of its powers. That almost definitely cost them at least 1 title (imagine Joe Johnson w/ the depth of even one of the guys we mentioned as potential draft picks that they traded away.) How much do you lose when you alienate all of your customers (the fans) by doing that?

    Owning a team is not the same as owning a coffee shop. There’s a civic pride aspect part of it. My main point (see my earlier posts for a more detailed analysis) is that owning a team isn’t the same as owning another business. There’s a larger responsibility to the city/area you’re in to put out the best product you can when the rare opportunity at winning a championship presents itself (go nuts and worry about $$$ when you’re a bad team, but the few times you can realistically think championship, you owe it to the fans that keep you in business in good faith that you do care about winning, to actually go for it.)

  • Celts Fan

    Post 14 is @Heckler

  • Sporty-j

    Mark Cuban as the #1 owner is the most funniest 1 i have seen on here. Hes the #1 owner because hes not afriad to spend money? and the fans the love him? Love him for what??? Almost every owner is not afraid to spend money if they could get the player or players they want like Kobe, Wade or Lebron. Your a smart owner when you know theres nothing out and dont waste your time on over paying players like the knicks always do. So what has Cuban really done to shack of that franchise with a big name like Paul Gasol to get them his team over the like Buss has done and for cheap by the way. If the fans love Cuban for not helping them finally get over the top than thats sad because hes always in the news for the wrong thing or running his stink hole like as if hes a tuff guy and i was hoping Kenyon Martin would have whipped his a$$ for disrespecting his mother like that in the playoffs last year… But only Dimes would make a guy in cuban the best owner when hes not even top 5 to be honest because they fall into the hype because hes a popular owner for all the wrong things unlike Mr.Buss whos clearly the best because he lets his resume do the talking. Thats coming from a Heat fan…

  • Otto

    Good looking #4 CTP. Dime, I usually defer to your basketball knowledge but I don’t know, you may have published this in haste. At least honor Larry Miller posthumously.

  • Otto

    Oops I meant good looking out. I don’t roll like that, but in the words of Jerry Sienfeld: “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

  • Chilirey

    Sterling may be a great business man but he is a crappy human being. He is always running huge ads in the LA Times about his humanitarian efforts which are proabably tax write offs.
    Business is Business but Winning is Winning!
    He ain’t nothing but a plantation owner, living off the backs of the poor, stupid & young (draft picks).
    He needs to be taken to task for his non-wining ways!

  • Atlas

    Chalk another vote to honor Larry Miller posthumously. That man was committed to his team and community just as much as any other owner in sports. He deserves a huge shout out for keeping his team in Salt Lake through some really difficult times. Not only that, but the Jazz win. Even though they don’t have the rings, the Jazz have been to the playoffs as consistently as any other elite team in the league.

  • Nyeme

    I think Cuban is #1 because he bleeds his team colors. He is overbearing, but you can tell that he wants nothing more than to bring a chip to the city of Dallas. Sh!t, he’s like the only owner that will jump on the court and throw blows for his guys. And they have been a competitive his entire tenure. @ #9 Most owners stay in the backgroud because they have zero basketball interest.

    I think Larry Miller is #2, for them building a winning and professional atmosphere for the past 2 decades. This is the organization that terminated a player’s contract so that he would be allowed to play in a city where his daughter would be able to get cancer treatment. An all-around class act and organization. Notice how players NEVER complain about being there or get in trouble.

  • Mt Pleasant

    Huge vote for Michael Heisley from Vancouver.

    Breaks my heart to watch empty Memphis arenas on Sportcenter.

  • Joe’s Momma

    Jerry Buss got lucky with Pat Riley, this guy came out of left field. But everything else is on the mark.

    And MJ as 4th worse??? GTFOH, everyone was on Kwame Brown’s nuts that year. Who would they have picked instead, Tyson Chandler? Eddy Curry? I mean there was no consensus #1 but everyone was enamored with Kwame.

    And Trading Rip, eventually lead to getting Antawn Jamision (after Stack was moved to Dallas), so I would say that was pretty good.

    Dude gave up his ownership rights to actually suit up, that alone should propel him out the the worst category. Although he got shafted once the team began to increase in value. Abe Polin, RIP, but schrewd business man. He told MJ to bend over and take it biotch!

    Lets give Jordan a chance here, I’m not saying he will be the best, but he sure as hell aint 4th worst.

  • http://minusthebars.blogspot.com don

    By far, Mark Cuban is one of the best owners I have ever witnessed in the history of any sports. Like you said, Dallas hasn’t won any championships under his watch, but the franchise can rest assured that he is trying his darndest.

    It’s a wonder that Donald Sterling still has an NBA team. I remember back when the Clippers would draft players and trade them, once it came time to pay them REAL money.

    Michael Jordan also got rid of Washington’s monster contracts that held the franchise hostage for years. Does that factor into the equation.

    Diehard Knick fan here, I have suffered due to James Dolan. Trust me, you don’t know the pains I have felt as it pertains to Knicks brass.

  • No Names Please

    George Shinn should definitely be on this worst owners list. Moving the hornets. Now not supporting CP3.

  • Daniel Marks

    Larry Miller was a great owner, as were the late Bill Davidson (Pistons) and Abe Pollin (Wizards). All three not only transformed their teams but they bettered their communities in the process. All three owners would have made the list, and posthumously should have been mentioned. But since the poll just deals with current owners, due to their passing they couldn’t be included.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dworlds David Brandon

    no love for the maloofs??

  • Sweet English

    Im sick of hearing shit about MJ picking Kwame back in the day. Everyone was on Kwame’s jock back then. Your all fucking fantastic GM’s after your picks have played in the NBA for a few years arent you? If one of you could hook MJ up with one of your time machines, im sure he’ll make a fantastic GM.

    Not saying MJ IS a great/good/satisfactory GM or anything, but its the first thing everyone mentions.

  • derik

    as a long term Suns fan, i really really hate Robert Sarver… i miss the Matrix so much, he is worst no.1 on my list

  • Lycurgus

    The MaGoof clan in Sacramento should be right behind Sterling. They use to be top notch and then they were suckered in to buying a Vegas casino (not even on the strip). Since these saps purchased the place, they have been losing their shirts so they have been syphoning off from the team thinking the fans wouldn’t notice. They have been trying to get the public to pay for their sucker mistakes via public funding for a new arena and the public said NO. Since then they have been the stingiest and have completely gutted the franchise to the point that no one wants to buy it.

  • Lycurgus

    Oh and Joe’s Momma is on the right track with Buss. Jerry West has been running the Lakers for decades, even when he was working for other teams, the Lakers always made out. He’s not ‘The Logo’ for nothing!

  • imungloloupaw


    I think Sarver can be considered as one of the worst five owners because he sold away all those picks when Phoenix was just 1-2 pieces away from the title. As a business owner, he should have considered those picks as long term investments that would lengthen the team’s good run. He could have ensured that the team make a sizable amount of profit for the next 10-15 years by paying the luxury tax for a few years but instead he took the greedy path and refused to make those investments.

  • http://dimemag.com greg linscomb

    Anyone else see that 3 of the list’s top 5 are in Texas. I think the Spurs are responsible for the Mavericks and Rockets to get better. Kind of all follow the same model. Solid owner with resources to let their gm and coaches do their job. Willing to spend when necessary and knowing when to pull the reins back when your not going anywhere. They also have 3 of the best GM’s in the business. Just saying.

  • fan

    NO team in the worst owners list went to the playoffs but mj’s. You clearly have an agenda. Hater.