WASHINGTON (AP) — The NHL is in better financial shape than the NBA because of a salary cap "that protects owners from taking stupid pills," says the owner who is about to have control of a team in both leagues.
Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis told the National Press Club on Friday that he's getting a firsthand look at the NHL-NBA differences as he prepares to take over as majority owner of the Washington Wizards.
"I'm surprised because now I see all of the NBA financials," Leonsis said. "And I'd honestly have to say at this point in time that the NHL is stronger than the NBA, clearly because it has a CBA in place that protect owners from taking stupid pills.
"There is a hard cap in the NHL. In the NBA, you can spend a lot of money and every dollar you're over this luxury tax you get fined. And there's a lot of basketball teams who are losing a lot of money."
The NBA is expected to push for changes in its flexible salary cap structure when its collective bargaining agreement expires after next season, and a lockout is possible if the players' union doesn't agree.
Leonsis has already been through that scenario, overspending for Jaromir Jagr and other players not long after buying the Capitals in 1999. After the NHL lockout in 2004-05, Leonsis rebuilt his team through the draft under a new CBA with a hard salary cap.
Leonsis plans the same approach with the Wizards, once the NBA approves his purchase of the team from the estate of the late Abe Pollin. It starts with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, which the franchise won earlier this week in the NBA lottery.
"The Washington Capitals' plan is one now that is being best-practiced by lots of other teams," Leonsis said. "And I believe (in) young players that you can mold and teach, and they'll know that if they play well they will be the ones who are rewarded with your loyalty and money — not strangers who have been productive for another team."
Leonsis said he plans to start out his NBA ownership "as an idiot savant," talking to every person in the company and every owner in the league. His personal interactions with fans — particularly through e-mails — that have made him such a popular NHL owner will carry over to the NBA.
Many in the room applauded when an audience member asked if Leonsis would consider changing the Wizards' name back to the Bullets and reinstate the Bullets' red, white and blue color scheme. Leonsis said that issue wasn't exactly at the top of his list, but he didn't rule it out. Pollin had changed the name because of the violent connotation of the word "bullets."
"I probably will like red colors more than the teal-blue that they have," Leonsis said. "I intend to listen to people, but I also think Mr. Pollin made a personal decision and I want to understand it, and I want to pay the appropriate respect that a decision like that would deserve."
Leonsis, who says he's not much into superstition, also had an amusing story surrounding the Wizards' luck in the lottery. It started when he got a stain on his shirt and tie while leaning to answer a phone before leaving for the Capitals' Game 7 against Montreal last month. He quickly changed his clothes.
"I'd never changed clothes so close to the game," Leonsis said. "And we lost 2-1, and I've just got to wonder if I contributed to the loss."
So, this week, after Leonsis had dressed to go to the lottery and to meet with NBA owners, his wife pointed out that he had accidentally mixed his black pinstripe coat with his blue pinstripe paints. The wife told him to go upstairs and change, but Leonsis thought about it and said no.
"And so I went to New Jersey," Leonsis said, "and we got the No. 1 pick!"