Nuggets Minority Owners See Purchase as Mixture of Pride, Good Business
BOSTON (AP) _ Bertram Lee, the 50-year-old Chicago businessman who just bought the Denver Nuggets with partner Peter Bynoe, still remembers the day Jackie Robinson walked onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to play major league baseball for the first time.
″I wasn’t there, mind you, but I remember the day,″ said Lee, 50, who with Bynoe, 38, becomes the first black owner of a professional sports franchise. ″It meant a lot to me. Next to my father, Jackie Robinson is my hero.″
So when comparisons are drawn between Robinson breaking the color barrier as a player and Lee and Bynoe’s pioneering acquisition of the Nuggets, Lee is understandably pleased.
″To be linked with Jackie Robinson in any way is one of the highest highs,″ said Lee, who owns radio and television stations and is involved in banking, real estate and communications concerns. He also is director of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a scholarship fund.
″Peter and I will forever be grateful for all the congratulatory telephone calls and telegrams we have received, most of which highlight the fact that this purchase marks a milestone in sports history,″ Lee said at a news conference stemming from their recent purchase of the Nuggets from previous owner Sidney Shlenker for $65 million.
But the attention focused on what Lee admits is his and Bynoe’s ″very special place in history,″ may be more media-generated than first apparent. Lee and his one-time protege Bynoe, 38, a Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School graduate, are businessmen - first and foremost.
″To the extent that we can be positive role models, we cherish that and think that’s great,″ said Bynoe. ″But that’s not our primary goal.″
Lee and Bynoe are both high achievers from families who placed a premium on accomplishment and growth. Lee grew up in Virginia, the son of a schoolteacher, whom he praises as his inspiration in life.
Bynoe grew up in Boston, attended schools there and went on to Harvard. Bynoe’s father, a lawyer, introduced him to Lee when he was a college student. Lee was ″first a mentor and then became a friend,″ Bynoe said.
While Lee’s hero is Jackie Robinson, Bynoe belongs to a different generation.
″Muhammad Ali is more my hero,″ said Bynoe. ″He said what he was going to do and he did it. And some people were mad that he said what was on his mind and went ahead and did it.″
Both said they are lifelong sports fans but basketball has not been an obsession. Lee, in particular, has been an avid tennis player for much of his life. At one time, he was a doubles partner of Arthur Ashe.
At first glance, Lee, holding forth at press conferences, appears smoother than Johnny Carson as he parries with reporters and trades quips with Byroe and new Nuggets president David Checketts.
″We’ve been rich and we’ve been poor but rich is better,″ joked Lee.
But when questions are asked that don’t suit him, Lee dismisses them with a polite, but deadly, flourish. Discussion over.
And when the public display is over, Lee’s good humor and quick wit all but disappears. He’s all business. Sentiment and pride about being the first black owners of an NBA franchise does not appear to be of paramount importance.
″It had to make good business sense first,″ said Lee, who does the much of the talking for himself and Bynoe. ″Our color is not the only criterion here. We have high hopes. We don’t want to become next year’s trivia question.″
″Anytime you make an investment of this magnitude, your first priority has to be business,″ said Bynoe. ″You have to protect and manage the investment.″
Lee and Bynoe have a number of other interests to watch over. Lee is chairman and president of BML Associates, an investment holding company in Boston; chairman and treasurer of Albimar Management, a communications company; president of KELLEE Communications Group Inc., a pay telephone company; and chairman of the Boston Bank of Commerce.
Bynoe is executive director of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, a joint venture between Chicago city officials and the state of Illinois.
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