We need a serious Howard Schultz presidential run like we need another government shutdown.
Of course, we could get both. Let’s hope we get neither.
Schultz must know his controversial tenure as owner of the Seattle SuperSonics is a major vulnerability as he ramps up for an independent run for president. He’s been apologizing abjectly, calling it a “public wound I cannot heal” in a new autobiography. (Hands up everyone who’s been champing at the bit for a new tell-all Howard Schultz autobiography.)
Just because someone has billions and can shoehorn his way into the national conversation doesn’t mean he has any business being president. Haven’t we learned this already?
If not, a 2012 Deadspin article about Schultz’s short, ignoble foray into professional sports will be instructive.
Written by Jeremy Repanich, a former Sonics employee who had a ringside seat during Schultz’s disastrous tenure, which included the team’s sale to an investment group that moved the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City, the story paints a picture of a greedy, petulant — one might even say Trumpian — billionaire who was more interested in fluffing fellow rich guys than delivering a quality product to middle-class and working-class fans.
A few choice excerpts:
He was a man accustomed to walking into a boardroom and bending it to his will, and he began his Sonics reign full of unearned bravado. On the flight home from New York after the NBA confirmed his takeover of the team, he sat with Wally Walker, the former player and Goldman Sachs man who, as the team's GM, had just brokered the deal. Schultz turned to Walker and said in all sincerity, “OK, now we need to get Garnett”—as if he could decree such a thing and it would simply be so. At the All-Star Game in 2002, he announced to an assembled group of owners that he'd have a ring when they saw him the following year.
Holy shit, who does that sound like?
But it gets worse — way worse.
The team struggled, and Schultz didn't get along so well with its famously mouthy leader, [Gary] Payton, whom he shipped to Milwaukee in 2003 in exchange for Ray Allen.
Mmm-hmm. Doesn’t get along with his employees, 86’s them on a whim. That’s Trump, too.
A year removed from that improbable division title and playoff run, the Sonics went back in the shitter, but that didn't stop Schultz from launching his quest for an arena in 2006. His timing and tenor left much to be desired. The week of the Super Bowl, he announced in a whiny, entitled interview that the Sonics needed new digs. “It's very clear to us that the city and state officials are not showing us the kind of respect we feel we deserve,” Schultz said. “It's ironic with the Seahawks going to the Super Bowl and the community, the state, so galvanized by a sports team, that here we are in a position that's so unfortunate.” Angry fans wondered why one team's owner would upstage another local team during the most important week in its history.
So he whines about infrastructure and demands the city pony up for a vanity project.
And … one more:
Alas, [Wally] Walker didn't have the good sense to lie to us. He went through a litany of minor reasons why the team needed a new arena: higher capacity, bigger arena footprint, more room for high-end concessions, more places for premium seat holders, a.k.a. the super rich, the people who could afford a pair of courtside season tickets for $70,000. These were the justifications he offered us to explain why we were asking for a heaping pile of taxpayer dollars. After Walker's spiel, a member of the sales staff asked the fateful question: “Wally, what will this arena upgrade do for Joe Sixpack—the regular fan?” Dead silence. After an uncomfortable few seconds, Walker said, “Well, nothing.” The wind went out of me. It was as if he'd punched me in the stomach.
Eventually, Schultz sold the team, and its new owners ultimately moved it to Oklahoma City.
Why? Because he couldn’t get a new arena that catered primarily to ultra-wealthy people like himself. And it’s not like the team was playing in a crumbling, obsolete facility. Just a decade earlier, KeyArena, where the team had played, had undergone a major remodel with the help of $100 million in municipal bonds.
So fans were naturally confused as to why the team would need a new facility so soon.
Oh, and then there’s this little anecdote.
Turns out Schultz once gave his employees Starbucks gift cards for the holidays. Sounds nice, right?
One member of the staff—who wasn't a Starbucks regular—decided to use his card to get some snacks. When he went to pay for his roughly five dollars' worth of food, he asked how much money remained on the card. “Well, you owe me money,” the cashier said. The Sonics employee asked how much had been on the card to begin with. “$3.50,” the barista replied. At the time, we would later learn, ordinary customers couldn't buy a Starbucks card with a value of less than $5. These were custom $3.50 gift cards.
So, yeah, there’s that.
We don’t need Trump-lite, even if — or especially because — he claims to be a Democrat.
Billionaires who give $3.50 gift cards to their employees and see no problem with holding a city hostage to secure a posh playground for millionaires should be dismissed out of hand.
We’ve heard this song before. And it sucks.
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