[From Live Yachting]
It’s been a busy two weeks, with travel and major events getting in the way of blogging. Had I written one more post two weeks ago, it would have been about the news of Larry Ellison’s basketball interest.
Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, has been among the three or four wealthiest Americans for years. In sports, he is best known for his America’s Cup yachts that have won the last two competitions. A little over two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the NBA’s decision to ban LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life, the WSJ reported that “Oprah Winfrey is joining with entertainment mogul David Geffen and Oracle Corp. Chief Executive Larry Ellison with an eye to buying the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers.”
We learn further down that in 2010,
Mr. Ellison unsuccessfully tried to purchase the Golden State Warriors, which are based near software maker Oracle in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Warriors were eventually sold for $450 million.
“Although I was the highest bidder, [former Warriors owner] Chris Cohan decided to sell to someone else,” Mr. Ellison said in a statement at the time. “In my experience, this is a bit unusual.”
Mr. Ellison, who routinely ditched schoolwork for basketball practice during his high-school years in Chicago, has yet to break into a major American sport.
His top sporting accomplishment has come in the America’s Cup, the world’s most famous yachting competition. He owns Oracle Team USA, the racing squad that lost the contest in 2003 and 2007 before winning in 2010 and 2013. Mr. Ellison, with an estimated wealth of more than $40 billion, lavished his own money on those campaigns; the head of Oracle Team USA estimated last year that the sailing squad’s budget for the 2013 America’s Cup was at least $115 million, though part of that came from corporate sponsors.
The Oracle chief has had basketball courts on at least two of his yachts, said Tom Ehman, who handles America’s Cup matters for Mr. Ellison. He said Mr. Ellison liked to relax by shooting hoops on these courts, and has had someone in a powerboat following the yacht to retrieve balls that go overboard.
How about that last detail? It got a fair bit of attention in the press, best of all in a piece the next day from the WSJ’s own sportswriter, Jason Gay, who imagines the powerboat pilot’s tale. Here’s an excerpt, starting with the tryout for the not-yet-explained job:
A couple of days later they brought me out to the Embarcadero. Put me in a powerboat, had me take the wheel and put a 12-foot net in my hand. Then they sent another boat out before me with a couple of dudes; told me to follow it.
All of a sudden, these guys just start chucking basketballs off the boat, right into the wake. They howled at me on a bullhorn to grab the basketballs with the net. It was completely bizarre. Here we are in San Francisco and I am reaching out with this net, grabbing Spalding basketballs and chucking them into the back of a boat. And it was tricky. If you know the water there, it’s windy as hell. They had the America’s Cup there for a reason.
The whole thing took about a half-hour. I guess I did OK. Something like 48 basketballs went into the ocean. I got 46. I heard nobody else got more than 30.
An hour after we returned to the dock, they told me I got the job. I still wasn’t sure what the job was. OWBR, they said. “Official Waterborne Basketball Retriever.” The pay was right. They wanted me to start immediately.
Mind you I still had no idea who I was doing this for, but the next week I’m flying first-class to Nice, and then a car picks me up to go to the Mediterranean. We pull into the harbor and I’m given the keys to a 44-foot powerboat.
“This is yours,” the guy said. “Go to that.” He points out into the sea.
And I look out and there is just the craziest and most blinged-out super yacht I’d ever seen. I mean, it looks like the Houston skyline. The guy tells me to keep the radio on channel 7 and wait for instructions.
“Instructions on what?” I ask.