Rugby World Cup
This Week's Issue
Life of Reilly
SI for Women
CNN/SI - TV
Golf Pro Shop
MLB Gear Store
NFL Gear Store
SI FOR KIDS
Mario Lemieux takes over in Steeltown
Posted: Tuesday September 28, 1999 02:37 PM
By Kostya Kennedy, Sports Illustrated
In trying to predict how well Mario Lemieux will or will not serve as the owner of the Penguins in the months and years to come, I hearken to what Gene Orza, the blunt, intelligent deputy chief of the Major League Baseball players' union once said to me: "What do good owners do, really? They own things."
In other words, owners can be decidedly hands-off. Lemieux can, should -- and, he says, will -- leave the running of the team to general manager Craig Patrick and coach Kevin Constantine. Those two form perhaps the most astute GM-coach tandem in the NHL. Even on the business side, no one expects Lemieux to devise new strategies or implement innovative methods of operations. All he has to do, for as long as he dons his fashionable owner's suits, is be Mario Lemieux.
Already he is hockey's most recognizable owner, a looming figure who represents an indomitable majesty to all hockey fans. He reminds all those Pittsburghers who had grown weary of the Pens' financial misadventures of the sweeter, Cup-winning days of the early 1990s. A poll conducted by an advertising firm earlier this year asked Western Pennsylvanians to name the person who brought the most honor and respect to the community. No. 1 was Mister Rogers. Lemieux was second.
Having changed his sweater for a jacket, much like Mr. Rogers himself, Lemieux has been greeting his neighbors in splashy television commercials and in person. When he appeared at the Penguins practice rink, the Iceoplex at Southpointe, fans swarmed around him seeking his signature. There was palpable excitement in the air. Since his retirement two years ago, Lemieux has continued to live in Pittsburgh for the love of the city. When he bought the team, by converting the $32.5 million the club owed him in deferred payments into controlling equity of the club and then employing his considerable presence to round up other investors, he said: "It was important for me to keep the team in Pittsburgh."
Acting in advertisements, signing autographs, spreading civic pride. Lemieux is doing all that he can do.
Jaromir Jagr says he likes having Lemieux as an owner because Lemieux "wants to win every game." So do all owners. The Penguins will be good this season not because of Lemieux's influence but because they have Jagr, the most dominant player in the league, and a good group around him. As long as Jagr and Patrick and Constantine are around, they should continue to be a strong playoff team. Lemieux's greatest work as an owner, that of rescuing the bankrupt team, is already done. Now all he has to do is to keep on being Mario Lemieux.
Kostya Kennedy is a Sports Illustrated staff writer and regular contributor to CNNSI.com.
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.