In his interview with SI, Spano wouldn't be specific about anything—from the source of his assets to his motives in issuing rubber checks and misplacing decimal points. But he did say that in March and April, as he prepared to close on the Islanders sale, he faced a "significant" capital call (SCORECARD, July 28) and a note that came due. "I had to step up and pay," he said. "Timing wasn't good. I had hoped to then regroup and resolve my issue with [Pickett]. It had the ability to get resolved. I want to make that clear."
Spano says that any "ability" to resolve his purchase of the Islanders evaporated when Pickett, exasperated, appealed to the NHL office to intervene in the sale and word of that request leaked to the press. "That made it impossible to settle," Spano told SI, "because my reputation went from savior to devil."
Listening to Spano and reviewing his actions, one wonders if there is any financial pickle he'd admit to having no "ability to resolve." If he had deluded the bank, Pickett and the NHL, why wouldn't he delude himself?
Chief among the issues to be sorted out in courtrooms over the coming months is how someone could buy a pro sports franchise with a check that is forever in the mail. "The guy claimed he was rich and from New York, and the Islanders needed a buyer," says an executive with a major league baseball team, who insists that the chances of a similar scam occurring in his sport are remote. "I think the NHL was desperate to have this work out."
"Forget Gary Bettman allowing the transfer of a troubled franchise to [the wrong] guy," says Lites. "How about Fleet Bank? They wrote checks for $80 million. Figure that out. They're the ones with egg on their faces." Fleet Hank says it relied on the Islanders' assets in making the loan.
In any case the Spano affair has given those who run pro sports a powerful cautionary tale. As for the rest of us, we're left with a moral to go with "No man is an island": Any man can buy the Islanders.