Vivek Ranadive, the controlling owner of US basketball team Sacramento Kings, is a true believer. He believes in data. He believes in “Civilization 3.0” — that the world is entering a stage of massive disruption and that cities are one of mankind’s 10 greatest inventions. He believes that he can make basketball the second most popular sport in India. He believes in gluten-free consumption, which he says “declutters your mind”. But more than anything, he believes in himself.
“This will sound corny, but when I wake up, the first thought I have is, ‘What can I do to make a difference and make the world better?’” Ranadive, 61, said recently. It does sound corny. But Ranadive is entering a new phase as the head of an NBA franchise. The Kings recently travelled to Mumbai to play the Indiana Pacers. Ranadive has made bringing the sport to his home country a core part of his identity as an owner, pitching it as a way to keep the NBA growing.
“If you think about basketball and you think about India, Indians love to celebrate,” Ranadive said. “Indians love to party. Indians love Bollywood and showmanship.”
Ranadive himself doesn’t have much swagger. He’s thinking about the next moment, the next goal. That stems from his childhood, Ranadive said. “The way I was raised was that if you came second, you were a loser,” Ranadive said. He added, “My hatred for failure is greater than my love for success.” But. And there is a but.
The data is not kind to Sacramento, and Ranadive is a man who values data to help him avoid failure. The last time the Kings made the playoffs was 2006. Since Ranadive took over the team in 2013, the Kings have gone through four head coaches. There have been notable draft misses, like Nik Stauskas in 2014. Cap space has not yielded much. Ranadive said he expected the Kings to contend for championships within five years from now, but the franchise has not been, at least from the outside, a picture of stability.
Along with being one of the few controlling owners of colour in professional sports, Ranadive has set himself apart for his willingness to engage about social justice issues and politics — to an extent. He voiced support for the NBA’s decision to pull its All-Star game from Charlotte, North Carolina, over a state law that made it legal to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. He criticised President Trump in 2017 for comments on protesting NFL players, and recently posted on Twitter that climate change is “the greatest challenge facing the next generation”.
Ranadive’s oft-repeated immigrant success story begins around age 16. He was attending IIT, Mumbai, when he was also accepted to MIT in Boston. Ranadive obtained his electrical engineering degree from MIT and, soon after, an MBA from Harvard Business School. Decades later, Ranadive made much of his fortune in Silicon Valley through the software company he founded, TIBCO, which re-envisioned how data is streamlined for everything from Wall Street to government agencies.
In 2013, Ranadive became a sort of hero in Sacramento, when he and a group of investors acquired the Kings from the Maloof family for a then-record $534 million. Another group of investors, led by Steve Ballmer, made an aggressive bid for the team with the intent of moving it to Seattle. But Ranadive, with grand plans for the construction of a new arena and global expansion of the game, won out. Now, the Kings’ on-court success is almost irrelevant to whether buying the team was a good investment.
© 2019 The New York Times