November 1997: Isiah Jumps Ship
Now, I know what you're thinking: we should be praising Allah for Isiah's departure from Raptor management. But it's not about the fact that Isiah left, it was all the sordid shenanigans behind the scenes that led up to Isiah's departure. Really, this dubious moment is actually a string of dubious moments that continues to haunt the franchise to this very day.
A quick history of Raptor ownership...
Through the tenacious lobbying of Larry Tanenbaum the NBA decides to award franchise to city of Toronto. Incredibly Tanenbaum does not win bid to franchise. Instead, franchise given to partnership of John Bitove (basketball nut) and Allen Slaight (stupendously unhip white guy). The franchise was given to this group based on plans for new arena at Bay & Dundas within three years. Isiah Thomas is cut in for 9% ownership when hired as GM.
One year later Slaight forces Bitove out bringing in Richard Peddie as team president, gawdammit. The ownership group realizes Bay & Dundas lot is too small, buys Canada Post building.
Isiah declares he is pursuing controlling ownership of franchise. Actual financing is found to be lacking but that doesn't stop local media from anointing him the next owner.
The possible partnership with Leafs falls through but Slaight continues proceeding with Air Canada Centre plans. Thomas cannot afford to finance his piece of the arena but continues to claim he will buy franchise. Actual financing is still lacking. Media claims Slaight keeps raising the price. Media also totally on Isiah's dick.
In August 1997, Isiah and Slaight finally announce that Isiah will not be buying the team. In retrospect probably the greatest moment in franchise history. During press conference Isiah claims, ""I'm firmly committed to staying here, I'm firmly committed to taking this team to a championship."
Within three months Isiah is pursuing a job at NBC. Not only could he not buy the team, he couldn't finance his 9% of the ACC.
Slaight leaks Isiah's NBC negotiations to Doug Smith at the Star to basically force Isiah out. As they part both Isiah and Slaight engage in some name-calling. Isiah claims that no arena should have been built and the money instead should have been funnelled into player salaries. This coming from a guy that gave Vincenzo Esposito half a million bucks and who cut Chris Whitney in order to keep BJ Tyler's salary on the books for 6 years. It took rest of world almost ten more years to realize that Isiah has no idea that an actual salary cap exists.
In the post-mortem of Isiah's departure, Dave Perkins writes loving ode to Isiah in which he claims that the Leafs were never going to play in the ACC and that the Raptors would be hard-pressed to survive in Toronto. Wrong and wrong.
Finally, in February 1998 Maple Leafs Sports Entertainment buys the Raptors. Peddie remains on board, gawdammit.