Anyone who is reading this most likely saw the amazing 30 For 30 on ESPN documentary Big Shot, about the John Spano Islanders ownership debacle.
But what if the whole thing would’ve worked? What if he was able to actually pull off the greatest heist in hockey since the LA Kings got Wayne Gretzky? Would the Isles be playing in a new Nassau Coliseum? Would they have already been successful? Would the Drive for Five have come to fruition?
There were numerous chances for this to work: a loan from Cablevision, the possibility of the Garden City Hotel bailing out Spano or even Spano figuring out a way to come up with the $17M he owed for a down payment. Fact is, we will never know what could have happened-good or bad. But, we can speculate.
Let’s play the what if game. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, Spano was able to secure a loan for the $17M he needed to pay then Isles owner John Pickett? You have to figure that he would get caught soon after right? Well, not so fast! The possibility of him getting caught, although ever present, would have gone down tremendously.
Once he got past the initial screening process, and paid the money to take official ownership, he would be good to go. He would start pulling in money from different revenue streams, including the newly extended cable deal. As much as Isles fans hate MSG, Cablevision and everything having to do with that decrepit building on 34th Street, without the Cablevision deal, that Spano signed, the Isles would be in Qubec or Portland or Minnesota right now.
If Spano was able to lie his way into ownership, it’s very possible the Islanders would be playing in a brand new Nassau Coliseum right now. We all know how Nassau County politics work. It’s a disaster. Republican, Democrat, Whig party. It doesn’t matter. They are all atrocious. Getting anything to work in Nassau is impossible. You can grow old waiting for any improvements on Long Island. Let’s not leave Suffolk out of this. They are not much better.
So, when John Spano took control of the team, one of his first actions was to try to negotiate a new arena deal. It’s would be very possible that if he was able to swindle his way into full ownership, this would have gotten done. I know what you’re saying, “If Charles Wang couldn’t do it, what makes you think Spano could?” Easy. Different time in Nassau politics. The county is currently broke. In 1997, the economy was booming. We were not worried about coming out of a recession. There was no talk of an economic recovery.
Nassau County wanted to get a deal done for the Islanders by 2001. Obviously that didn’t happen. The Isles could very well be talking about the upcoming 15th anniversary of the new Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale in 2015. Instead they are talking about the move to Brooklyn. As they said at the end of the 30 For 30, “The Islanders did get a new arena deal done under current owner Charles Wang…..in Brooklyn.” That comment speaks for itself.
The Islanders have been a league-wide joke since 1995. The “Gang of Four” and their disastrous color and logo change , the lack of regular season success, the fact they still have not won a playoff series since the magical spring of 1993.
If the Isles won the Stanley Cup in 1993, it would have been just 10 years removed from their last one. As fans, we would have very little to be THAT upset about. However, that did not happen. They lost to the Canadiens in the Conference Finals. So, coming off those awful events, including the year 1994, which to Isles fans, didn’t happen, it would have been amazing to have an owner like John Spano promised to be.
He promised to improve the team in 1997 and raise their bottom of the league payroll. Who could have come to Long Island in the years that followed? Who knows? But, suffice it to say with an owner who was willing to lie to buy the team, why wouldn’t he spend money? Once he cleared the “I have 10% of what it takes to own a pro sports team” hurdle, why wouldn’t he spend money? It really isn’t his! Could you imagine the last 15 years with a payroll? This does not mean that the Isles were automatically Stanley Cup champs.
Every time you have the possibility of a new owner for your team, the future looks bright. You think that this will finally be the guy to bring your team back to prominence. This will be the owner that will turn things around. Unfortunately, half the time, 2 years later, he is being booed.
We will never know what would have happened if John Spano’s scam went forward. When you’re playing with the house’s money, the possibilities are endless.