There’s a cautious optimism among Raptors fans this summer. After seven years at the helm—some good, some bad—Bryan Colangelo parted ways with the organization to be replaced by his one-time protégé, Masai Ujiri. Ujiri has taken little time in implementing his vision for the franchise and tying up loose ends—the most obvious being the imperative trade of Andrea Bargnani to the Knicks. The Raptors are therefore at a crossroads: A new G.M., the departure of an enigmatic player, and the promise of more changes to come.
We recently had the honour of sitting down with the man himself to discuss his love of basketball, charity work, and dear to our hearts at BALLnROLL, his sharp sense of style— And yes, we think Mr. Tanenbaum is one of the best dressed owners in the Association.
BALLnROLL: In 1991 you spearheaded the effort to bring a NBA franchise to Toronto. Today, you are the chairman of MLSE and have a 25% ownership of the Toronto Raptors. Where did this passion for sports and basketball come from?
Larry Tanenbaum: I was born and grew up in Toronto, so from a very early age I was a big fan of the Maple Leafs. During my years at Cornell University, I was privileged to act as Team Manager for the Big Red Hockey Club under Ned Harkness. He was a great coach and not only knew how to build a network to recruit some of the best players ever to play at Cornell, but set a great example with his leadership, dedication, hard work and good sportsmanship. My successes, first in the heavy civil construction and road building business and later in the business of sports, were all rooted in the examples set for me by people who were and are very important to me, and Ned Harkness was one of those people. My love for all sports grew out of my early exposure to people who themselves were great fans.
BnR: Were you a fan of the NBA growing up and do you have any NBA memories that stand out to you?
LT: I was a big fan of two of the “original 17” teams – the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks – and both these teams are still operating today. Who can ever forget watching great players like Celtics Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Bob Cousy, Dave Cowens, Coach Red Auerbach, and the Knicks Bill Bradley, Charles Oakley, Willis Reed and Walt Frasier. These players were huge in their day and a joy to watch.
BnR: You are regularly seen courtside at Raptor games. You travel to AllStar games and attend many NBA events. Being a visual owner, has the pressure of the Toronto Raptors to succeed and make the playoffs trickled down to you?
LT: As an owner and a fan, I am all about winning – and bringing the championship to Toronto. All of us at Maple Leaf Sports feel the pressure to succeed and we are working hard to produce championship teams.
BnR: How did you bring Masai Ujiri to Toronto and is it true you gave him carte blanche going forward to rebuild the Raptors?
LT: Masai is a former member of our Raptor family and when the opportunity arose, he was at the top of the list of candidates for the job. He was approached by our CEO, Tim Leiweke, and the rest is history. Masai has the confidence of the Board and management to make whatever decisions are needed to build a championship team.
BnR: Is there a goal for the Raptors to reach this year, if not reached would be another failed year? What would be that goal in your eyes?
LT: This year we are planning to build on the strengths of the team and to address the weaknesses. Any year in which the Coaches and players put forward their best efforts is not a failed year. There is something to be learned every time a game is played.
BnR: Mount Sinai, Baycrest, Shulich , CIJA , UJA, I can go on and on about the many boards you’re on and charities you’re involved with, how has your father and mother shaped you to be so involved, give back and never forget your Jewish heritage?
LT: My father, Max Tanenbaum, was a great entrepreneur and industrialist, who with only a sixth grade education, left the ravages of Europe to find hope and prosperity in this remarkable home we all share here in Ontario. Max was a man of vision, but more than anything, he was a man of honour – his word was his bond.
My father and mother, Anne, exemplified the values of “tzedakah” (charity) and instilled them in us. My mother was a great believer in education and together with my father, supported many educational endeavours, including the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, TanenbaumCHAT, and 10 Research Chairs at the University of Toronto and 4 Toronto teaching hospitals. It is important to my family and me that we do our best to set the stage for a much deeper understanding between people of many faiths and cultures. This, for me, is the very essence of our great country, Canada, a beacon of multiculturalism and pluralism.
BnR: I can see you’re involved with many hospitals, tell us about your recent $35 million dollar donation to Mount Sinai. What made you give such a large gift and why specifically to Mount Sinai?
LT: I have been proudly associated with Mount Sinai Hospital for over 30 years. I remember well the vision, planning and commitment to build a Research Institute within the hospital and I remember the tremendous sense of achievement and excitement that accompanied the official opening of the Institute in 1985. I have closely followed its progress under the outstanding leadership of Dr. Lou Siminovitch, Dr. Allan Bernstein, Dr. Tony Pawson and now, Dr. Jim Woodgett. I have witnessed its greatness. I have experienced the tremendous contribution it has made to patient care, teaching and research in our community. I have had the privilege of becoming intimately familiar with the work of this world renowned Institute.
There are many reasons for the greatness and success of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute.
– Our reseachers’ desire to succeed is infectious,
– Our scientists’ work is driving medicine in the new millennium,
– Their groundbreaking discoveries are truly amazing.
Having said that, I know that you will understand when I tell you what an inspiration their work and its possibilities have been for me.
I wished to find an innovative way to partner with the government in supporting our researchers and their groundbreaking work on all our behalf.
With that goal in mind, you can understand my intent in making my gift.
I want to help the research community & our renowned scientists build on their strengths.
BnR: In our opinion, you’re one of the best dressed owners in the league. Where do you get your fashion sense and what does fashion mean to you?
LT: Thank you. I believe it is important to dress appropriately for the occasion. Any fashion sense I have I owe to my wife, Judy, who has an excellent eye for fashion.