The Sacramento Kings made national news this week when they announced Shaquille O’Neal was joining the franchise as a minority owner. Both literally and figuratively, O’Neal’s addition is a pretty big deal. The four-time NBA champion brings a wealth of credibility and celebrity cachet that only legitimizes the ownership group’s efforts in the capital region.
O’Neal’s presence in Sacramento wouldn’t possible today if not for his friendship with one man in particular. A man who was one of the first investors to step up in the fight to keep the Kings in Sacramento last winter.
“Once I saw that Mark Mastrov was involved (I was interested),” said O’Neal, who first partnered with Mastrov on expanding 24 Hour Fitness into the Miami area almost a decade ago. ”Like I said, I’ve been knowing him for 10 years and I know what type of brilliant businessman he is. I called him and I asked him if we could have a conversation. We talked about their plans, we talked about a lot of things and I asked him if I could be an investor and they accepted.”
Along with supermarket magnate Ron Burkle, Mastrov started off as the face of a proposed new ownership group in Sacramento. The 49-year-old bay area businessman declared his interest in the Kings back in January while the Maloofs were in the middle of negotiations to sell the team to a group of Seattle-based investors.
As one of the founders of 24 Hour Fitness, his success in the exercise business lent an air of hope to Sacramento’s chances in the fight to keep the team. But as the process played out, Mastrov’s role changed as he made room for other investors like the Jacobs family of Qualcomm fame and of course, principle owner Vivek Ranadivé.
His sacrifice for the good of the group is not a surprise. Spend a few minutes with Mastrov and you’ll find him to be unassuming and modest. He may not be the face or leading man of this new group in Sacramento, but that doesn’t mean his influence on the Kings’ plans has diminished.
“I think we’re all working hard, but Vivek and I have been fairly heavily engaged and we’re local,” Mastrov said of his involvement in the franchise. ”I live an hour away, so I’m here quite a bit so I can help.”
Going into this year’s draft, Mastrov was a fixture around the Kings practice facility, often times seen during pre-draft workouts. When the decisions were made to select Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum with the team’s first and second round picks, Mastrov was present in the team’s war room. And during the Kings general manager search, Mastrov was an active participant in the process, interviewing candidates along with Vivek Ranadivé and fellow co-owner Raj Bhathal.
“Well, Mark is my very good friend,” Ranadivé said of Mastrov. ”And I have great support and help from him. And he’s helping me in every aspect of this journey. So whether it has to do with the arena or I have questions about the basketball side, the business side – I talk to him often.
“I talk to him several times a day,” Ranadivé added. “So I have great support in the ownership group, but Mark is the person I talk most often to.”
Of everything the new regime has accomplished so far, landing O’Neal has been their biggest splash, thanks in large part to Mastrov’s relationship with the Big Aristotle.
“I thank him and Vivek every day,” O’Neal said. ”But I know what type of businessman Mark is. So I know if he’s involved, everything’s going to be damn near perfect. I read about Vivek and what he’s doing and I understand that they’re brilliant business minds. So when you team up with people like that, it makes your job easy.”
Every successful team has players that know their roles. As the Kings set to tip off a new era of basketball in Sacramento, it’s clear that Mastrov knows his.
LISTEN: More from Mastrov on his role in the Kings ownership structure