Slam Dunk!

How billionaire bob johnson is making history as the first african american to acquire an nba basketball franchise


As the press conference concludes and all the questions have been answered, Johnson heads back to his waiting car. Torn tendon aside, there’s a spring in his step as he joins the ranks of African American “firsts” in sports. And just like Jackie Robinson, the first African American in a major sports league, or Bill Russell, the first black coach, or Willie Thrower, the first African American to quarterback an NFL team, Johnson knows getting there is just the beginning. It’s also about what you do once you’re in. So, what will Johnson and his organization do now that they’re in? Stay tuned.

Johnson’s Big Deals

  • Following the sale of BET, Robert Johnson formed The RLJ Companies. Under RLJ, Johnson owns, in whole or in part, the following:
  • The Charlotte, North Carolina, NBA Franchise
  • RLJ Development L.L.C.–a real estate investment company that currently owns 11 hotels with an enterprise value of $250 million
  • Leeward Islands Lottery Holding Company–an online lottery company operating in six Caribbean countries, including the U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Ortanique Restaurants–a restaurant group featuring Caribbean-influenced cuisine with locations in Washington, D.C.; Coral Gables, Florida; and Las Vegas
  • Wolverine Pizza–Pizza restaurants operating in Detroit
  • BET Soundstage–a nightclub located at Walt Disney World’s Pleasure Island in Orlando, Florida
  • Three Keys Music–a Silver Spring, Maryland-based jazz recording company
  • Vanguarde Media–a magazine publishing company that publishes three urban-oriented magazines: Honey, a young woman’s magazine; Heart & Soul, a female health and beauty magazine; and Savoy, a general interest feature magazine

Failed Deals

  • In 2000 — 2001, Johnson pledged some $140 million to purchase certain assets that were to result from the United Airlines/U.S. Airways merger. The airlines hoped the merger would appease antitrust legislators and Johnson was expected to walk away with D.C. Air, a regional airline that was to be operated out of Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport. Johnson’s plans were grounded when the Department of Justice said it would sue to stop the $12.3 billion deal in July 2001 over antitrust concerns.

Deals in the Works

  • Johnson is still looking to acquire 51% of Major League Baseball’s Montreal Expos. He has plans to move the team to the Washington, D.C., area. Johnson also mentioned the possibility of forming a regional sports network similar to the New York Yankees’ YES Networks.

While acquiring the Charlotte NBA expansion team makes Robert Johnson the first African American majority owner of a major U.S. sports franchise, several others have owned minority stakes. Here’s a list of some of the current and former minority owners and the teams they held interests in:




Peter Bynoe Attorney Denver Nuggets
Deron Cherry Former-NFL player, Entrepreneur Jacksonville Jaguars
Comer Cottrell Entrepreneur Texas Rangers
Ed Gardner Chairman, Soft Sheen Products Chicago Bulls
Earvin “Magic” Johnson Former-NBA Star, Entrepreneur Los Angeles Lakers
Michael Jordan NBA Star Washington Wizards
Bertram Lee Broadcasting executive Denver

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