But in those moments when he lets his guard down, he is revealed as a heavily involved owner-fan who so wants one of his teams to bring the first major-revenue sports title to this town in 20 years.
“I’m the first to admit I haven’t broken the code yet,” he said. “Until you win a championship, you can’t have a definitive point of view. We’re trying really hard with the Caps. With the Wizards we’re in a different place. We can’t talk honestly, authentically about a championship until you say, ‘We’ve improved. We’ve made the playoffs.’ Then, it’s, ‘Oh we’re in the playoffs and now how do we improve the team.’ ”
You tell him it all feels like a Jedi mind trick, where he keeps saying in a hypnotic voice, “Yes, we will be good, we will be good,” like Luke in “Return of the Jedi” saying, “You will take me to see Jabba.”
He laughs. “You know what, though? I believe that enthusiasm, positive culture — the players seeing you making investments — [make] players want to play here. Nene is probably a case in point, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to Washington. Hey, I just met the owner. You know what? I kind of like the owner. Hey, I just spent some time with the young players. I think they’re going to be good. Hey, we’re playing pretty good. You know what? This is a great city. Geez, I was unhappy with the trade. Now I’m really happy with the trade.’ So I mean, it happens. So I do think that positive force of will and energy is good.
“When you write about Andray now, that’s one of the bad things. He played and he would get booed by the fans. Bad for the fans, bad for him. Right? Not a positive, energetic act. So I do believe changing a culture, a business and franchise takes an inordinate amount of a-a-a-a-h-h-h,” Leonsis says, miming moving a large weight.
On its face it still seems insane, paying $23 million for one guy who never seemed to have real desire just to go away. But Leonsis anted up, moved on from the wreckage of the Wizards’ past for all the right reasons, proving how expensive the business of happiness can sometimes be.
To read a full transcript of Mike Wise’s interview with Ted Leonsis, visit wapo.st/leonsis. For Mike Wise’s previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.