Michael E. Heisley Sr., a native Washingtonian and billionaire businessman who bought the Vancouver Grizzlies and moved the NBA team to Memphis, died April 26 in Illinois. He was 77.
The Grizzlies confirmed the death but did not say where he died; Mr. Heisley was a resident of St. Charles, Ill. The Commercial Appeal of Memphis reported that the cause was complications from a stroke suffered nearly 15 months ago.
Mr. Heisley, who had considered selling the team for several years, finally sold it before the start of the 2012-13 season to current owner Robert Pera founder and chief administrative officer of Ubiquiti Networks. The deal, completed in October 2012, was worth an estimated $377 million.
By the time Mr. Heisley sold the team, he had worked to rebuild the Grizzlies into contenders behind the core group of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, along with defensive star Tony Allen.
Mr. Heisley, chairman emeritus and co-founder of the Heico Companies, LLC, bought the team in 2000. He moved the club from Vancouver to Memphis and hired NBA great Jerry West as president of basketball operations.
Mr. Heisley was instrumental in getting the Grizzlies active in the community, forming the Memphis Grizzlies Charitable Foundation to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Among its projects, the foundation helped build the Memphis Grizzlies House, a temporary on-campus residence for families with children being treated at the hospital, according to the media guide.
Michael Edward Heisley was born in Washington on March 13, 1937, and grew up in Alexandria, where he graduated in 1955 from George Washington High School. He received a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in 1960 and was a computer salesman before going into business for himself.
According to Forbes magazine, he used the $150,000 proceeds from his house sale and borrowed another $10 million to buy Conco, maker of sewer and drain equipment. He then borrowed against Conco’s cash flow to buy financially struggling Rust Belt manufacturers. He eventually helped start Heico Cos., described by Forbes magazine as a “Chicago holding company that buys under-performing or bankrupt companies to turn them around.”
Mr. Heisley and his wife, the former Agnes Mullikin, who survives him, had five children.
— from staff and wire reports