In the final installment of our four part Black History Month Profile series (the first being hall of famer Marion Motley, the second being on Joe Louis, and the third being Jesse Owens ) we will focus on the first black owner in the four majors; Robert L. Johnson.
Before 2002 every single owner in the NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB was white. Every owner before them was white. That all changed in 2002. The NBA was looking to put a franchise BACK in Charlotte after the Hornets had moved to New Orleans. At the age of 56 Robert L Johnson beat out the likes of Larry Bird to become the first majority black owner of a major league team in the US.
Johnson moved to Washington DC and worked in television. Working his way up in the field, where he realized there was an untapped potential. He launched “Black Entertainment Network” (BET) in 1980. BET became a juggernaut, becoming the first black owned company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
In 2001 Viacom bought BET for $3 billion dollars. With the sale of BET Johnson became the first black billionaire. While Johnson remained with BET until 2006, the sale gave him the funds to make a run at pro sports. He bought the Bobcats for $300 million.
Unfortunately for Johnson buying the Bobcats was one of the few business ventures that didn’t pay off. He sold his stake in the Bobcats to Michael Jordan in 2006 for a reported $275 million, but years of taking losses actually put him in the hole for $150 million dollars.
While the move didnt work out for Johnson, the man he sold the team to (Jordan) took over the title as the only black owner in the four major sports.