He wasn’t on the ice when his Washington Capitals won the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup, but he was in the hearts of the fans who’d waited a while for Ted Leonsis, grandson of Greek immigrant parents, to deliver a championship in the nation’s Capital.
(Ted Leonsis is 21st at TNH’s 50 WealthiestGreek-Americans 2018 List)
Leonsis was born to a family of modest means in Brooklyn, and spent his early years there before moving back to his mother’s hometown of Lowell, Mass. a city that decades before had been one of the biggest Greek immigrant enclaves in the country, packed with coffeehouses and Greek families in a neighborhood called The Acre.
He was graduated from Lowell High in 1973 – where a guidance counselor thought the young man’s future was to work in a grocery store and from Georgetown – in Washington – in 1977, moving back to Lowell to work as a communications manager for Wang Labs, one of the first major computer companies that flourished while he was there. He already had the touch of a skilled face-off hockey player and the mental toughness of Gordie Howe.
In 1980, Leonsis started his own company, which grew quickly, and sold it to International Thompson for $60 million in 1981. He then started Redgate, a major media communications company which he sold to AOL in 1993, becoming its President.
None of that came close to not happening. He survived a small plane crash in 1983 and drew up a list of 101 goals he wanted to accomplish and said he’s gone through 82 of them – without saying if the Stanley Cup can now be added.
Greek-American sports teams owners have tried before. Peter Angelos has owned the Baltimore Orioles since 1993. George Argyros owned the Seattle Mariners from 1980-89. Alex Spanos owns the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, moving the team there in 2017 after 56 years in San Diego. They had begun in LA in 1960 and reached the Super Bowl in 1995 only to be crushed 49-26 by the San Francisco 49’ers.
Leonsis, 61, also owns the Washington Wizards basketball team and other sports franchises under the umbrella of his Monumental Sports and Entertainment, as well as the arena in which the major league teams play.
He bought the Capitals in 1999 and when they won the cup, beating the expansion team Vegas Golden Knights, he stood on the ice alone, remembering the journey perhaps that led from Lowell to the top of the hockey world, after seeing photos in Washington of streets packed with happy fans, the Washington Post said before a parade that was, well, Monumental.
“I’ve always believed nothing brings a city closer together than a winning sports team,” Leonsis said. But there was a lot of angst and anguish before they did, repeatedly being sent packing in the playoffs although he had built a star-studded team around Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin.
“It’s much, much sweeter to go through all of the pain and suffering to get to the top of the mountain. That’s the way life is. That’s the way great businesses get built. It’s never easy,” he told the paper.
“Never lost confidence in the group and the core,” Leonsis said. “To be honest, I never lost confidence in myself and our leadership group. I just think if you attack things with integrity and you have stick-with-it-ness, then good things will happen.”