- Adam Rubin, ESPNNewYork.com
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The son of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is interested in buying a share of the New York Mets.
Martin Luther King III, who runs the Atlanta-based King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, is part of a group wishing to purchase a share of the club from principal owner Fred Wilpon. The group also includes television executive Larry Meli, ex-Met Ed Kranepool and Donn Clendenon Jr., the son of another ex-Met, the New York Post reported on Sunday.
In a statement released to The Associated Press, King said there had been much discussion about his participation in the acquisition of the Mets. He said it was premature to make those discussions public, but said in the statement that he valued diversity among owners in pro sports.
"I believe in the merit and American value of creating an example, and, if I personally, or as part of a collective, can advance the vision of a more diverse ownership group in professional sports, domestically or internationally, then, like my father, I am prepared to act in that spirit," he said.
Fred Wilpon and son Jeff Wilpon, the Mets chief operating officer, announced Friday their intention to potentially sell 20-25 percent of the team to satisfy any judgment or settlement in a lawsuit brought by the trustee looking to recover money for victims of convicted swindler Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
The group including King III reportedly wants to have at least a 50 percent share of the team, which is a complication, since the Wilpons have stated they only intend to sell a minority share.
"I think in order for it to make sense it would have to be at least a 50-50 arrangement," Meli said.
King said he encouraged Meli because it would increase diversity. But King also said he was not actively putting together a group.
"This was blown up way out of proportion," King said Monday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "While I'm not leading a group and I'm not having direct conversations with the Wilpons, I think it is very important to promote diversity in ownership."
Others who have expressed interest in purchasing a share of the team reportedly include Mike Repole, owner of Kentucky Derby favorite Uncle Mo, who made a fortune selling Vitaminwater to Coca-Cola. Multiple reports also name Martin Silver, owner of Georgi Vodka, who has been oustspoken about his desire to purchase the club.
The Wilpons are viewed as net gainers in the Madoff scheme by the trustee. The New York Times reported the sealed lawsuit against the Wilpons may seek to recover $300 million in actual gains and up to $1 billion total because of alleged neglect in not recognizing the profit was ill-gotten.
As for the King group, Meli told the Post: "It's fitting with the legacy of Jackie Robinson essentially transferring to the Mets, what better place to have African-American ownership than with the Mets?"
Fred Wilpon, meanwhile, will meet with commissioner Bud Selig to discuss the team's financial woes, the New York Daily News reported on Monday.
It appears that this isn't the first trouble with Ponzi schemes that the Mets ownership group has run into. The New York Times reported Monday that Wilpon and brother-in-law Saul Katz, through a company called Sterling Stamos, actually were investors in what turned out to be a different scheme and were compelled to pay back money.
According to the report, the Wilpons returned $12.9 million two years ago under pressure. They had withdrawn their money from the fund operated by Samuel Israel III before its collapse after sensing impropriety.
A bankruptcy judge offered them the chance to explain their side to a jury but they declined and ultimately settled.
Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
2hJohn Fisher, ESPN Stats & Information