- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2023

In his 2019 book “Shut Up and Listen! Hard Business Truths That Will Help You Succeed,” Tilman Fertitta received an endorsement from Tom Brady. The NFL quarterback, in a blurb, insisted that, “You will want to reread and review Tilman’s timeless lessons for business owners over and over again.”

If Fertitta has his way, he’ll be able to apply those lessons in the recently retired Brady’s industry soon enough. 

Fertitta, the Houston Rockets NBA owner who built his wealth as a restaurant tycoon, has reportedly submitted an offer slightly above $5.5 billion to purchase the Commanders — making him one of the few known candidates to be in the mix for the franchise. 

Of the team’s potential buyers, Fertitta has seemed to embrace the public limelight in a way that Josh Harris and Jeff Bezos have not.

From 2016 to 2018, Fetitta hosted a reality TV show called “Billionaire Dollar Buyer” that aimed to prop up small businesses. He makes regular media appearances, including just a few weeks ago when the 65-year-old Texas-based billionaire shouted “Pray for Victor!” at the conclusion of a local interview at a Mardi Gras celebration — a nod to can’t-miss French basketball prospect Victor Wembanyama.

Fertitta’s showmanship would be a stark change of pace from Commanders owner Dan Snyder, who rarely makes public appearances anymore.

And, as with Harris, the co-owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils, Fertitta’s ownership of the Rockets provides a glimpse of how he might run an NFL team. There are big differences between typical NFL and NBA business practices, but Fertitta appears to take pride in applying his overall philosophy — a philosophy that emphasizes attention to detail — to everything he owns.

“When I go into my businesses, I pay attention and look for what’s wrong,” Fertitta wrote for Fox Business in 2019 prior to the launch of his book. “I’ve trained myself to see little things that matter. It drives some of my colleagues crazy, but I take their complaints as compliments. 

“Little things truly matter in taking a business from good to extraordinary.”

With the Rockets, though, Fertitta has perhaps had to temper his expectations. His Rockets teams — he bought the franchise in 2017 for $2.2 billion — have gone from title contenders in his first years of ownership to cellar dwellers. This season, Houston has the NBA’s second-worst record at 15-50 and is on track to finish its third straight campaign with a winning percentage below .300. 

But part of that may be by design.

After superstar James Harden demanded a trade in 2020, Fertitta and the Rockets embraced a long-haul rebuild, with the owner stressing patience in a 2021 interview with ESPN.

The rebuild has landed them top-three picks in guard Jalen Green (second overall in 2021) and forward Jabari Smith Jr. (third overall in 2022), and may put them in a position to draft Wembanyama — a 7-foot-4 center who is a lock to be drafted first overall this summer. The Rockets hold a 14% chance at the first pick currently.

“I never thought I could feel this good when I’ve been so upset about losing,” Fertitta said in 2021. “But when I look at all the draft picks that we have and the future, I’m just happy.”

And during his tenure as owner, Fertitta has drawn criticism for reportedly influencing the team’s decision to trade Chris Paul for Rusell Westbrook in 2019 — a move that arguably led to the unraveling of Houston’s status as a top team in the Western Conference. Though Harden reportedly wanted Westbrook as a teammate, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon remarked in 2020 how Fertitta viewed Paul’s contract as the “worst that he’d ever seen in business and sports.” 

“That trade was made because Tilman Fertitta wanted it made,” MacMahon said on the “Zach Lowe Podcast.” 

Fertitta has said that he takes recommendations from his basketball executives, who bring him proposals. “I either bless it or kill it,” he told The Athletic in 2019. In another interview with YouTuber Tai Lopez, Fertitta said that he “never” works out of his Rockets office and instead goes to his other office to focus on his other businesses. 

“I know what I know and I know what I don’t know,” said Fertitta, the CEO of Landry’s, Inc., a dining and hospitality brand. “I’m not going to scout players and I’m not going to tell you who to pick. … I just can’t get contribute enough.”

Whether Fertitta will be able to land the Commanders is still up in the air. His $5.5 billion bid falls short of Snyder’s reported asking price, which falls between $6 billion and $7 billion, depending on the report. But this isn’t the first time that Fertitta has expressed interest in football: He was a minority owner with the Houston Texans until 2008, when the NFL forced him to sell his shares because of his involvement in a gambling-related business.

Fertitta owns Golden Nugget Casinos, and it’s unclear whether that would still be a roadblock to buying an NFL franchise. But at the very least, he seems very determined to try once again. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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