It's in the Can

When a major bargain becomes available, it doesn't take long for the sharpies to gather like vultures around carrion. Case in point: Now that disgruntled stockholders of the Ascent Entertainment Group have rejected a piddling $400 million offer for the Colorado Avalanche, the Denver Nuggets and the Can, their brand-new playpen on Auraria Parkway, anyone with half a billion or so in loose change is invited to get in on a new round of bidding.

The smart guys can't wait. With a chance to buy the mind and body of Nuggets center Raef LaFrentz, they're all salivating. Besides, if you wave your auction paddle at the right moment, the good folks at Ascent might just throw in a pair of hockey skates, a case of Diet Pepsi and Charlie Lyons's severed head.

Through no small effort, which included rifling through Rupert Murdoch's trash and grilling Marge Schott's Saint Bernard for some straight answers in the wee hours, we've obtained a heretofore secret list of highly motivated bidders for Ascent's properties. If Bill and Nancy Laurie, the cheapskate Wal-Martians whose lousy 400 mil was thrown back in their faces last week, hope to stay in the running, here are the forces they'll have to deal with:

1. Bill Gates. The Microsoft chairman, said to be the wealthiest human being on the planet, acknowledged last week that his entire acquaintance with sports consists of the time an 89-pound college gymnast broke his nose after she caught him trying to steal a pocket calculator out of her purse. Still, Gates sees upside potential in ownership of the Avs, Nuggs and Pepsi Center. "As anybody who saw that movie last week on TNT can tell you," he says, "I'm a ruthless computer geek without a soul, and I throw a ball like a three-year-old. But if I sit up in my luxury owner's suite during the game, the security guards will keep all those people who hate me from throwing whipped-cream pies in my face. The cost? No object. Instead of remodeling the bathrooms in my house this year, I may as well pick up a couple of sports teams. By the way, does Denver have a good sushi bar?"

2. The International Olympic Committee. With plenty of ill-gotten loot on hand, IOC members see the Ascent sale as a prime opportunity to expand into pro sports. "500 million?" scoffs IOC chairman Juan Antonio Samaranch. "The jewelry we scored from the boosters in Nagano is worth a lot more than that. If we sell off half the cars the Norwegians gave us in Lillehammer, we can easily make this nut and have plenty left over for a banquet at Morton's and some no-holds-barred visits to the local brothel. Aside from that, we in the Olympic Movement absolutely love basketball and hockey. Remember the finish to that U.S.-U.S.S.R. hoops final? The one where we put time back on the clock so the Russkies could win it? That's what I'm talking about. If the Lakers won't fold their tents when they play the Nuggets, we'll bribe 'em. If Tim Duncan won't shave points, we'll give him his own country and a Gulfstream to get there. By the way, how does Salt Lake City Avalanche sound?"

3. John Elway. Surely the Ascent shareholders understand the esteem in which the retired Broncos quarterback is held in Colorado--and the added drawing power he would mean for an NBA team that can't beat Bowling Green. In view of the rumors about Elway fleeing our fair state to run a new NFL franchise in Los Angeles, doesn't it make sense to do the right thing and offer this local hero a deal right now that will pay off in the future? Let's see--$199.95 including air, the sport-handling package and multi-disc CD player sounds about right. The way we hear it, Elway already has a couple of new wrinkles in mind. Imagine Bill Romanowski in a goalie's mask and Shannon Sharpe at point guard and you start to get the picture.

4. George Steinbrenner. At this point in his storied career, the New York Yankees owner avers, winning the World Series year after year is not enough. "My real skill lies elsewhere," Steinbrenner says. "I'm best when I'm kicking ass. And humiliating people. For me, a good day at the office consists of firing a coach, publicly castigating a star player who has the gall to sprain his ankle in the heat of battle and terrorizing three or four girls down in the typing pool. I don't feel really fulfilled unless I can smash a couple of desk lamps and have my people follow a dissident TV commentator home and beat the crap out of him in his garage." Owning the Nuggets and the Avalanche ("Damn the price! It's worth it!" he enthuses) would clearly afford Steinbrenner the kind of new opportunities he's looking for. "That Claude Lemieux thinks he's a tough guy, huh?" Steinbrenner chortles. "Wait'll I lash him to a chair up in my office with the spotlights turned all the way up and water dripping on his forehead. We'll see who's boss then."

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