Los Angeles Kings Governor Tim Leiweke has held jobs in indoor soccer and the NBA, helping to launch the Minnesota Timberwolves. But the biggest challenge he's been involved in came when he arrived in southern California in the mid-1990s to join a franchise mired in bankruptcy.
"The week before I come, the team trades Wayne Gretzky and then at our absolute low they say, ‘Hey, wouldn't this be a great job for you?'" Leiweke recalled as a guest Thursday night on the "NHL Hour With Gary Bettman." "And I joined out here when we had nothing more than a hockey team, 45 employees -- half, by the way, that got fired the first week -- and a completely bankrupt team without one prospect in our system. It was a real highlight."
Leiweke was being facetious, obviously, but the current state of the Kings has provided many a highlight for Los Angeles fans. The team is deadlocked 2-2 with the Canucks in a best-of-7 Western Conference Quarterfinal series that resumes Friday in Vancouver.
Of course, it's been a long and arduous road to get there, as before this season the Kings had last tasted the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the spring of 2002.
"We have attention deficit syndrome out here, so not many people have the ability of thinking long term," Leiweke said. "We live for the moment and we tried to build our team that way -- and it didn't work. And so five years ago, we went through a learning curve coming out of the new collective bargaining agreement. We clearly understood, you're going to have to develop from within … we had to rebuild and, honestly, we had to not be so good for a few years as we got those high (draft) picks."
The Kings drafted smartly, adding players like Anze Kopitar
(first round, No. 11 in 2005), Jonathan Quick
(third round, No. 72 in 2005) and, more recently, Drew Doughty
(first round, No. 2 in 2008). The payoff started to come this season as Kopitar led the team with 81 points, Doughty finished second with 59 (third among NHL defensemen) and Quick won a franchise-record 39 games.
"We have this great young nucleus," Leiweke said, "and suddenly this year the town sort of woke up to the fact we not only have a good team, but we have a good team that's going to be very competitive for a long period of time."
Leiweke is also president and CEO of AEG Worldwide, which bills itself as "one of the leading sports and entertainment presenters in the world." AEG is the force behind concerts by artists such as Bon Jovi and the Black Eyed Peas and operates sports and entertainment arenas around the world.
It is also responsible for the Kings Care Foundation and similar charitable foundations set up by the Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League Soccer and the Staples Center. Leiweke said he was affected heavily by watching his mother die of cancer and what he was taught in the process.
"One of the lessons you learn is you give back, and you use your platform as an opportunity to change people's lives that are less fortunate," he said.