On Wednesday night at HP Pavilion at San Jose, George Gund III was recognized as one of four inductees into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame. He is part of a class that includes legendary Stanford tennis coach Dick Gould; Margaret Jenkins, Santa Clara County’s first female Olympian; and former Santa Clara University and San Jose City College baseball coach John Oldham.
Gund, who owned the Sharks with his brother Gordon from the team’s inception until 2001, still owns a small percentage of the Sharks, but it was his vision from the early stages that put San Jose on the professional sports map.
When Gund was awarded the rights to a Bay Area NHL club, the initial talk had San Francisco or Oakland as the club’s home. Some outsiders questioned placing a team in the heart of Silicon Valley. After all, San Jose wasn’t exactly a household name outside the Bay Area.
However, to Gund, Art Savage (the Sharks original president) and Tom McEnery, then San Jose’s mayor and a current member of the Sharks ownership group, the decision was an easy one for all involved. Still, had Gund longed more to place the team long-term in San Francisco where he had a residence, people might still be asking where San Jose is.
San Jose did have the funding for the arena already in place, a very important piece to the puzzle, but it was a cumulation of everything that made the decision for Gund.
“It was just the right place at the right time,” Gund said. “Oakland was a consideration, but we already had an experience there (Gund was a partner with the California Golden Seals who played their games at the Oakland Coliseum Arena from 1967-76.). I was a little apprehensive at first, but everyone was so enthusiastic. It evolved over time. It became the only decision we could make.”
McEnery knew the city he was in charge of, but still had to sell one of the best kept secrets in America to Gund.
“Tom McEnery was really convincing and it felt right,” Gund said. “It became the easiest decision we could make. Tom showed us the way.”
McEnery was not just promoting a new building, but a bulging population and the working relationship with the team and the city.
“San Jose was getting bigger than San Francisco and we were the only game in town,” Gund said.
“The whole idea was to form a real partnership,” McEnery said.
For McEnery, no matter how comfortable he felt the NHL would be a good fit in San Jose, and no matter how much George and Gordon may have been leaning to San Jose, nothing was a certainty until George Gund made the final decision.
“He came into my office with Art,” McEnery said. “We talked and he said he wanted to be here. It was that simple in the end. He said it and he’s a man of his word.”
There’s one critical part of the relationship that couldn’t have been predicted. Since the Sharks have played full- time in San Jose (they played their first two years at Daly City’s Cow Palace), Sharks fans have experienced the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 11 of the last 14 years. In the few years the franchise hasn’t been quite as successful, the fans still showed up and that bond with the city and the club is immeasurable.
“San Jose stayed with us when we weren’t winning,” Gund said.
These days, Gund occasionally sees the Sharks, usually when the team is on the road, and he’s very involved in his documentary film work.
“I’m working on a documentary film about the conflict areas of the world,” Gund said. “It’s still at least a year away. We have 200 hours of footage and are looking to shoot more.”
Gund still cherishes the early memories from when he controlled all aspects of the franchise.
“The opening ceremonies in the Cow Palace were unbelievable,” Gund said. “Taking Pat Falloon with the first pick overall (1991). Certainly the turnaround and defeating the Red Wings in the first playoff run (1994).”
The individual players have meant a lot as well.
“Certainly Igor Larionov,” Gund said. “He and (Sergei) Makarov in 1993-94. Ulf Dahlen, Teemu Selanne, Marco Sturm, Ray Whitney and Patrick Marleau
. I remember when (Jonathan) Cheechoo was drafted a whole section stood up and cheered. Now there’s Joe Thornton
. There have been so many great players.”
One player still holds a special spot with Gund.
“(Current Executive Vice President and General Manager) Doug Wilson was our first captain and he’s the reason we’re where we are today,” Gund said.
Gund is still holding out hope for the ultimate memory.
“It would mean a lot,” Gund said about winning a Stanley Cup. “We’ve got all the ingredients if we can sustain it. Everything has been put together. I don’t make as many games now, but I see a lot in the playoffs.”
That would be icing on the cake for the man who single handedly put San Jose on the major league sports map.NEXT GAME
The Sharks will play hosts to Washington on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and the game will be available on CSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com. Tickets are available at www.ticketmaster.com and at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office.