“You keeping the shoes on tonight?” Ryan Tanke asks Marc Lore.
I’m sitting with Timberwolves owner-in-waiting Lore at his table inside the Lexus Courtside Club, the restaurant exclusive to courtside season ticket holders at Target Center, and Wolves chief operating officer Tanke is razzing his team’s minority (for now) owner.
“What?” Lore responds indignantly, gesturing to the light pink Jordan 1s his unofficial sneaker consultant helped him procure (Lore only recently got into sneakers—but as Jenn Drago Ericksen, Lore’s chief of staff, explains to me, when he goes in, he goes all in—thus the consultant). “No, these shoes are coming off.”
Lore, a New York tech entrepreneur who’s made billions on internet start-ups—he sold Diapers.com to Amazon for $550 million in 2011 and the less self-explanatory Jet.com to Walmart for $3.3 billion in 2016—still owes Glen Taylor most of the $1.5 billion he and his partner, retired Yankee great Alex Rodriguez, agreed to pay for Taylor’s NBA franchise. But in the closing weeks of the first successful Timberwolves season in years, Lore has already kicked off an unlikely new team tradition. Lore says it began organically enough, before a game a couple weeks prior, when Wolves star center Karl-Anthony Towns informed Lore his goal was to be so far up on the opponent that he could take off his shoes in the fourth quarter.
“So, when we were up, I took off my shoes and texted KAT a picture,” Lore says. “And he went crazy—he loved it.”
From there, Lore started taking off his shoes at the end of every game the Wolves were winning big, holding them up and mugging for the jumbotron. To the chagrin of those of us with delicate senses of propriety (or smell), more and more Wolves fans believe taking their shoes off in Target Center is socially acceptable.
Getting ready at home to sit courtside with Lore for this third-to-last home game, against the Washington Wizards, I was feeling acute anxiety about picking the right shoes-and-socks combo. But now, upon actually meeting Lore and experiencing his vibe, it’s even more bizarre to me that this has become his signature celebration. The guy is a human stress ball—the notion of him relaxing for five minutes is absurd, let alone ever finishing a hard day at the office by slipping into a cardigan and removing his shoes.
Lore is the New York version of the anti-chill, constantly-in-motion venture-cap-raising tech billionaire. He’s a 51-year-old Italian American dude from Staten Island with the accent to match. His shaved head is protected by a crispy new gray Timberwolves cap, and his short, powerful build—he’s a former college track athlete who’s retained his sprinter’s physique—is swaddled in a suede jacket over a black T-shirt and black jeans. He’s even way too intense about the wine that Timberwolves and Lynx executive chef David Fhima brings over, a $300 2014 French-style red from California.
“We need something better than this,” Lore says before looking me directly in the eye and asking, “Do you like it?”
“The shoes are coming off.”
It turns out that this is one of Lore’s key traits: He frequently stops to make eye contact and directly poll you, no matter your respective expertise, whether it’s red wine, his new app, or his president of basketball operations. My stomach drops. I had told Fhima we were good when he opened this bottle before Lore arrived. Mercifully, Fhima reappears, looking like a blue-bandanna-ed pirate brandishing a big bottle of billionaire juice: Shafer Hillside Select, Lore’s favorite.
“Now you’re fucking smiling,” Fhima says.
“Holy shit, where did you find that?” Lore asks.
Fhima is mock exasperated I caved on the wine. “You shut the fuck up,” he says, “I thought you were on my side.” He gestures back to the entire table. “Now we’re good?” Everybody nods.
Lore flew into Minneapolis on a private jet from Jersey with his brother Chad. They met Drago Ericksen at the arena. A-Rod is going to be at the game tonight too, but Glen and Becky Taylor decided not to make the drive up from Mankato, so A-Rod will be in their seats across the court from us, next to the Timberwolves bench.
Chad Lore has the same shiny bald head as his older brother, and he’s even more powerfully built. The Lores’ mom was a competitive body builder and a personal trainer to Bruce Springsteen’s first wife at one point, so both of her boys grew up working out on the reg. The two of them engage in the sort of jocular bickering close sets of bros can get into. When I ask the older Lore—who made the U.S. bobsled team in his 20s and recently outsprinted NFL great Jerry Rice at the tail end of his 40s—when he realized he was physically gifted, Chad scoffs, “Physically gifted?”
Marc scoffs right back, “C’mon, Chad.”
Drago Ericksen steps in to explain to me, “They’re very competitive.”
“My brother and I are OK,” says Marc. “But we wrote the book on being competitive.”
Marc and Chad are working together on Marc’s new mobile-restaurants venture, Wonder, a food delivery app that allows you to order food that’s cooked in a van parked in front of your house. Wonder is working with a roster of big-time chefs like Nancy Silverton and Daisuke Nakazawa and Bobby Flay, and the service is already operational in Westfield, New Jersey. When I ask Marc if it’s weird that, even if Wonder takes off and becomes another huge success on his business résumé, once this deal with Taylor finally goes through he’s probably going to be forever known as the Timberwolves owner (the next installment to Taylor is contracted to happen in December 2022, and the general partnership would transfer to Marc and A-Rod with the final installment in December 2023), he surprises me with his response: “I think I’ll be known for this new start-up.”
“Really? You think you’ll be remembered as the Wonder guy?”
“More so than the Timberwolves, yeah,” he says.
Marc says he grew up a fan of New York’s teams, specifically Yankees, Jets, and Knicks—before he tried to buy the Wolves, he got close to buying the Mets with A-Rod. But he didn’t inherit any of his sports fanaticism from his father.
“He was, like, the opposite of a sports fan,” Marc says about his dad.
“He’d take us to a Jets game, and we would show up in the second quarter and leave by the third,” adds Chad.
When I ask what their dad was into, Marc says, “I dunno, partying?”
Marc volunteers that when Chad was 6, his dad would put a joint in his little brother’s mouth.
“Never happened,” Chad says, clarifying that their dad really cared about making money. “He was an entrepreneur,” he says, “like us.”
He rattles off his dad’s hustles: a hair restoration company, a sandwich shop, a car wash, and a computer programming consultancy.
Eventually their dad was successful enough to move the fam from his native Staten Island to the tonier Lincroft, New Jersey. Marc complains that the kids at their new private school thought his Staten Island accent made him sound like a dope. He says he felt bullied. Chad breaks in, “Were you?”
“You weren’t as much, because I protected you,” Marc says.
Marc Lore did follow in his dad’s constantly hustling footsteps: shoveling driveways, delivering newspapers, collecting recycling, and eventually counting cards playing blackjack on weekends in Atlantic City. Lore clearly has a fast, restless mind, one that he honed at Bucknell before dropping out of grad school. His mind can crunch numbers at an incredible velocity.
“It’s interesting, the idea of learning,” he says. But Lore says if the learning isn’t moving fast enough, he feels like he’s wasting time. “It’s why I don’t watch any TV and why I don’t read,” he says. “If it takes me six hours to read a book, do you know how much thinking I can do in six hours?”
I’ve heard somebody boast about not watching television before, but the reading thing is new. Maybe as a disrupter in an existing market, this has worked out for him—sometimes you need that kind of intellectual arrogance when you have to ignore what people are telling you when you’re introducing something completely new. But don’t the best owners in the NBA have the patience to immerse themselves in somebody else’s expertise?
“It’s true,” Lore says. “But at the same time, somebody else’s opinion could give you tunnel vision. They make the argument, and because you don’t know enough about the topic, it’s very logical, but you don’t know there’s a whole other argument.”
As a billionaire, Lore has developed a technique to interrogate a thinker on his own terms. “I’ll call the author and talk to them,” he says. “Kind of have a date.”
By the time we make it to our seats, the first quarter is over—the Wolves are getting dominated on the boards by the much bigger Wizards and are down three.
But despite tonight’s sluggish start, it finally feels like the franchise is on an upward trajectory. So, is this internet disrupter from New York going to come in and disrupt everything, just because he can?
“It’s funny how people think you’re going to come in and make a suboptimal decision,” Lore says. He understands why people expect this, because it’s the most common new-boss mistake—coming in and immediately hiring your own people.
But Lore and A-Rod did immediately come in and create a brand-new executive position—chief experience officer, or CXO—and they filled it with Marquise Watts, formerly of Klutch Sports Group, the agency founded by LeBron James’s best friend, Rich Paul. Lore says Watts is being tasked with making Minneapolis a top-five free agency destination, a daunting proposition, considering that this market has struggled to attract and retain millionaire Black athletes.
“One of the core strategies was to become a top-five destination for players,” he says. And when he looked at the org structure, he noticed there wasn’t one person in charge of recruiting. “So, let’s build a position and have that person control branding, how you treat the players, the medical, the food.”
Watts will be on the same level of acting president of basketball operations Sachin Gupta and COO Tanke, all reporting to CEO Ethan Casson. But Lore assures me that Watts isn’t going to have any input on basketball decisions—actually signing free agents or drafting or trading players. That’s still the exclusive providence of Gupta. And as general partner, Glen Taylor still has final say over all the big decisions, but it’s increasingly clear that Taylor’s relationship with Lore and A-Rod is more and more collaborative.
For instance, when I ask Lore if he’s going to remove the “acting” part from Gupta’s title—Gupta has been the acting POBO since Gersson Rosas was fired under scandalous circumstances right before training camp—Lore goes off the record about the specifics, but the way he talks about it leaves no doubt that he’ll have a say. And then he does that “What do you think?” thing when he asks who I think are the best POBOs in the NBA.
Lore frames the Gupta decision within a business philosophy he’s codified as the VCP framework—it stands for vision, capital, people. “It’s about having a foundation and the right culture to attract the right people,” he says. And according to Lore, one of the core tenets of VCP is to hire the best, no matter the expense.
He’s writing a book about it—I imagine he expects some people to spend more than six hours reading it.
At halftime, the Wolves are losing. But A-Rod is hanging in the Lexus Club. He has a full crew trailing him and filming his every move for some reason, but everybody is pretending this is normal. Marc greets him warmly, as if they haven’t seen each other in a while. A-Rod asks Chad about his boat, and Chad says he’s recently upgraded while punching up pics on his iPhone of his brand-new 50-foot Vanquish yacht like a proud dad.
When it’s my turn to talk to A-Rod, I ask him which NBA team he grew up following. He says he never really followed a team, but he was into certain players, mostly on the Lakers and the Celtics.
“Are you watching Winning Time?” he asks, referring to the Boogie Nights–style HBO show on the 1980s Lakers. “I actually met Dr. Buss,” he says about the Lakers owner, played by John C. Reilly on the show. Evidently, Dr. Buss showed him around the famous Forum Club when he was breaking into the majors. “I was just a teenager,” A-Rod says, “but Dr. Buss treated me like a star.”
It’s a rare aesthetic experience, watching a type A personality like Lore, with literally millions of dollars invested, slowly give in to the reality that it just isn’t happening tonight. The Wizards aren’t as skilled as the Wolves, but they’re much bigger, and there’s something inevitable about this kind of a blunt pounding. Lore is relentlessly optimistic for as long as he rationally can be. When Ant hits a three, he pumps his fist. When KAT makes a driving layup to cut it to six, he says, “It’s not over yet.” Down 14, he starts sneaking peeks at the real-time sales stats of his Wonder app, seeing what people are ordering tonight in New Jersey.
“Lots of Mexican,” he says with a shrug. “It’s Taco Tuesday.”
Down 21 with less than six minutes left, he admits, “Mathematically, it’s probably over.” He envisions an improbable scenario where the Wolves alternate seven consecutive threes with seven consecutive stops. He comes to the conclusion that everybody’s shoes are staying on tonight.
“That hurts, man,” he says. “That really freakin’ hurts.”
Losing this Wizards game wasn’t the beginning of some butterfly effect—we all know what happened afterward: the big comeback against the Clippers in the play-in game, followed by all the blown fourth-quarter leads against Memphis in the disappointing six-game first-round exit. The tendency to take bad shots and inability to rebound were there, and I saw that Lore saw it, even while we were both trying so hard not to. It was fascinating to watch the optimistic new face of Timberwolves ownership stiffen as it countenanced the team’s fatal flaws.
This will be a big summer for both Lore and the team. (We’ll see how big of a Lynx fan he will become, for one thing.) He has found his coach, at least—after the game, he had a second dinner at Fhima’s with A-Rod and head coach Chris Finch, and a week later, Coach Finch signed a four-year contract extension. Next he’ll hire the person who will implement his VCP framework on the actual basketball court, whether that’s Gupta or somebody with a bigger name.
“We’re only going to get better next year,” he promises. But he knows that’s hardly assured, in life or the NBA. Probably best to tread carefully, and to keep your shoes on.
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