Sakai touts ‘great’ relationship with Spurs, Holt – San Antonio Express-News

A meeting with Spurs’ managing partner marked one of Peter Sakai’s first acts following his election as Bexar County’s new leader.

Sakai met with Peter J. Holt in December, just weeks after voters selected him to succeed Nelson Wolff as county judge and shortly before he was sworn in on Jan. 1.

That Sakai reached out to Holt so quickly underscores the importance of the county’s bond with the Spurs and represented a continuation of Wolff’s belief that the county should make protecting San Antonio’s premier sports team a priority.

“My relationship with the Holts is great,” Sakai said.

Sakai’s meeting with Holt came after speculation about the team’s future in San Antonio surfaced in 2021 and 2022 following ownership changes and marketing moves that significantly raised the team’s profile in Austin, where the Spurs are scheduled to play two “home” games next month.

In an open letter to San Antonians last May, Holt said the team has no plans to move to Austin, a position he reiterated in his meeting with Sakai.

Sakai, who is the first new leader of the Bexar County Commissioners Court since Wolff won the seat in 2000, said he received assurances from Holt that the Spurs are “not going anywhere.”

The Spurs declined a request for comment from Holt.

The Spurs play at the county-owned AT&T Center, and their non-relocation agreement with the county extends through the 2031-32 season. The pact includes severe penalties should the Spurs break it.

“He assured me that they would not make these investments in the community (if a move was planned) and that he understands that he has received a significant contribution from the county and that he is respectful of the taxpayer dollars that he is receiving,” Sakai said. Holt.

The “investments” were a reference to the nearly 50-acre, $510 million campus the Spurs are building at the northwest corner of Interstate 10 and Loop 1604, near the La Cantera Shops and Six Flags Fiesta Texas. The sprawling complex will include a state-of-the-art training facility, research center and office, hospitality and medical space.

Bexar County is contributing $15 million to the project in exchange for a 22-acre park on the site. The training facility is expected to be completed when training camp for the 2023-24 season begins in September.

“I will continue to monitor the situation, but I take Peter John and (his sister and Spurs Board of Representatives member) Corinna (Holt Richter) at their word,” Sakai said. “I truly believe that their word is good and honorable, and that when they say they stay, they stay.”

While Sakai has confidence in the Holts, he said he will follow Wolff’s advice not to be quick to take the word of every professional sports team owner.

Burned by his failed attempts at Major League Baseball’s Florida Marlins (now Miami) and a Major League Soccer franchise, and instructed by other community leaders’ failed attempts to get the New Orleans Saints and Oakland (now Las Vegas ) NFL Raiders, Wolff has warned. Community leaders should be wary of professional sports owners who say they are considering moving their teams to San Antonio or investing in the city with a new franchise.

In almost every case, previous teams and their leagues used San Antonio as bargaining chips to get better deals in their home markets or other potential landing spots.

“You should make a deal with the devil if it brings money into the community,” Wolff told the Express-News last summer. “That’s what I did when I cut one with (boxing promoter) Don King to come here with the Chavez fight (with Pernell Whitaker in 1993), which was a big deal. We had (more than 60,000 people) at the Alamodome.

“But these guys that come to you looking to move, they’re the devil’s handmaidens and most treacherous. They’re all a bunch of lying motherfuckers, every one of them. I fell in love with the Marlins. (Former Mayor) Phil (Hardberger ) fell in love with New Orleans. Henry (Cisneros) fell in love with Oakland football, and I fell in love with Major League Soccer. And they all screw you. You’re wasting your time talking to them. They’re just using you. “

Asked about Wolff’s “lying sons of bitches” comment, Sakai laughed and said, “I haven’t had the experience to back up that claim.”

But Sakai also made it clear that he won’t have a knee-jerk reaction to roll out the welcome mat if teams come calling.

“One of (Wolf’s) pieces of advice was to always keep things at a distance and do your due diligence and make a wise investment of taxpayers’ money,” Sakai said. “I didn’t commit to building a baseball stadium (during the election) with taxpayer money. … Professional sports teams have to demonstrate their value and return on investment for me to consider any use of taxpayer money .

“If I see a direct financial benefit or a public benefit, especially for children and family, I will support good programs.”

Addressing other sports-related issues, Sakai said he wants to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps as an advocate for the Spurs, UTSA’s athletic program and amateur sports.

“I’m a sports freak,” he said.

Above all, he reiterated, when they benefit children and families.

“I’m a big believer in amateur sports, and that’s probably one of Judge Wolff’s greatest legacies: his commitment to parks and sports spaces for young people,” Sakai said.

In 2008, Wolff led efforts to persuade county voters to approve a visitor tax extension that built the AT&T Center to raise another $415 million, part of which went toward the construction of ‘a number of fan sports complexes across the county.

“They’re spread all over the place: East Side, West Side, South Side,” Sakai said. “It was an investment that paid off, a commitment to quality of life.”

In early December, Sakai accompanied Wolff to the news conference where star quarterback Frank Harris announced he would return to UTSA to lead the Roadrunners for one more season in 2023.

Sakai said he met Roadrunners coach Jeff Traylor at the MLK March in January on the East Side and is a big fan of the “210 Triangle of Toughness” culture he has established at the school.

“They’re building a very strong program based on character and obviously talent,” Sakai said.

The county has poured millions of dollars into UTSA’s athletic program, including $10 million through a 2017 voter-approved bond program that went toward the construction of the Roadrunner Athletics Center of Excellence, a facility lation of $40.4 million that opened in August 2021.

“It’s a great partnership,” Sakai said.

Sakai, 78, said his involvement in athletics as a youngster helped shape him. He grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, where he said “football was king,” and played the sport at McAllen High in the late 1960s.

“I played center and some linebacker at 155 pounds,” he said.

Sakai said he learned “discipline and perseverance” from tough coaches in an era when practice didn’t stop until “you did it right” and where water breaks were rare and players had cuts to fall into. patches of adhesive burrs.

“Even though I may not have liked it at the time, I learned lifelong lessons that I appreciate now,” she said. “Getting the job done, getting the job done, hitting the rock, I’ve certainly applied those to my life and career as a public servant.”

Sakai has fond memories of her time at the University of Texas at Austin, where she played a lot of intramural softball as a pitcher and enjoyed watching Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell star for the Longhorns in the 1970s.

“I was on one of the best softball teams in law school,” she said. “Everything was Hispanic except me and one other guy who was Anglo. We called ourselves the Chicano Bears.”

Working in the Bexar County District Attorney’s office in the early 1980s, Sakai relaxed by playing basketball at St. Mary’s University and in high school gymnasiums.

Although his playing days are behind him, he enjoys attending Spurs and Houston Astros games. He also points to a famous sports book, “Money Ball” by Michael Lewis, as a “significant influence.”

“As a former athlete at a limited level, I understood ‘Money Ball’ and was impressed by the use of metrics, analytics and data,” he said. “That’s something I built in as a matter of principle while I was in the Children’s Court for 26 years and it’s something I will be asking county government to measure our success or lack of success.”

Sakai hopes to have great success teaming with Holt to improve the county’s workforce, a topic they discussed at their meeting.

“Peter John made it clear that his passion on the philanthropic side is dealing with workforce issues, so we exchanged our ideas on how we can improve the workforce,” Sakai said. “I want to see a better partnership between public education and small businesses to create mentorships, apprenticeships and the Spurs can play a very important role in these types of programs.”

Twitter: Tom_Orsborn

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