ESPN is Filming a Documentary on John Spano; The Fradulent Owner the NHL Would Like to Forget

Kevin Schultz

Update: ESPN tells Puck Daddy that the film is “at least a year away”
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ESPN may be reviled among hockey fans — this one included — and the network admittedly doesn’t pretend to feign interest in the sport but that doesn’t mean they do something worth our attention once in a while. One of the best things ESPN has done in a long time, quite possibly the best, was their 30 for 30 documentary series. Under the direction of Bill Simmons the network produced 30 sports documentaries from 30 different filmmakers and took a very serious look at some of sports biggest players and stories. In May, the network announced that they would be doing more such films given the resounding success of the 30 for 30 series.

Per Chris Botta on Twitter, one of the films is going to feature ex-Isles owner John Spano who conned his way into buying the team in 1996. Spano bought the team from John Pickett but never really paid Pickett any money, a problem when the total of the deal was supposed to be $165 million. Spano claimed to be worth hundreds of millions, when in reality he only had a maybe a few million. The story goes that he had letters from Lloyds of London and documents from Fleet Bank showing that he was good for the money. Back in the exploding sports arena of the 1990s, that was good enough for the NHL and they allowed Pickett — desperate to sell in his own right — to hand the team over to Spano.

The NHL allowed itself to be defrauded by a con man with no money, arguably the third worst thing the league has done business wise during Gary Bettman’s reign as commissioner (the others being those two lockouts). Some time soon, it’ll be on ESPN and despite the negative topic it should be pretty interesting, given how well done the majority of the 30 for 30 docs are. And you’ve got to wonder if there isn’t someone in Bristol cracking a smile about being able to needle Gary Bettman and the NHL a bit.

Here’s Chris Botta’s John Spano story originally published on this blog in 2009:

It’s February 15, 1997 and the Islanders are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the franchise. The team sucks that season, but this is a memorable night. The all-time Islanders team is announced, Boss and Trots and Denis and Smitty are in the barn, the new owner – our savior! – is walking around and to top it off Lappy Lapointe breaks a zip-zip tie with an overtime goal for the victory over John Vanbiesbrouck and the Florida Panthers.

After the game, the atmosphere in the locker room hallway is glorious mayhem. The Islanders legends are hugging it out in the hallway with Ziggy, Smoke, a Calder contender named Bryan Berard, Caber, Bert and the rest of the boys. It’s been a depressing season, but for one night everyone is reminded why the hockey life is beautiful. In the middle of the celebration stands a solitary man who doesn’t approach anyone, so no one approaches him.

He is focused, clearly on a vital mission. It’s John Spano, the “mega-millionaire” owner of the Islanders. He is standing in the hallway, completely oblivious, his back to the celebration. He is holding a puck, not from the game but the kind you can buy on the Coliseum concourse for 5 bucks. In his other hand is a Sharpie, as black as the suits he always wore.

“John, is there something we can do for you? I asked.

“Nah, I’m good. Just told a friend I’d get something signed for his kid by Vanbiesbrouck.”

Hmm. Picture this: owner of major professional sports team, after a big win, alone in the hallway because he wants to make sure the goaltender of the visiting team signs his puck. This is Fred Wilpon waiting outside the Dodgers locker room until Manny signs his bat. This is Jerry Jones hanging outside the Giants Stadium lot to meet Eli.

This is not how the owner of a sports team operates. They have people for that. People like I used to be.

Spano didn’t budge. With so much joy around him and his new toy, he instead chose to wait for The Beezer to do his interviews, shower, dress and make his way down the hall. VBK signed Johnny’s puck and the owner of the New York Islanders left the arena, all by himself.

This is what it took for me and my two best colleague-pals to give each other the look that’s something not quite right in the Country.




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