Chances are, unless you're lucky enough to pull for the 13-0 Green Bay Packers, your favorite sports team is owned by a singular, fabulously wealthy individual. Every time squabbling over a collective bargaining agreement between owners and players leads to a lock out it's always the same old refrain: "This is millionaires versus billionaires." But how did they get to be billionaires? Here's a quick look at how some of the more prominent owners made the fortunes that landed them their teams.
Mark Cuban: Dallas Mavericks
The addition of Lamar Odom and his reality television immersed family should bring even more exposure to the defending champion Dallas Mavericks. However, having someone other than brash, vocal owner Mark Cuban grabbing attention would be a change of pace. Cuban made his fortune when he paired with fellow Indiana University Alumnus Todd Wagner to found a company called Audionet in 1995. The company, which was later renamed Broadcast.com, combined their shared interest in college basketball and webcasting, and was sold to Yahoo (YHOO) at the peak of the dot com boom for $5.9 billion of Yahoo stock. Cuban is now number 459 on Forbes' "World's Richest People" list. He diversified his assets following cashing in on broadcast.com and now co-owns 2929 Entertainment with Wagner. Through that company, they have ownership stakes in Magnolia Pictures, HDNet, and Landmark Theatres.
Mike Ilitch: Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers
Few owners enjoy the level of love and support from their city as Mike Ilitch does in Detroit, but the four Stanley Cups he's won as Red Wings owner and the 2006 American League pennant with the Tigers means that Ilitch may never have to buy a drink in Detroit ever again. Not that Ilitch isn't good for it. Ilitch had an estimated net worth of $1.7 billion as of 2010. Ilitch is a former marine who, after a career in baseball fizzled, founded Little Caesars Pizza in Garden City, MI in May of 1959. The restaurant exploded with the aid of franchising and now sells its "$5 hot and ready" pizzas across the country. Now, Little Caesars is the fourth largest pizza distributor with $1.1 billion in sales in 2010.
Mikhail Prokhorov: New Jersey Nets
One of the most intriguing sports owners out there is Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire entrepreneur who purchased the Nets last year, and he only amplified this interest when he announced his intention to run against Vladimir Putin for President of the Russian Federation. Prokhorov made his fortune by taking advantage of a cozy relationship with Boris Yeltsin to profit from the privatization of assets following the collapse of the Soviet Union, including an acquisition of Norilsk Nickel. After resigning as CEO of Norilsk in 2007, he launched the private investment fund ONEXIM Group, valued at $17 billion at the time.
Hal and Hank Steinbrenner: New York Yankees
The story of Hal and Hank is really the story of their legendary father, George Steinbrenner, affectionately (and sometimes not so affectionately) known as "The Boss." George left his beloved Yankees to his two sons, stepping aside in 2006 as part of his retirement before passing away in July of 2010. George Steinbrenner made his fortune in shipping, joining the Kinsman Marine Transit Company, a shipping company first purchased by his great-grandfather in 1901. Steinbrenner would ultimately purchase the company from his family after shifting the company back to profitability by focusing on ore shipments rather than grain. Steinbrenner would purchase the American Shipbuilding Company and, in 1967, became its Chairman and CEO.
Paul Allen: Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trailblazers
Seattle-native Paul Allen has shown his love for the Pacific Northwest by investing in the Seahawks and Trailblazers. The money for these teams comes from one of the most successful business partnerships in history. Paul Allen joined Bill Gates in founding Microsoft (MSFT) in 1975, the software company that would explode in size, now exceeding $215 billion in market cap, and make Paul Allen into the 57th wealthiest man in the world with a net worth of $13 billion.
Jerry Jones: Dallas Cowboys
No list of sports owners would be complete without the addition of the eccentric, controversial, and hands-on Jerry Jones. Jones, who engineered the construction of the massive Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, is one of two NFL owners who also holds the role of General Manager for his team. Jones, who played with former coach and commentator Jimmy Johnson while attending the University of Arkansas, was hired out of college as the Vice President of his father's life insurance company. After getting a Masters in Business in 1970, Jones would go through several failed business ventures (including turning down the opportunity to purchase the San Diego Chargers in 1967) before founding the Jones Oil and Land Lease, an oil and gas exploration company. Jones' venture proved an incredible success, and Jones is now worth an estimated $2 billion.