In the grand scheme of things, Charles Wang would never be considered a great owner. He made too many outside the box decisions. Kept men in charge of the Islanders, who should have been fired long before they were let go. And handed out maybe some of the worst contracts in sports history, while running the Islanders like a real small market team.
But what Wang should be remembered for is that he kept the Islanders viable and alive, when another owner might have tried to move the team to greener pastures.
Wang passed away today at the age of 73 from undisclosed reasons, just a few seasons after his tenure as Islanders owner ended.
“We are heartbroken by the news of Charles Wang’s passing. New York Islanders’s co-owners Dewey Shay, Scott Malkin and I were privileged to be selected by Charles to be his partners in the team. Charles loved the Islanders unconditionally. The arena at Belmont Park will be just one of his many legacies left to the team and to Long Island. His unique personality, his wonderful sense of humor and his extraordinary wisdom will be greatly missed,” said Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky.
Wang came in and took over the Islanders at their darkest hour. After the ownership fiasco of John Spano, Wang was able to be a white night for the team in 2000, coming in and spending money immediately. It looked like a marriage made in heaven. A local owner, who seemed to love the area was spending like a big market team.
Unfortunately, that was short lived. His loyalty to general manager Mike Milbury set the club back and when he eventually fired Iron Mike, his replacement Neil Smith only lasted 40 days, because of the weird hierarchy Wang put in place and ultimately hired backup goalie Garth Snow for Smith’s job.
On the ice, Wang’s record was very spotty. Because of the mismanagement, the club only had a few cameos in the playoffs. But here’s the bigger issue: Wang also never made money with the Islanders. We see here with clubs like the Mets, who make money hand over fist with their television network and new stadiums, yet don’t put money in the team, Wang was losing money and had to run the club like a small market team, only taking on payroll to get to the salary floor.
And he wanted a new arena, but failed attempts with the Lighthouse Project and a failed referendum, caused him to find any solution and the compromise was to put the team in the Barclays Center, a basketball arena two counties away. New owners Ledecky and Malkin are seeing that failure and are in the process of moving the team back to Long Island.
But even in failure, he never left. He could have taken his puck and moved the club to Kansas City or Quebec, but stayed on the Island with losses on and off the ice.
“Charles Wang was a great man,” Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello said. “He always spoke of his love for the Long Island community and the passionate fan base. Long Island would not have a team if it were not for Charles. Most importantly, we’ve all lost a great friend. Our deepest sympathies to his wife Nancy and children Kimberly, Jasmine, and Cameron.”
Wang was a business man first and an innovator. Being of Asian background, he was able to bring the NHL over to China and his company Neulion pioneered on demand sports video.
“The National Hockey League lost a dear friend today with the passing of New York Islanders minority owner Charles Wang,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “His commitment to, and passion for, his beloved Islanders was matched by his dedication to, and support for, the Long Island community. As the NHL embarks on a journey to grow hockey in China, we do so with the appreciation and knowledge that it was Charles who was the vision and driving force at the forefront of developing the game in his native country. We also owe Charles a great debt of gratitude for all that he did in pioneering video streaming of our League so that hockey fans around the world could connect with the NHL.
“We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Nancy, children Kimberly, Jasmine and Cameron and his many friends around the world.”
He was a man who made his mark, even if the record didn’t always reflect that.
And more important, he was the man who stayed in New York, which is what he should be remembered for years to come.