The Tao of Celtics Owner Wyc Grousbeck
Favorite player? Sudden comebacks? Elusive championship No. 18? The Celtics lead owner has an opinion—and he’s not holding back.
Wyc Grousbeck is frustrated. It’s been six months since his Celtics lost in the playoffs, failing to bring home championship No. 18, and like most fans, he’s getting fired up for the coming season. “We’ve been knocking on the door,” he says over his cell phone one recent morning. “We’ve just got to break through.”
The Celtics lead owner already knows the joy of winning the last game of the year. Since forming the consortium that bought the team in 2002, the Massachusetts native and Princeton grad has established himself as one of the premier owners in the NBA, winning a franchise-record 17th championship in 2008. He’s also become one of Boston’s most influential people in the process: He serves on the board of the Shamrock Foundation, which raises millions of dollars for children in need, and has been on the board of Mass Eye and Ear for more than a decade. He also plays in a band as well as co-owns the tequila brand Cincoro with his wife, Emilia Fazzalari, and NBA legend Michael Jordan. Though he’s hell-bent on hanging another banner in TD Garden, Grousbeck is reserved and thoughtful when discussing why this just might be the season his team finally wins it all again.
What three adjectives would you use to describe that one-game-away playoffs feeling?
Challenging. Frustrating. And energizing.
So the comeback that didn’t happen spurred you to be better?
If you hit a bad shot in golf, you can just put your clubs down and walk off the course, or you can go find the ball and hit it again. I’m not putting the clubs down. We’ve been knocking on the door for four or five years, and we’ve had really good teams, for the most part, and we’ve had a chance and some playoff possibilities. We’ve just got to break through.
Do you think it’s just bad luck, or what?
Well, I want to say right up front we lost to two good teams. The Heat were a good team last season, and the Warriors were a good team the year before. Having said that, I feel like we could have gotten by both of them if we’d played to our full potential. But I thought we were inconsistent, so we spent all summer trying to construct a roster for this upcoming season that’s going to have consistency and as much talent as possible.
What do you want to say to the frustrated, disappointed fans?
That we’re a bunch of fans who bought this team 20 years ago, and we feel exactly the same.
How would you describe Celtics fans?
I’ll say proud, because of the team’s history all the way back to the 1940s. The Celtics have been leaders. Celtic pride is the essence of the whole thing, and that’s the 17 championships and the leadership in civil rights and equality and justice, really standing for something off the court as well as on the court. The Celtics were built by truly great people, and now, in our own way, we’re trying as regular people to uphold what those great people built. It’s a challenge. But it’s an honor.
What player do you have the best rapport with?
There are a bunch. When I think about the 2008 team, the entire starting five I feel very close to and talk to frequently and see in person every year. So that’s, you know, Perkins, Pierce, Garnett, Rondo, and Allen. They’re among my closest friends from the past 20 years. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are the two most hilarious people I know. But Emilia and I are also about to head out to California for Marcus Smart’s wedding, even though he was traded this summer, and that’s the kind of relationship we’ll continue.
Favorite TD Garden snack?
I used to have a lot of trouble eating before games. I just got too nervous. Now, after 20 years, I’m not, and I’ve got to say we’ve got some pretty good Buffalo-chicken nachos in the Putnam Club.
One secret about the Garden that no one knows?
That it’s actually the smallest footprint in the entire NBA, and we’ve made a lot out of it. We do our best to accommodate everybody, but we’ve got 19,000-plus fans in there, and it’s not a very big building.
Favorite piece of Celtics memorabilia you have?
The 2008 championship trophy, which is in my living room.
What’s the best perk of being an NBA owner?
It’s the absolute time of my life. I can’t imagine having more fun. And it’s not just winning games and being part of a team. It’s doing things off the court. We help almost a thousand charities a year through the Shamrock Foundation. When you add it all up, there’s nothing I’d rather do every single day.
Were you a big Celtics fan during the Larry Bird era?
Yes. I remember watching the ’84 and ’86 championships on TV. I don’t think I got to any of those games, because I lived elsewhere at the time. But I was born and raised in Boston, and I was a fan of all the teams. When I moved back to Boston in 1995 with my family, I got full-season tickets to the Patriots and partials to the Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics. So in other words, I’m not just a Celtics fan. I’m a Boston sports fan.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from being in this business for more than 20 years?
I had this idea in 2002 to see if I could get a group together and buy the Celtics. I had to mortgage my house to do it, but I followed my instinct and put a group together, and we bought the Celtics. It’s literally a dream come true. So I talk to people all the time now, in colleges and graduate schools, and I say, “Follow your dreams.” It really isn’t just a cliché. It can actually happen. They can actually come true. That’s my biggest lesson: When that idea hits you, don’t be shy. Go for it.
Biggest change for the coming season?
Well, we’re going to miss Marcus Smart and Grant Williams, two really good guys. But we’ve hit the reset button on the team, and now we have some new players, including KP—Kristaps Porzingis—and a new starting lineup. That’s really the biggest change. We deliberately decided not to bring back the exact same team, which had a lot of success but ended up being inconsistent.
What do you admire most about Jaylen Brown?
One of the things I admire, right off the bat, is his thoughtfulness. He cares deeply about issues and lets that give him fuel and energy. And I respect that and value it on our team.
Do the fans ever annoy you?
No, because I blame myself when we lose. I’m like, “I hired this coach. I hired this general manager. I approved these trades and contracts.” And if it isn’t working, I look in the mirror and blame myself. So if a fan is saying something or thinking something, I’m probably at least halfway saying or thinking the same thing.
You’re a musician. What’s your dream venue to play?
Oh my gosh. I’m an amateur musician, and I love it. At the moment, my dream venue is MGM Music Hall because I just got to play there with my band, French Lick, opening for Zac Brown Band. That was incredible. I’m also trying to put together a show in New York City with the James Montgomery Blues Band, which I’m now an official guest member of, so whatever venue we put together for New York will be my next favorite one.
Best basketball movie of all time?
It’s got to be Space Jam.
Do you ever bet on sports?
No, except for a few dollars if I’m playing golf with my buddies.
You own a tequila brand. What’s your favorite tequila cocktail?
My favorite is an espresso martini made with Cincoro Blanco. It’s amazing. You just take the tequila and throw it in with some espresso, and you are good to go.
You’re also working on a TV show?
Yeah. So my wife, Emilia, and her ex, George, had a very amicable divorce a number of years ago, and they did a thing called nesting. That’s when you leave the kids in place, in the family home, and then Mom moves in for a week, and Dad moves in the next week. The parents do the switching, and the kids stay put, which is great as long as everybody gets along. It’s a great way to handle a divorce. George and Emilia were just so much happier after they ended their marriage. They became best friends, and so I said at one family dinner, “This is a sitcom. We’ve got three adults sharing an apartment. Basically, it’s a twisted version of The Brady Bunch or Modern Family.” We wrote a 27-page treatment during the pandemic, and we pitched it by Zoom to all the networks and streamers. NBC and Lionsgate bought it, and we’re now in production. The show is called Extended Family. We have Jon Cryer playing one character, and Donald Faison from Scrubs, and Abigail Spencer from Suits and Mad Men. We’ve filmed six episodes, and we have seven more to go. Then we’ll be on Tuesday nights on NBC, between Night Court and The Voice.
Favorite team to play against?
I always get revved up to play against the Lakers. Even though Jeanie Buss is our partner in the tequila, along with Michael Jordan, and Jeanie is a very good friend, we love beating the Lakers.
What is it about Kristaps Porzingis that excites you the most?
His size. I’ve got a picture of myself standing with him. He’s a very imposing person, really large and really talented, and a really good guy.
Bigger than Shaquille O’Neal?
I’m not sure, but Shaq is also such a good guy. He was a Celtic for a season, and to this day, whenever he sees Emilia anywhere—we bump into him a couple of times a year—he comes across the room and gives her a giant hug.
Is there a player you didn’t get along with, and if so, why?
It’s funny. I’ll have negative thoughts that I project toward players on the other team, like, “Miss the shot!” But then, sometimes, they end up on our team, and we become good friends. The NBA is like an extended family. The players and the ownership and the fans. There’s really no room for hard feelings.
The new collective bargaining agreement—how do you see that affecting the NBA?
I think it positions us for good growth in the future because it emphasizes competitiveness and making sure every team can be competitive. That’s really good for our fans, our teams, and our TV partners.
The Lakers always had Jack Nicholson. Who’s your Jack Nicholson or favorite celebrity to have on the parquet?
Donnie Wahlberg is our Jack Nicholson, but my favorite celebrity I’ve probably ever sat with was Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead.
So is this the year you can win it all?
Well, I certainly hope so. It’s the year that we’re going all in, once again, and trying as hard as we can to win.
What will you do to celebrate number 18?
I will not jinx it by answering that question, but celebrating 17 went on for quite a while, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about adding another trophy to the Celtics record.
Would there ever be any incentive to sell the team?
Well, there are incentives, but I don’t see it happening. We never bought the Celtics for money. We did it for love. I said to my 20-plus partners when we put the group together, “This is not a financial investment. We’re going to be paid in enjoyment. This is for the love of the Celtics. I don’t want to hear about dividends. I don’t want to hear about anything other than we love the Celtics, and we’re going to put everything we can into the team.” And that will never change.
By the Numbers
From our beer prices to our titles, the Celtics are number one.
Number of people who can fit at capacity in TD Garden for a Celtics game.
Number of years Lucky the Leprechaun has been the official mascot.
Number of points scored against the Minneapolis Lakers on February 27, 1959—the highest-scoring Celtics game ever played.
Cost, in dollars, of a 16-ounce pint of beer at TD Garden during a Celtics game. That’s tied with the Warriors for the most expensive beers in the league.
Number of titles the Celtics have won, tied with the L.A. Lakers for the most in the entire league. (And that doesn’t count the one we will hopefully win this year!)
First published in the print edition of the November 2023 issue with the headline, “Holding Court.”
Previously in ‘The Interview’:
- Corey Thomas, director and chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston
- Film actor and Macbeth star Faran Tahir
- The ‘Quin House cofounder Sandy Edgerley
- Crime-fiction writer Dennis Lehane
- Novelist Hank Phillippi Ryan
- BECMA Head Nicole Obi
- GBH President and CEO Susan Goldberg
- MIT President Sally Kornbluth
- Boston Public Library President David Leonard
- CNN anchor and correspondent Audie Cornish