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James F. Fitzgerald (born March 1926 in Janesville, Wisconsin) is an American businessman and philanthropist. He is best known as a former owner of the Milwaukee Bucks and the Golden State Warriors, both NBA teams.

Contents

Early life

Fitzgerald is the son of Chloris (Ty) Beiter Fitzgerald and Michael H. Fitzgerald Jr. He graduated from high school on D-Day in 1944, and attended Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio and Notre Dame (Class of 1947) in the V-12 Navy College Training Program, where he earned a degree in Naval Science. He also holds honorary Ph.D.s from the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater and Baldwin-Wallace College.

He married Marilyn Cullen of Janesville on August 1, 1950 at Notre Dame's Old College Chapel.

Fitzgerald was called for duty during the Korean War in 1952 and spent time in the Navy as paymaster on the USS Siboney (CVE-112). He was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.

Business accomplishments

After graduating cum laude from Notre Dame he briefly joined Standard Oil. In 1948 he began his business career with a partner, Fred Weber. They became the Shell Oil jobbers for Janesville, Wisconsin opening their first gas station on Parker Drive.

The business started by Fitzgerald and Weber grew quickly, adding gas stations and car washes. In the late 1950s, Fitzgerald began building shopping centers with his brother-in-law, J.P. Cullen. In the early 1960s, Fitzgerald built the first Holiday Inn in Janesville with other investors, including Cullen and the Ryan brothers, both owners of regionally noted construction firms, and expanded to six other cities.

The Fitzgerald group later bought into banks and cable television franchises in Janesville (Total TV, Inc.) and Madison, Wisconsin.[1] Eventually the cable operations were sold to Jones Intercable (now part of Comcast) and TCI.[2]

In 1977, Fitzgerald led a group of investors in a takeover of Milwaukee Professional Sports and Service, Inc., the parent company of the Milwaukee Bucks.[3][4]

In the early 1980s, Total TV expanded throughout Wisconsin to include 40 cities. The growth was driven by many new channels, including MTV, CNN, USA Network, ESPN and Showtime that were only available on cable.

About this time Fitzgerald became the head of the NBA's television committee. In addition to controlling the broadcast of NBA games on television, he was also in charge of investigating revenue opportunities in new technologies such as cable, satellite TV and high-definition television (HDTV). Fitzgerald and Bud Selig (former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers) founded the Sportsvue cable channel, a pay-per-view sports broadcaster in Milwaukee. Sportsvue carried Bucks and Brewers games to fans throughout Wisconsin.

Sports involvement

Fitzgerald was chairman of the Bucks until 1985, when the team was sold to Herb Kohl, now a U.S. Senator. In 1986, Fitzgerald and friend Dan Finnane, who had also been involved with the Bucks, took over the Golden State Warriors, which he owned through 1995. Current owner Chris Cohan won control of the organization in a lawsuit, purchasing control from Finnane and Fitzgerald for the then-surprising price of $146 million.[5] During his ownership of both teams, Fitzgerald had a "handshake agreement"[6] with coach Don Nelson, not a contract. This arrangement reflected the friendship and trust between them. Nelson was raised on a farm in Iowa. Fitzgerald spent his boyhood summers in Carroll, Iowa. In an era of lawsuits and countersuits, this “contract” was unique in professional sports. They are best friends to this day.

In 1997, fifty years after he graduated, the Fitzgerald family donated the new sports and communications center press box at Notre Dame stadium. Still an avid fan, Fitzgerald attends almost every home game.

Later years

In the late 1990s, Fitzgerald was involved with SoftSpikes, a soft plastic replacement cleat for golf shoes. Because SoftSpikes cause less damage to fairways and greens they are now required on most U.S. golf courses. SoftSpikes was operated by Rob O'Loughlin, Fitzgerald's son-in-law.

Today, Fitzgerald is involved in several startup ventures, including LaserLink Golf, the manufacturer of a laser distance measuring device for golfers. It is also run by O'Loughlin.

Marilyn and Jim Fitzgerald have been married 59 years and have six children, more than a dozen grandchildren, six great-granddaughters, and two great-grandsons.

References

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