The Critical 'I'

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Thursday, July 01, 2004

ESPO'S DAY WITH THE CUP, WITH SAKE
cupper
Somebody alert Snopes. I believe we have the birth of a new sports myth being passed off as fact, courtesy of the St. Pete Times' account of Tampa Bay Lightning founder Phil Esposito's day with the Stanley Cup:
Of course, sake might have been a fitting drink for Esposito to sip from the Cup Wednesday - that's the drink Japanese investors thought he mentioned, when he first approached them about hockey.

"Yeah, they thought I meant sake, but no, I won't be drinking that. I tell you what, I'm going to put a couple of bottles of champagne in there tonight, and I'm going to have my wife sip from it, and all the people, probably 14 of us, sip from it, and we'll celebrate with proper respect."
It's a great quip that Espo's used for the last fifteen years: "sake" instead of "hockey". It'd be even better if it were true, but as I recall, it's not.

Espo's always joked about it as an illustration of how awkward he felt during initial meetings with Kokusai Green, the Japanese investors who bailed him out on the Lightning expansion franchise. As the team foundered in it's first few years, the sake story was brought up plenty more times, to get across how clueless the Japanese ownership was in all things hockey. But Espo never suggested that he was giving a serious account of the business deal; the tone was always one of kidding around.

I guess a good place to start debunking would be Espo's biography, Thunder and Lightning: A No B.S. Hockey Memoir.

Unfortunately, today's article is beyond vague: Because of the briefness of the mention, it comes off as a factual account of the franchise's origins. And it's a cute story, which gives it even more appeal. Hopefully, this post will help, at least a little, in setting the record straight.