NHL Viewers Club - 'Big Shot,' that time a con man briefly owned the Islanders

8 min read
fairly easy
In 1996, John Spano pulled off quite a heist: Purchasing an NHL team under false pretenses. Let's examine the documentary, plus later fallout.
In 2013, director Kevin Connolly's "Big Shot" was released as part of ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary series. It chronicled the fraudulent attempt by a Dallas businessman named John Spano to buy the New York Islanders for $165 million, and the subsequent fallout. It was notable for featuring a sit-down interview with the infamous Spano himself.

This week, with no live games to watch, "Big Shot" is our selection for the NHL Viewers Club and can be streamed on ESPN+. Follow along below with our guide to the many angles in the doc:

Describe "Big Shot" in 10 words or fewer

Emily Kaplan: Guy with no money buys Islanders, cons everyone. It's nuts!

Greg Wyshynski: The only mistake Gary Bettman admits making as NHL commissioner.

What part of Spano's scam secretly impressed you the most?

Kaplan: How easily he falsified documents -- and how brazen he was about it. "In today's world, I don't know if it would be as easy," Spano said in the documentary. "But back then, with faxes and everything else, it was surprisingly not as difficult as you might think."

Honestly, what it came down to was a lack of communication. At least, according to him: "I set it up so other people couldn't talk to other people, or they didn't have enough knowledge to put two and two together. The guy at the bank knew one thing. The guy at the NHL knew another. My attorney knew something else. If they would have all got together, they would have realized something wasn't right."

Wyshynski: Initially, it was his stalling tactics. For example, Spano would be required to send $17 million to the Islanders' previous owner, and then -- whoops! -- he would actually send $1,700, claiming a variety of different mistakes. That would buy him extra time to raise more money or for the next diversionary scam. But my favorite grift was Spano's taking a loan from Pittsburgh Penguins star Mario Lemieux, whom he claimed was one of his best friends, and then using that money on the Islanders rather than on the…
Emily Kaplan, Greg Wyshynski
Read full article