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The horn wails, ending another Toronto Maple Leafs win, a tidy 2-1 job at Air Canada Centre over the Vancouver Canucks. Larry Tanenbaum is happy this cold night, having taken it all in from his aisle seat in the sixth row behind the Leafs bench. The 58-year-old is the newest chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. (MLSE) and the public face of a company that owns not just the Leafs and the Toronto Raptors but also the arena he's sitting in and a pair of digital channels, one devoted to each club. The chairman's role is one that Tanenbaum was eager to undertake when the company embarked on its ownership reshuffle last February, and he's embraced it since the deal closed in June.

A fan before he was an owner, Tanenbaum never misses either team's games if he can help it. Tonight, like a host at the end of a party, he smiles and shakes hands with a few well-heeled patrons and then sets off, past the luxury suites set like plush bunkers underneath the Platinum section, through the media and hangers-on in the hallway. When he arrives at the brushed-chrome Star Trek-style sliding doors leading to the Leafs dressing room, the security guards step aside and Tanenbaum strides in like a guy who owns the place.

Inside, Jamaican dance-hall music booms as he begins working the room, nimbly avoiding the skates and pads strewn on the floor. Gary Roberts, looking gladiatorial even in his sweat-soaked long underwear, stands to greet him--as does Owen Nolan, the rugged Belfast-born winger, and tough guy Tie Domi, whom Tanenbaum grabs around the head in a gesture of brotherly affection. On and on around the room, Tanenbaum stops at every stall, as he always does.

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"I go in every game," he says. Win or lose? "Win or lose."

f Tanenbaum has his way, there will be a lot more winning than losing. And winning big. Think championship banners. Think parades. When he addressed the public after MLSE announced its reconfigured group last year, Tanenbaum got to the point: "We have only one objective--to bring home championships." It's the kind of thing that owners are supposed to say ("We're going to make the playoffs!" doesn't have quite the same ring), and it barely raised a knowing eyebrow among the skeptics in the crowd. Because, while MLSE has been about a lot of things--sky-high ticket prices and healthy operating profits among them--it's been banner-free since 1967.

No one questions Tanenbaum's passion--he's a self-described "superfan," and it shows. The concern is just that for all his business acumen, he's making promises he can't necessarily keep, at least not without co-operation. Chairman of the board or not, Tanenbaum is MLSE's smallest shareholder, at 13%. And while his partners--the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan's Merchant Bank, which owns 58%; Bell Globemedia (15%); and TD Capital (14%)--swear that they're also committed to a championship vision, the bottom line comes first. Long-suffering fans can be forgiven for saying, "Show me." With the teams competitive and the ACC always sold out, where's the motivation to spend a few million more to take them over the top?

Certainly the overhaul of the ownership structure orchestrated by Jim Leech, senior vice-president in charge of Teachers' Merchant Bank, has given MLSE a more blue-chip sheen. In a few short months, MLSE has not only made money--just as reliably as the sun rising in the east--it has exhibited a professional management style, a collegial board, clearly defined reporting structures, fiscal responsibility and entrepreneurial passion.

For decades before, however, it had seemed that chaos was in the Leafs' genetic code. Well into the reign of grocery mogul and previous MLSE chairman Steve Stavro, the company throbbed with in-fighting, takeover battles and failed succession plans. All that seems to have ended when Stavro sold his stake to his partner shareholders in a deal last February. But what else has changed? Not much, the critics say, considering at least part of the motivation for the deal was to give major shareholders more control and, as a byproduct, make it easier for the likes of Teachers' and TD to get their money out when the time is right.

All the same, things have changed--at least as far as MLSE's new chairman is concerned. Hear this: Larry Tanenbaum doesn't talk cheap. He learned as much from his father, Max Tanenbaum, a Toronto business giant who used his word as his bond, and a handshake in lieu of an army of lawyers. And when he does talk, Max's son means what he says. While the chairman's role is guaranteed for five years, according to the current ownership agreement, more important is the term he's imposed on himself. Following those five years, he says, "it's at the pleasure of the board, and at my pleasure. My pleasure is only if we have something tangible: a Stanley Cup or an NBA championship."

And if not, what then? "If I can't work this out in a period of time that makes us a winning, championship team, then I'm not going to be around." Sounds like a man with a plan. Or more than one.

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he late, legendary Max Tanenbaum was a Polish {Zcaron}migr{Zcaron} who dropped out of school at 13 to work in the family's scrap metal business and went on to build one of Canada's great empires. He founded York Steel, which became a cash cow during the hyper-development of the postwar years. That fortune was quickly and expertly leveraged. Kilmer Van Nostrand (KVN) was a powerful construction interest that had fallen on hard times when Tanenbaum bought it out of bankruptcy in the late 1950s. There was money to be made in real estate, developing landmark projects like the Palace Pier and Sutton Place Hotel, as well as successfully speculating on great tracts of what was then farmland around ever-growing Toronto.

Max built his business the old-school way, relying on personal relations with bankers, keeping the details in his head and making decisions on his own. He once rejected an offer to sell his building at 155 University Ave. in downtown Toronto to a British insurance firm. Asked if he wanted to consult his shareholders first, he replied, "Who's to ask?"

At home, Max and his wife, Anne, a couple occasionally written up in the society pages, raised four boys and three girls. Larry was born in 1945, the youngest son. As a teenager, young Tanenbaum went to work in the family business while on summer breaks. He was hardly a jock during his time at Forest Hill Collegiate, and his father--a man who lived for his work and family and not much else--didn't actively encourage sports. All the same, Tanenbaum was smitten by the teams of the day. He would accompany his oldest brother, Harold, to Argonauts games at Varsity Stadium, and occasionally ventured to Maple Leaf Gardens to watch the Leafs.

But the bug bit hardest in university. In 1964, during freshman week at ivy-league Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y., Tanenbaum met the school's legendary hockey coach, Ned Harkness. That Tanenbaum was Canadian--and one of the few non-hockey-playing ones on campus--convinced Harkness to hire him as student manager of Cornell's best and most popular team. Tanenbaum fell under the spell of the budding Big Red hockey dynasty, which packed fans into the 4,000-seat James Lynah Rink on cold winter nights.

It was a glamorous milieu, but student manager was hardly a glamour position, and perhaps an odd one for a rich kid from Toronto to undertake with such enthusiasm. Tanenbaum's job included picking up sweaty gear and making travel arrangements for a bunch of jocks. "It was a tough job. Guys that age aren't always the most respectful," says then-team member and future Montreal Canadiens star Ken Dryden, who is now vice-chairman at MLSE. The payoff was being welcomed into the athletes' sanctum. Besides, Tanenbaum adds, "Winning was fun." In 1967, the team won the NCAA championship.

After graduating from Cornell in 1968 with a degree in economics, Tanenbaum ran the construction side of the business for his father, expanding it into a global enterprise that built subways, highways and hydro stations. As a young executive emerging from his father's shadow, Tanenbaum began looking for opportunities in pro sports. In the early 1970s, he teamed unsuccessfully with Paul Godfrey to seek an NFL franchise; part of the plan was to build a stadium on family-owned land in suburban Toronto. ("We were two young kids wet behind the ears with stars in our eyes," says Godfrey, now president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays.)

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In 1979, the family business grew again when it purchased Toronto-based Warren Paving for $70 million. But only a year later, Max Tanenbaum suffered an incapacitating stroke, and it wasn't long afterward that his two passions--work and family--unravelled quickly and publicly.

Max had not put a proper succession plan in place. So it fell to Larry, his older brother Howard and their mother, Anne, to sort matters out, a process made more complicated as interest rates spiked, real estate values fell and the stock market choked in the recessionary early '80s. As Ron Appleby, the family's long-time corporate counsel, said at the time, "To try and take over a business that was operated by one man who kept many things in his head is, you can appreciate, not a simple thing."

An estate battle ensued, pitting second-oldest brother Joey Tanenbaum, the noted art dealer and philanthropist, his sisters and the widow and children of Harold Tanenbaum (the eldest of the four brothers, who died of cancer in 1978) against Howard, Larry and their mother. In question were millions of dollars in transactions made to satisfy creditors in the three years between the patriarch's stroke and his death in 1983. The deals were made in a tough economy that saw the estate wither from $200 million to half of that amount. Eventually, a settlement was reached, avoiding a prolonged court battle, but the damage was done. For a long time, family members didn't speak to one another, and though the fractured relationships have since been largely repaired, lessons were learned.

"It was very painful," Larry Tanenbaum says. "The situation came about with my father not putting the proper succession plan in order. So if you ask if I've planned for succession, the answer is yes." Despite that period of turmoil, Tanenbaum succeeded in growing Warren Paving. By July, 2000, when it merged with the construction-materials behemoth Lafarge North America in a deal worth $425 million, Warren had 23 aggregate operations, 2,500 employees, 55 asphalt plants in five provinces and $600 million in revenue. As part of the transaction, KVN bought 4.4 million stock purchase warrants and became Lafarge North America's biggest shareholder.

Until that deal, Tanenbaum had hung his hard hat in a nondescript low-rise office in Downsview, cheek-by-jowl with an asphalt plant. Afterward, more and more of his business focused on investment. He launched Kilmer Capital Partners Ltd. in April, 2001. The $115-million private equity fund now has such diverse holdings as York Uniforms (a manufacturer of industrial clothing) and Give and Go Prepared Foods Ltd. (makers of Two-Bite Brownies). In 2002, KVN became a minority partner with the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) in Borealis Capital Corp., of which Tanenbaum is a director and board vice-chairman. The deal marked his return to infrastructure development--this time in the role of financier, not contractor. By then his business address--a 27th-floor suite in Bay Street's Scotia Plaza that KVN moved into in June, 2001--more accurately reflected the nature of his business.

Traces of his Downsview roots are evident in the offices today. Among the magazines arranged just-so is a copy of Asphaltopics, the official publication of the Ontario Hot Mix Producers Association, and the coffee table book Landmark American Bridges. But over all, the muted earth tones and fine art say "downtown merchant bank." If a guest requests water, a waiter wearing black and white whisks in to pour it from the bottle, setting the glass down on a neatly folded linen napkin.

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Tanenbaum's determination to break into the Toronto sports world predates his move to Bay Street. Beginning in the late 1980s, he began to aggressively lobby various NBA teams--the Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs and New Jersey Nets among them--to relocate to Toronto. His persistence persuaded NBA commissioner David Stern to give Toronto an expansion franchise. Tanenbaum formed a bid company called the Palestra Group, lined up Labatt and CIBC as partners, and spent $1.5 million on his bid, only to be nipped at the wire--some say because he was reluctant to pay the NBA's $125-million expansion fee--by a group headed by John Bitove.

Tanenbaum is a basketball fan, but more important, he recognized that Toronto would be better off if the NBA franchise shared quarters with the Leafs. His failed franchise bid had included a pledge from the Leafs' Stavro that the two teams would be co-tenants in a new arena. Undaunted after being turned down by Stern, Tanenbaum kept plugging away. In 1996, he spent $21 million for a 12.5% share of the Maple Leafs and immediately began to work on what everyone knew to be a logical plan--the merger of the Leafs and the Raptors in a single, new arena.

With Tanenbaum driving the issue, the Maple Leafs and broadcast mogul Allan Slaight (John Bitove's former partner) agreed in 1998 to bring the Raptors and Air Canada Centre under the same corporate umbrella. Tanenbaum retained a 12.5% stake in the new company--MLSE--and became the league governor for the basketball team.

Stavro turned out not to be the ideal partner. Relations between him and Tanenbaum soon turned chilly. There were a number of reasons, but one source says things got off on the wrong foot early in Tanenbaum's days with the Leafs when a 1996 article in The Financial Post went on at length about how close the two men had become. The piece described Tanenbaum as the son Stavro never had, a characterization that did not sit well with Stavro or his wife, Sally, who had raised four daughters. "Who is he to say he's my son?" is what one source recalls as Stavro's reaction.

Another story points to the time when Tanenbaum had a handshake understanding with Slaight during the Leafs-Raptors negotiations, only to have Stavro refuse it, telling him, "I make the deals around here." Stavro, founder of the Knob Hill Farms grocery chain, had won control of Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd. in 1994 and managed, after a lengthy legal battle, to take the company private in 1996. Prone to table-thumping fits of temper, he obsessed about the most minute aspects of the operation. It wasn't unusual for him to spend time at a board meeting talking about the hot-dog buns.

"There was no doubt that Steve owned this place," says Jim Leech of Teachers' Merchant Bank. "And if he wanted someone hired, he'd go right to contract with the person. He controlled 51%. That's the way it was set up." Asked about tensions with Stavro, Tanenbaum pauses and says, "Um, I'm not 100% sure why our relationship changed. There was no one incident. But it did change." More than anything, he adds, Stavro had spent most of his life working without partners, and he wasn't about to start asking people around him what they thought before he acted. The relationship became adversarial enough that Tanenbaum removed himself from the MLSE board in May, 2000, appointing his trusted adviser Dale Lastman, co-chair at Goodmans law firm, to take his place.

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Complicating matters was the fact that Stavro's grocery empire had crumbled. Leech, for one, was concerned about the implications presented by a controlling owner in his 70s who was not believed to be in the best financial health. Concerned about the company's succession plans, Leech made it a priority to reconfigure MLSE's ownership group shortly after joining Teachers' in September, 2001.

His vision--documented in a four-page brief that he forwarded to the existing stakeholders--marked a departure from decades of Maple Leafs history. The plan was for a well-financed, entrepreneurial MLSE not beholden to individual whims and passions, and a company unencumbered by internal conflicts and a sagging debt load. Leech launched "Project New Era," but it was widely viewed as wishful thinking.

To make it work, Leech had to satisfy Stavro's needs and delicate sensibilities. Facing a cash crunch, Stavro was open to moving on--he is said to have earned about $35 million in the deal--but it was important for practical and personal reasons that his exit be made as graceful as possible. Leech also had to assuage TD Capital, the shareholder that had helped finance Stavro in his takeover in 1994; maintain the approval of the Thomson family's Woodbridge Co., which had bailed out Stavro as his Knob Hill grocery empire began to wither; and, not least, look out for Teachers', the $68-billion fund that had been the largest single shareholder since 1994, but which, by virtue of the existing ownership agreement, lacked the power that would normally go with it. What's more, Leech wanted to streamline an ownership structure that was bogged down by "negative control"--where even the smallest shareholder could block the will of the others.

Finally, Leech had to be conscious of Tanenbaum, who had been frozen out of the hockey side of the operation by Stavro. The looming labour dispute that threatened to cancel the 2004-2005 NHL season gave Leech a deadline. Tanenbaum didn't want to miss the chance to establish a role in the new MLSE, so when Leech asked for a meeting, Tanenbaum invited him to lunch at Kilmer's offices.

"Larry saw that we didn't want to carry on with the same ownership structure," Leech says. "It was going to make us vulnerable. If we needed money during a labour stoppage, who were we going to look to? [Stavro]was of finite resources, his investment in MLSE was the bulk of his assets, and you just don't want, all of a sudden, a requirement for capital that he may not be able to come up with."

When Leech took the same vision statement to TD's John MacIntyre and Woodbridge CEO Geoff Beattie, the reaction was the same: This is constructive. Then came months of horse-trading negotiations and a series of incremental advances. By last February, the elements fell into place.

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The existing shareholders all increased their share proportionally by converting existing debt into equity. This gave Teachers' Merchant Bank its 58% stake; TD got 14% and Tanenbaum 13%, while the interest that Woodbridge Co. had gained through its financing of Stavro was converted to a 15% piece on behalf of Bell Globemedia, a division of BCE and part owner of The Globe and Mail.

Installing Tanenbaum in the chairman's role made sense, in part because he wanted it--believing his entrepreneurial appetite was the leavening the loaf needed--and in part because he was the only obvious choice, as the lone individual shareholder in a sea of corporate money. What Tanenbaum brings to the table is a much-noted enthusiasm. (And not just for sports, friends point out. From Dale Lastman: "I'm walking down the street with him and he stops and says, 'That's a spectacular smell.' I'm looking around and I don't know what he's talking about. They had just finished putting down some asphalt on the street. And he's like, 'Just smell this.'") Of course, Tanenbaum also contributes his prolific business record, as well as a sensitivity to the importance of the Leafs and Raptors to the psyche of their home city--both now and in the future. "This is no criticism of Stavro," says one MLSE insider, "but the difference is just night and day. Larry just gets it." Tanenbaum wasted no time after being given the nod as chairman. In the months prior to the deal being finalized, he helped interview the shortlist of candidates for the Raptors coaching job, eventually given to Kevin O'Neill. Soon after the deal closed, he jumped in as the Maple Leafs went about hiring a new general manager. One of his first official projects was a redesign of the directors' lounge--between the Leafs' and Raptors' dressing rooms--the exclusive gathering place for MLSE VIPs and guests. Overseen by Bruce Mau Design Inc., with assistance from Tanenbaum's wife, Judy, the lounge was transformed from an old-school, dark-panelled, scotch-and-cigars hideout to a beige-toned room reminiscent of a boutique hotel lobby. "The new room isn't so much a reflection of Larry," says one insider at MLSE. "It's just that the old one was so much a reflection of Steve."

he significance of Tanenbaum's appointment resonates in other ways. "Could this have been anticipated when I was in high school?" he asks. "Are you kidding? Not even close." Not for a kid raised in a kosher Jewish home in WASP Toronto. "It was legendary," he adds, "that [Leafs founder]Conn Smythe was not the most open-minded individual, and one would say a virulent anti-Semite. I find it more interesting that he was also in the sand and gravel business." His religious background, Tanenbaum believes, has helped him navigate the stormy waters roiling around MLSE. "Five thousand years of continuous history of the Jewish people have built an ethic. And the ethic has been built around family, the importance of learning and good behaviour," he says, counting them off on his fingers. "You build on those tenets. You never stop learning, whether that's reading the Bible, the Talmud, the New Yorker or Engineering News Record. And ethical behaviour is about conducting your relationships on an ethical basis. You're honest with people. You want an open dialogue, to be able to say, 'This is how I feel. You might feel differently, but we can discuss it in a rational manner.'" Like his father, Tanenbaum believes that in business, your word is everything.

Reserved by nature, Tanenbaum is not a natural in the public eye, although there seems to be part of him that enjoys the limelight. He sits on the floor for Raptors games, often with his wife, sometimes with celebrities and visiting dignitaries, and gets his share of face time when the cameras pan the crowd. But he firmly guards his family's privacy; it's a challenge that will grow along with his profile. Tanenbaum asked that Judy, his university sweetheart, not be interviewed for this article. He provides only the sketchiest details on his three children--two daughters and a son, all grown--and would not even say how many grandchildren he dotes on ("the dividends of parenthood," he calls them). A visit to his home in the elite enclave of Forest Hill was out of the question.

And although he enjoys the benefits of wealth--he skis in Vail, has a summer place on Lake Simcoe and famously used his private plane to fly Raptors star Vince Carter to his graduation ceremony in North Carolina on the morning of a playoff game in 2001--Tanenbaum is loath to talk about them. "I like to live well, but privately," he says.

This is easier said than done. As Don Cherry announced from his pulpit on Hockey Night in Canada shortly after the ownership shuffle was announced, "Larry Tanenbaum, you're on the hot seat now." Given the Leafs' championship-free recent history, blaming the owner--blaming anyone--is a reflex action in Toronto.

"He's learned to handle the profile very well," says Howard, his brother and confidant. "It's a difficult position he's put himself in as chairman of a very public company. If you aren't successful, all of a sudden you become a fall guy, and more credit to him if he's able to handle that." Tanenbaum got a taste of public criticism of another kind recently when his holding company, Kilmer Van Nostrand, joined the Union Pearson Group, a six-company consortium that won the contract to redevelop Toronto's Union Station. During the long and controversial bidding process, some key documents were inadvertently destroyed, and elements of the bid scoring were never made public. Suspicions were cranked up further because of Tanenbaum's involvement--given his relationship with Dale Lastman, son of then-Toronto Mayor Mel.

The watchdogs went on high alert when the mayor removed himself from the redevelopment process in January, 2003, nearly six months after the consortium was awarded the contract, citing a conflict because his son, along with Tanenbaum, had just joined the board of Borealis, owned in part by OMERS, a partner with KVN in Union Pearson. Justice Coulter Osborne eventually approved the bid process after an investigation, concluding there was no conflict at the time the contract was awarded. All the same, doubts had been raised and aspersions cast.

"Larry got criticized that somehow he won the bid improperly. But I have to tell you, it was an absolutely fair process," says Toronto lawyer and political fundraiser Ralph Lean, whose firm represented an American bidder. "He shouldn't be criticized, and I'm the opposition."

Things have been considerably sunnier for Tanenbaum at MLSE, where today the buzzword among shareholders is "increasing enterprise value." Winning championships will help in that regard, but the consensus is that spending wisely over the long term, rather than extravagantly in the short term, is the best way to achieve the goal.

MLSE does have money. Estimates are that the privately held company earns $60 million to $70 million before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, although, according to chief executive Richard Peddie, the profits are considerably less when you include payments on the team's recently completed 10-year, $360-million bond financing.

Tanenbaum sees the greatest potential for new revenue coming from new broadcasting arrangements, with the company's money-losing digital channels eventually turning into profit centres by showing an increasing amount of exclusive team content, including regular-season games on a subscriber basis. It's one of the reasons MLSE recently decided to retain its broadcast rights following the expiration of its last deal, a five-year contract with Molson reportedly worth $100 million. In general, the goal is to get fans outside of the arena to pay more of the freight--to dip into the pocketbooks of the Leaf Nation, even if its citizens can't make it to the Air Canada Centre.

There may be other avenues of growth. Some reports suggest that MLSE has sniffed around House of Blues Concerts Canada, an affiliate of the Los Angeles-based HOB Entertainment. Its Canadian arm, half owned by Molson, produces upward of 800 shows a year. By late 2003, MLSE was also deep into a due-diligence process for a proposed $100-million redevelopment of the site of Varsity Stadium and Varsity Arena on the University of Toronto campus, which could see it partner with the Toronto Argonauts and the University of Toronto in a project that was driven, in part, by the friendship between Tanenbaum and new Argos owners David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski. According to one sports insider, there may be partnership opportunities with the Blue Jays, given Tanenbaum's close relationship with cable magnate and Jays owner Ted Rogers.

In the meantime, the new version of MLSE has largely behaved like the company the shareholders envisioned. Acrimony at the board is a thing of the past. Reporting structures have been clearly defined, with the two general managers, John Ferguson Jr. of the Leafs and Glen Grunwald of the Raptors, reporting directly to Peddie, who in turn makes recommendations to the board. Both of the two teams' new hires--Ferguson Jr. and Raptors coach O'Neill--have been judged positively, reflecting well on a Peddie-engineered and Tanenbaum-endorsed hiring practice, which follows that of Fortune 500 companies. Such concepts weren't so readily received in the Stavro era.

The question remains: Is the world ready for an MLSE that actually functions? The oddest but perhaps biggest problem that Tanenbaum and his fellow shareholders face in the "New Era" is the tendency fans and the media have to expect the worst. Having paid their dues with exorbitant ticket prices and any number of heartbreak losses, who can believe that the ship may finally come in? Echoing the doubters are the chattering classes on Bay Street, reluctant to believe that the Maple Leafs mess has been cleaned up--just like that.

"You should know that 72% of that company is still in play," says one source, referring to the reported desire for Teachers' and TD to exit.

There's talk that the board is frustrated because Tanenbaum is as close to the players as Stavro ever was--an intimacy that might undermine management. Another rumour is that Tanenbaum and Peddie occasionally clash because Tanenbaum's enthusiasm causes him to step on Peddie's toes. In late January, there was confusion when Tanenbaum seemingly endorsed embattled Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald, saying, "Glen has [the board's]full support to build and shape this team in the future." Peddie made it clear the next day that Grunwald's contract status was still undetermined and hadn't yet been discussed at the board level. Even the Argonauts deal has at least one insider questioning direction: "Just because Tanenbaum has dinner with his buddies, we're supposed to buy the Argos?"

But the criticism doesn't seem to resonate widely in the organization. Peddie points out that his history with Tanenbaum dates back to the Palestra bid. "I'd like to think our relationship is terrific," he says. He also downplays any potential tensions on the Argos bid: "Our board functions as a team. Larry respects the board as they respect him. He knows it's the board's ultimate call."

True, Tanenbaum is friendly with the players. He's close with several, including the Leafs' Tie Domi and Raptors star Vince Carter, and he doesn't think he's going down a slippery slope when he entertains athletes at his house or hangs out with them on vacation. To him, it's no different than sitting in on engineering meetings during his civil construction days, or having pasta with the road crews at his paving company. And rather than chafe at the fact that his partners might not share all his views, Tanenbaum says he appreciates the perspective they bring.

"There's a balance there," says TD's John MacIntyre. "I think the beauty of this [arrangement]is that if someone came to Steve Stavro and said, 'I don't want to be traded,' he could go, 'Okay.' Not that he ever abused that, but Larry doesn't even have that temptation. He can't bind the enterprise."

Still, for all the feel-good vibes around MLSE these days, it's a given that at some point, though not before the NHL gets through its impending labour negotiations, both Teachers' and TD will look to leave, causing one more seismic shift. Exactly how Tanenbaum will fare when the plates start moving isn't clear. As minority shareholder, he would have to act aggressively to grab a controlling stake of a company typically valued at $1 billion or more. Some observers point to Tanenbaum's relationships with fellow Borealis investors OMERS and CPPIB as potential sources of capital.

Competition is inevitable. "There's only one Air Canada Centre, only one Toronto Maple Leafs and only one Toronto Raptors," says one source. "If you want to own them, you have to seize the moment." At Bell Globemedia, it's understood that parent company BCE is less enthusiastic about the sports business under Michael Sabia than it was under his predecessor, Jean Monty. The wild card might be the Thomson family and its multiple billions, via Woodbridge Co. David Thomson was part of a group that looked to buy the Raptors in 1997 with an eye to merging with the Leafs. If the Thomsons step up again, it would be a bank-account battle Tanenbaum would be hard-pressed to win.

For now, Tanenbaum contends, "I like the business. I like my partners. At this moment everyone seems to be very happy." After all, he is sitting exactly where he's always wanted to be. Long after the student manager days at Cornell, Tanenbaum is back in the dressing room with the favourite team in town, except now the players jump out of their seats to say hello and shake his hand.

There is, of course, always more--a plan B for every plan A. "The day the partners want to exit is the day I want to buy," says Tanenbaum.

A minority share? A majority piece? The whole thing?

"All of the above."

THE ROYAL TANENBAUMS

Max Tanenbaum 1909-1983

Founder of York Steel and a construction and development empire

Anne Tanenbaum 1909-

Harold 1930-1978

Passed away from bone cancer

Joseph (Joey) 1932- Chairman and CEO of Jay-M Enterprises Ltd. and Jay-M Holdings. An avid art collector and philanthropist, Joey and his wife, Toby, donated an art collection to the Art Gallery of Hamilton in 2003 valued at $75 million to $90 million

Minda 1936- The eldest of the three daughters engages in philanthropic work in Toronto with her husband, Leslie Feldman, through their private charitable foundation. She is a major supporter of the city's Mount Sinai Hospital

Tauba 1940- Tauba and her husband, Solomon Spiro, run a charitable foundation in their name, donating heavily to Princess Margaret Hospital

Howard 1943- Lawyer, financier, real estate developer and serious art collector. Howard and his wife, Carole, have acquired more than 500 20th-century masterworks, and have an extensive photography collection. In keeping with family tradition, they also run a charitable foundation

Larry 1945- Chairman and CEO, Kilmer Van Nostrand Co. Ltd., and chairman of MLSE. He and his wife, Judy, have three grown children

Carol 1949- The youngest child of Max and Anne Tanenbaum is a Toronto philanthropist, contributing to hospitals and art galleries

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