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|Born||James Francis Fitzgerald
March 27, 1926
Janesville, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Died||June 4, 2012
Janesville, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Alma mater||Notre Dame,
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (Ph.D.)
Golden State Warriors
(1950-2012; his death); 6 children
James Francis "Jim" Fitzgerald (March 27, 1926 – June 4, 2012) was an American businessman and former professional sports owner. He was best known as a former owner of the Milwaukee Bucks and the Golden State Warriors, both NBA teams.
Fitzgerald graduated from high school and attended Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio and the Notre Dame in the V-12 Navy College Training Program, where he earned a bachelor's degree in naval science in 1947. 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. In 1952, he was called up for service in the Korean War as Navy paymaster on the USS Siboney (CVE-112), stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.
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, he 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. The cable operations were eventually sold to Jones Intercable (now part of Comcast) and TCI. In 1975, Fitzgerald led a group of investors to buy Milwaukee Professional Sports and Service, Inc., the parent company of the NBA Milwaukee Bucks.
In the early 1980s, Total TV expanded throughout Wisconsin to include 40 cities. The growth was driven by many new cable-only channels, including MTV, CNN, USA Network, ESPN and Showtime. It was around this time that Fitzgerald became chairman of the NBA's television committee. He and Bud Selig (former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers who eventually became Major League Baseball Commissioner) founded the pay-per-view Sportsvue cable channel in Milwaukee which carried Bucks and Brewers games to fans throughout Wisconsin.
Fitzgerald was chairman of the Bucks until 1985, when the team was sold to Herb Kohl, a former U.S. Senator. In 1986, Fitzgerald and Dan Finnane, who had also been involved with the Bucks, took over the Golden State Warriors, which they owned through 1995. At the time he owned each of these teams, Fitzgerald had only a "handshake agreement" with Don Nelson, head coach of both teams in turn, not a contract, an arrangement which reflected the friendship and trust between them. In an era of lawsuits and countersuits, this “contract” was unique in professional sports. In 1997, 50 years after he graduated, the Fitzgerald family donated funds to build a new sports and communications center and press box at Notre Dame Stadium.
During the 1990s, he received several awards including being inducted to the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame, the state of Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fame and the Wisconsin Business Hall of Fame. 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 founded by Rob O'Loughlin, Fitzgerald's son-in-law. Fitzgerald was involved in several startup ventures, including LaserLink Golf, another O'Loughlin startup and the manufacturer of a laser distance measuring device for golfers, run by O'Loughlin.
Marilyn and Jim Fitzgerald had six children. Jim Fitzgerald died on June 4, 2012, aged 86, at his home in Janesville.