The New York Islanders are celebrating their 50th year this season and despite the uneasiness and frustration fans are feeling this off-season, there's little doubt the Islanders as an organization are in the best position they've been in since the dynasty era.
It all starts with ownership and Scott Malkin and John Ledecky are the real deal. They found a way to build UBS Arena, the state-of-the-art home of the Islanders fans they never thought they'd see. The co-owners have also shown a willingness to invest in the team, providing management with all the resources necessary to be successful in the NHL.
But 25 years ago, during their silver-anniversary season, it was a much different story. That was when John Spano, the 30-something Texas businessman with New York roots deceived and swindled his way into signing a deal to purchase the Islanders for $165 million from John Pickett.
By now, you know the story, have watched 'Big Shot' the ESPN 30-for-30 documentary, and still shiver whenever you see the clip of Clark Gillies uttering his name when his No.9 was retired.
Spano wasn't the real deal. He was fraud, a fake, a charlatan.
It all started to unravel in late June 1997 when Spano failed to make a $17 million payment to Pickett, first bouncing a check and then wiring up $1,700 to buy time. Soon after, commissioner Gary Bettman forced Spano to relinquish the day-to-day operations of the team and return control to Pickett.
Then in July, Newsday dug deep into Spano's background and revealed he wasn't the savior the Islanders loyal fanbase had been led to believe. The fraudster had lied to close the deal and made false statements on loan applications while racking up over $200,000 of expenses on the Islanders.
25 years ago, on July 23, 1997, federal prosecutors charged him with multiple counts of fraud. He was arraigned upon returning to Long Island from a "business trip" to the Cayman Islands. Things accelerated quickly from there and Spano pled guilty to bank fraud on January 13, 1998. He was later sentenced to 71 months in federal prison.
The Spano saga is symbolic of the darkest period in franchise history. It will be rightfully ignored during the 50th year celebration, but it won't be forgotten.