IN JULY 2012, as he was struggling to keep his fledgling company afloat and trying to hold together a shaky agreement to buy the Memphis Grizzlies, Robert Pera flew to Aspen, Colorado, to have dinner with a man named Pitt Hyde.
Hyde, the wealthy founder of the automotive parts retailer AutoZone, was a part owner of the Grizzlies and more than twice Pera's age. As they ate, Hyde told a story that captivated the then 34-year-old Pera. It was about 1978, Hyde told him, the year Pera was born, when Hyde was just 36 himself and had joined the Walmart board of directors. Walmart founder Sam Walton himself drove to the airport to pick Hyde up in a run-down pickup truck and then took them back to their spartan corporate office, where the "boardroom" featured folding tables and chairs.
Pera liked to think of himself as embodying Walton in those days. Much like Walton's retail chain began selling low-priced goods to underserved towns in the 1960s, Pera's networking company, Ubiquiti Networks, sold WiFi to underserved corners of the world from Africa to Asia.
Walmart went on to become the biggest company in the world (starting in 2001, per Fortune) and Walton one of its richest people. After the meeting with Hyde, Pera took to his personal blog and wrote: "I also aspire to drive Ubiquiti's transformation from David to Goliath one day just as Walton did."
A decade later, Pera is richer than Walton ever was. His company has soared and so has his net worth, to $15 billion and rising. The average NBA fan might know the richest owners in the league are the LA Clippers' Steve Ballmer, worth around $100 billion depending on how Microsoft's stock does on any given day, and the Cleveland Cavaliers' Dan Gilbert, worth more than $20 billion. But Pera, who ranks third among league owners, is a relative ghost, rarely seen and never heard, unlike some of his courtside-sitting, cheerleading peers.
Because of Pera's deepening pockets -- he's in line to take in $135 million this year on his Ubiquiti stock dividends alone -- the Grizzlies are in position to keep their current roster of players and potentially add more.
This summer, Grizzlies' franchise player Ja Morant is in line to receive his first huge contract, one that could exceed $200 million, putting him on par with fellow young star Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks. Earlier this season, Grizzlies cornerstone Jaren Jackson Jr. signed a $105 million extension. Over the next two years, core young players Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke and Tyus Jones all will be looking to get paid.
In conversations internally and with executives on other teams, the Grizzlies have been consistent with their message: When the time is right, Pera will spend what it takes.
The time appears to be right.