It will be 25 years next month since Richard Peddie was named CEO of the Toronto Raptors, in the early days of the local NBA franchise.

And it was only a couple of years later that Peddie thought he was going to be fired from the concert. Called to a meeting by the club’s new owners in early 1998 after cleaning most of their office in anticipation of a pink receipt, this after the company that owns the Maple Leafs bought the Raptors and the then Scotiabank Arena in construction, Peddie was instead given the opportunity to prove himself as interim CEO of what would become Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. And he was also given an edict.

At the meeting chaired by Larry Tanenbaum, still the MLSE president, Peddie said he was told to: a) cut his hair, as the owners didn’t seem to care about his pointy mullet, and b) get rid of the earring he was wearing. ever since he was president of SkyDome, where he dressed like who he was at the time: a Porsche driving executive who occasionally rubbed shoulders with the stars of rock concerts in stadiums.

“I loved the rock and roll side of things at SkyDome,” said Peddie.

Still, running MLSE was his dream job. So for the 20 years after that meeting, she had somehow found a way to navigate life with her hair clipped above her neck and earlobes without jewelry. But things turned around last summer when Peddie, now 74, gave in to a recurring longing.

“I kept thinking, ‘I want my earring back,’” he said.

And so the earring is back, a single diamond appearing in the autumn sun. It’s a hint of something by the standards of, say, the Raptors locker room.

“But I wish it was smaller,” Peddie said.

Smaller speaking, after a dedicated career building Canada’s largest sports conglomerate into an even bigger one, it was Peddie’s idea to buy Toronto FC, recently valued at $ 650 million, for $ 10 million in 2004 – Peddie Now He spends most of his time in Amherstburg, Ontario, population 22,000, just a short drive along the Detroit River from his hometown of Windsor.

Pending or not, even Peddie admits it’s an unlikely makeover.

Once a relentless Bay Street maximizer returns, the human symbol of the spirit of profit above championships that made him the target of ridicule from Toronto’s often frustrated sports fan base, he is now an activist. Left-wing and a socially conscious entrepreneur who is dedicating most of his time to the betterment of his beloved small town, where he and his wife Colleen own a home on Boblo Island, a four-minute ferry ride away.

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“I wouldn’t have seen it coming,” Peddie said with a smile.

These days, the Peddies are the owners of the quaint River Bookshop, a revival gem from a long-decrepit 1885 pharmacy that celebrated its first anniversary this summer. Independent bookselling business in the age of Amazon and COVID “sucks” if you’re trying to make money, Peddie will tell you. But it’s “great if you’re trying to make a positive difference in a small town, or because you want to educate and expose people of all ages to interesting and entertaining ideas.”

But as long as Peddie’s days of thirst for profit are behind him (he received a golden eight-figure handshake when he retired from MLSE a decade ago), his expansionary tendencies remain. In Toronto, Peddie presided over the construction of the lucrative Maple Leaf Square, a real estate and restaurant cash bonanza. In Amherstburg, in addition to co-chairing a group of climate change activists and running the city’s charitable foundation, he and his wife are the force behind what they call The Corner.

They recently purchased an adjacent building that now houses a busy artisan bakery and another neighboring property that, although currently under construction, will soon house a candy store, plus another retail boutique and a couple of luxurious second-floor rental units.

“It will probably be the most expensive rental in town, because we will end it that way. And we have … people who say, ‘How much is that going to cost?’ And my answer is, ‘It will be worth it,’ ”Peddie said. “I have a lot of experience accepting Leaf ticket prices so I can handle that.”

Just as a chat with Peddie rarely begins and ends without a sneer about the Leafs’ notoriously high prices, it also wouldn’t be complete without a quick update on a few topics, including his memory of the day. met with Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber about the TFC purchase.

“I flew to New York and had breakfast with (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman… I said, ‘I’m going to buy a football team this afternoon.’ (Bettman) said, ‘Oh that’s crazy. They should give you one for free. So we bought it and in our first year we were profitable. We were making $ 5 million or $ 6 million. And even today, look at how few NHL teams are making money. “

On the serious consideration he gave to running a 2018 Toronto mayoral bid against John Tory, whom Peddie has criticized as ‘too safe’ and ‘not bold’: ‘I really did my research and said,’ The support is not there. They will kill me. I also said, ‘What Toronto doesn’t need is another rich, old, white guy.’ Go vote for a woman or person of color. They didn’t need me then. John would have hit me. I was smart enough to investigate and find out before I was embarrassed. “

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On his successor as MLSE CEO, Tim Leiweke, who is widely credited with prompting the company’s teams to prioritize winning championships (albeit without the strings of the pension plan that the teams owned for much of his tenure. Peddie): “With Leiweke I heard (MLSE earnings) fell 30 percent or so. I don’t know for sure … He was famous just for spending and spending and getting big numbers, but he spent a lot to get there. ”

On Masai Ujiri, who first came to Toronto as a Raptors executive during Peddie’s career: “Man, he’s got carte blanche now, right? … I think his first salary (as a general manager in Denver, before he was repatriated to Canada) was $ 500,000, and I said, ‘They really are paying you badly. (Ujiri’s new deal as Raptors honorable is believed to be worth more than $ 15 million annually.) You have done the right things. It is so refined and so authentic. “

On the Leafs’ latest playoff failure: “Different guys come and go, and they’re not more successful, but they’re spending a lot more money. I care about them. You don’t want anyone to lose for so long. But it’s almost like a curse … Of course it isn’t. “

On the dangers of restoring the Victorian-era building that houses River Bookshop, which, on the day Peddie spoke with a reporter last week, was visited by two merchants who were about to begin work to shore up a foundation that sinking: “(Audible sigh.) That’s going to cost me a few dollars.”

Diamond studs and concrete shoring: that’s the price of keeping busy in Peddie’s decidedly A-type retirement.

“I am often here for morning meetings and I see men my age, and they always seem to be walking small dogs. And I’m thinking, ‘I’m glad that’s not how I spend my day,’ ”Peddie said.

It’s not that Peddie doesn’t enjoy a good fellowship with man’s best friend, specifically the couple’s giant black Schnauzers, Juno and Beaumont. A quarter of a century since he started running the Raptors, and a decade since he left MLSE to finally settle in a small town, Peddie still prefers to walk with the big dogs.

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