The West

Cool cat Bendat scores with Wildcats

Jack Bendat stared into his crystal basketball in 2006 and saw a financial slam dunk - not the balance sheet blunder the Perth Wildcats had become.

Although it required him to pour in $8 million of his personal fortune to reinvigorate the WA sporting brand, the Wildcats are now the undisputed National Basketball League leaders - on and off the court.

After making a "small profit" last year, Mr Bendat confirmed to _The Weekend West _ that he expected the club would record a $1 million profit this year.

With 30 full-time staff compared with the two on the books when the Bendat era began, the Wildcats' big red army of financially and emotionally committed fans have underpinned their team's drive into another grand final series, starting at Perth Arena on Monday.

In a rare interview on the eve of the finals, Mr Bendat said he never doubted he could rebuild the club.

"I don't just give money away," he said.

"I'm tough but I wanted to put something back into the community.

"It was financially ready to go bust and I could see the future. I've always been on a winner."

Asked whether a profitable Wildcats was now a saleable commodity, Mr Bendat blurted a flat "no". But ever the businessman, his stance quickly softened.

"You'd have to offer me $100 million and I'll sell it - everything is for sale," he said.

Mr Bendat bought the Wildcats partly because he did not feel ready for complete retirement.

So the long-time fan of the LA Lakers deferred to something he understood and immediately applied the same business principles that had served him impeccably in his successful media, wine and building ventures.

"Let me give you my theory of business - if you know the bottom line, you can go into wine, you can go into shopping centres, you can go into basketball," he said.

"You've just got to know how to treat people."

Mr Bendat said he was proud his family name was strongly associated with his team and gleaned great joy from his decision to give the 12,000 fans who attended the recent semi-final a free Wildcats shirt. Not that he really needed to, such has been the branding buy-in of the club's faithful. He expected merchandising to provide about $300,000 of a $10 million club income this year.

The 88-year-old said he would "rather lose $100,000" and have the Wildcats win the grand final in a two-game clean sweep than have a money-making third and deciding match at Perth Arena.

"I'm getting a lot of kicks out of it and it keeps me young," he said.

"I'm very proud of my boys and we've got fans who are just so Wildcats.

"You say one word against them and they'll bitch the hell out of you. You want to come to the party, come to the Wildcats."

I'm very proud of my boys and we've got fans who are just so Wildcats.

The West Australian

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