Mario Lemieux is one of the greatest
players in NHL history, with two Stanley
Cups, six NHL scoring titles, three MVP
awards, two Conn Smythe Trophies, a
Calder Trophy, a Masterton Trophy — and an
Olympic gold medal for good measure.
Now, he’s also established himself as
one of the league’s greatest owners.
Lemieux and co-owner Ron Burkle led the
Penguins to three Stanley Cups in a nine-year
span between 2009 and 2017, giving Mario more
Cups as an owner than he won as a player.
Lemieux and Burkle organized a group
of investors that bought the Penguins out
of bankruptcy in 1999. The combination of
Lemieux’s hockey acumen and Burkle’s business
savvy made them a formidable front office
tandem and led to a series of spectacular
achievements both on and off the ice.
The Penguins, during that time, have
become one of the premier franchises in all of
sports, leading the way in fan relations, youth
marketing, community outreach and innovative
technology while consistently putting a winning
product on the ice. That includes qualifying
for the playoffs for 13 straight seasons — the
longest current streak in the NHL — and
reaching the Cup Final four times and the
conference finals five times in the past 12 years.
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The Penguins entered the 2019-20 season
having sold out every game for 12-plus seasons
while setting high standards for television
ratings, corporate sales and social media.
Lemieux and Burkle were driving forces in the
quest for a new multi-purpose arena, which
opened in August 2010. PPG Paints Arena is
considered one of the top facilities in North
America and has hosted such national events
as the 2012, 2015 and 2018 NCAA Men’s
Basketball Tournament opening rounds, the
2012 NHL Draft, the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four,
the 2014 USA Gymnastics Championships,
the 2019 NCAA Wrestling Championships and
the 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup Finals. The
NCAA national championships in women’s
volleyball will be held here in 2019.
Lemieux also helped to launch the
UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in nearby
Cranberry Twp, PA. Now in its fifth year
of operation, the practice home of the
Penguins is the first facility of its kind to
combine hockey with a world-class medical
center and sports performance complex.
As a player, “Le Magnifique” was a gifted
6-foot-4 centerman who dominated play for
parts of three decades. Although he faced a
numbing series of medical setbacks, including
multiple back surgeries and a battle with
Hodgkin’s disease, he retired in 2006 as
the No. 7 all-time scorer in NHL history with
1,723 points. He also ranked eighth all-time
in goals (690) and 10th in assists (1,033).
After retiring as a player for the first time
in 1997, he put together an ownership group
to buy the Penguins out of bankruptcy in
September, 1999 and then returned to the ice
on Dec. 27, 2000 — becoming the first playerowner
of the modern era. He also captained
Team Canada to an Olympic gold medal in 2002.
In addition to his legendary hockey
accomplishments, he continues to oversee
the Mario Lemieux Foundation, which has
raised more than $25 million for charity. More
information is available at mariolemieux.org.
Mario and his wife, Nathalie, have raised
four children and reside in Sewickley.
Ron Burkle, one of the preeminent
investors in retail, hospitality, technology
and distribution industries, is also a
three-time Stanley Cup champion as
co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Burkle teamed with Mario Lemieux to buy the
team out of bankruptcy in September, 1999,
and together they have become one of the
outstanding ownership duos in professional
sports, winning three Cups from 2009-17.
Among Burkle’s many significant contributions
to the Penguins was his essential role in
negotiations for a new arena. PPG Paints
Arena is considered one of the finest indoor
facilities in North America and has attracted
many national-level events to Pittsburgh,
including NCAA basketball and hockey. But he
also helped create a winning mindset for the
Penguins organization both on and off the ice.
Although Burkle prefers to operate quietly
and behind the scenes, Lemieux praises
his immense role in the team’s success.
“Ron is one of the main reasons we still
have hockey in Pittsburgh,” Lemieux told the
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “If I was not able to
buy the Penguins and have Ron as our top
investor, I don’t think the Penguins would be
here today. He’s a great guy and a very smart
businessman. He loves Pittsburgh, he loves the
Penguins. I think people should know that.”
Under the leadership of Lemieux and Burkle,
the Penguins have sold out every game for
12-plus seasons and consistently ranked among
the most fan-friendly and community-minded
teams in the NHL and all of pro sports.
The Penguins have earned 13 straight playoff
berths and reached the conference finals
five times, in addition to the three Cups. The
team’s solid foundation of ownership has
enabled hockey management to spend to
the salary cap, sign many of the team’s core
players to long-term contracts and put a
competitive team on the ice year after year.
Burkle founded the Yucaipa Companies
in 1986 and has served as Chairman of
the Board and controlling shareholder of
numerous companies, including Americold,
Soho House, Golden State Foods, Dominick’s,
Fred Meyer, Ralphs and Food4Less.
Ron is co-chairman of the Burkle Center for
International Relations at UCLA and is broadly
involved in the community. He is a member of
the Board of The Scripps Research Institute,
the National Urban League and Frank Lloyd
Wright Conservancy. He is a trustee of the
Carter Center and AIDS Project Los Angeles
(APLA). Ron was the Founder and Chairman of
Ralphs/Food4Less Foundation and the Fred
Meyer Inc. Foundation. He was a member of
the board of Occidental Petroleum Corporation
(NYSE:OXY), KB Home (NYSE: KBH), Kaufman
& Broad S.A. (Euronext: KOF), Yahoo! (Nasdaq:
YHOO), the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Los Angeles
County Museum of Art, The Music Center and
the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
He has received numerous honors and
awards, including the AFL-CIO’s Murray Green
Meany Kirkland Community Service Award,
the Los Angeles County Federation Man of
the Year, the Los Angeles County Boy Scouts
Jimmy Stewart Person of the Year Award
and the APLA Commitment to Life Award.
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