John Spano: 'Big Shot' documentary not entirely fair
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John Spano, who executed one of the most notorious scams in sports history, said he found the new documentary about him mostly honest and "fair."
But not entirely so.
"There were some things I don't agree with, but that's the way it is," the former Islanders owner said Friday after seeing "Big Shot" and before its public premiere at the TriBeCa Film Festival. "I believe Kevin and [producers] Mark Ciardi and Ted [Schillinger] tried to tell a story that was balanced. There were some people that basically made up things in this story that I'll talk to when I see them, hopefully."
Spano did see some of those people Friday night, both after the premiere in lower Manhattan and at a subsequent party, and he hopes to have some elements he believes are inaccurate addressed before the movie makes its TV debut on ESPN this fall.
"Big Shot" tells the tale of how Spano was allowed to move forward with his purchase of the Islanders in 1996 despite having far less resources than he led then-owner John Pickett and the NHL to believe.
The plan unraveled early in 1997 amid growing doubts about his legitimacy and a series of stories in Newsday. Spano was convicted of bank fraud in 1998 and spent more than four years in prison.
In the film, he is bluntly candid about his emotions and actions as he tried to keep his fraud alive. He also laments having given up control rather than taking the team into bankruptcy, which might have bought him more time.
Among the Spano nemeses in the audience were former Islanders general manager and coach Mike Milbury, who used harsh, unprintable words to describe his one-time boss in the documentary.
After the premiere, Spano said he was not surprised by Milbury's criticism, given the history of their interactions. He said it was an uncomfortable feeling sitting in the audience as some of his words and actions became an object of laughter and general disbelief. But he said he was heartened by the reaction of many viewers afterward, some of whom asked to pose for pictures.
Why did he agree to sit down for an interview in the first place with Connolly, an actor/director who is an avid Islanders fan?
"Kevin was extremely persistent," he said. "He came to visit me in Ohio. We established, as crazy as it is, a friendship, and I basically trusted him. That's really what it came down to."
Spano said he had turned down other requests to cooperate with documentaries, and initially turned down Connolly. "Truthfully, I think it's insane, to be honest with you, that somebody even wants to talk to me or do a movie about me," he said. " It's comical."
Still, he acknowledged, "It's a crazy story."
Spano said he did not fault Connolly for some of what he said were inaccuracies.
"Kevin absolutely lived up to everything he told me he would do," Spano said. "I'm not blaming Kevin. It's people's recollections of what happened that I don't agree with."
Spano said he now is working in the medical business in Ohio and is "happy. Everything is good."
What does he think about when he recalls his brief time in the spotlight?
"It was an experience, of course," he said. "As I've told people before it was so life-altering and the repercussions were so massive I'm not sure it was something I would ever try and do again." Spano said he is an Islanders fan, adding: "I'm happy they're going to make the playoffs, hopefully, and I still continue to follow them."