Bobbie Gentry's meteoric rise to fame in 1967, when her Southern gothic storytelling and Jimmie Haskell's string arrangement turned "Ode to Billie Joe" into something bigger than The Beatles, earned her enough fiscal and pop culture capital to help bring professional sports to Arizona for the first time.
When the Phoenix Suns basketball team joined the NBA in the 1968-'69 season as an expansion team, Gentry held a minority share along with pop crooner Andy Williams and singer and actor Ed Ames. Businessman and former University of Arizona football player Karl Eller, original Suns president Richard L. Bloch and investors Donald Pitt, Don Diamond, Bhavik Darji and Marvin Meyer led the ownership group, so they had more sway than their trio of celebrity investors over a team that made it to the NBA finals in its eighth season. Of course, Gentry being on a lower ownership rung didn't make her stamp of approval (and her signature on checks) worth less to the Suns' shot-callers.
Gentry impacted the expansion of more than just professional basketball before she bowed out of the public eye in the early 1980s. For example, she helped turn residencies on the Las Vegas Strip into must-see spectacles.
The "Fancy" singer wasn't the first or last country music star to invest in a sports franchise. The Gene Autry-owned Los Angeles Angels expanded Major League Baseball's presence in California in 1961, and since then, other artists have had stakes in both major (Charley Pride and the Texas Rangers) and minor league (Conway Twitty and the Nashville Stars) clubs. On the gridiron, Gentry's fellow multi-media personality from the '60s and '70s, Jerry Reed, co-owned the ill-fated USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits with Smokey and the Bandit co-star Burt Reynolds.
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