Lizards Owner Reels in the Big Fish - Paul Rabil

By Peter Schwartz

The baseball world was turned upside down on December 26th, 1919, when the Yankees purchased Babe Ruth's contract from the Red Sox for $125,000 and $300,000 in loans. Fast forward to January 6th, 2015, when a blockbuster trade shook up the lacrosse world and again it involved New York and Boston.

On that day, the Boston Cannons shipped midfielder Paul Rabil to the New York Lizards in a mega three-team deal that also involved the Ohio Machine. The best player in the world and the face of Major League Lacrosse was on his way to the number one market in the country, and he would help the Lizards capture the 2015 MLL title, their first in 12 years.

That trade proved to be a good business transaction for the Lizards in more ways than one.

"Once you have a rock of a foundation like he is, it's like having a Cy Young award winner on your team," said Lizards owner Andrew Murstein. "You can always count on him. He makes everyone on the field better, and you know that he will be there to stop the bleeding if we ever lose, which under his leadership has been rare. We have the best record in the league over the past three years, and he's a big part of why that's the case."

Rabil has provided the Lizards who two amazing seasons so far with 74 goals, 43 assists and 124 points. He picked up MVP honors in the 2015 MLL title game with 3 goals and 3 assists in the Lizards' 15-12 win over Rochester. The Lizards came up short of another title last season, falling to the eventual champion Denver Outlaws 20-17 in the MLL semifinals.

After the 2016 season, Rabil was a free agent but signed a new two-year contract to stay in New York. It was important to the Lizards to retain the biggest piece of their championship puzzle, and management was thrilled that they could get the deal done.

"I'm very happy," said Murstein. "Paul represents the best in lacrosse, both on and off the field. He belongs in the biggest market to showcase his talents, and I hope he ends his career here. I hated to see my good friend (former Knicks center) Patrick Ewing leave New York and have a Seattle jersey on. Something just didn't feel right with that. I hope Paul is going to be remembered as a Lizard and play the rest of his career here."

So on Saturday night when the Lizards open up their 2017 season on the road against Chesapeake, Rabil will be donning the team's brand new uniform. The Maryland native was happy to arrive on Long Island two years again, and he's even more pumped up to have re-signed with an organization that he has grown to love.

"I feel fortunate to have been traded from Boston to New York," said Rabil. "To be able to win a championship your first year in New York was really impactful for me. I have a lot of fire for this organization and the people that are involved and want to do well by them."

And he did just that in his first two seasons with the franchise.

Rabil is worth every penny the Lizards are paying him for everything he brings to the table both on and off the field. He was the first lacrosse player to earn more than $1 million in endorsement deals, and his presence on the Lizards has helped the team not only win plenty of games and a championship but he's also been good for business.

In 2014, the year before Rabil's arrival, the Lizards drew an average of crowd of 4,415 fans per game. That number jumped to 5,293 during Rabil's first season in New York, and the crowds kept coming in 2016 with an average attendance of 5,259. A look around Shuart Stadium during Lizards' home games would show plenty of fans wearing #99 Rabil jerseys, meaning the former Johns Hopkins star is a hit on the field, at the box office, and at the merchandise stands.

Rabil has been big business in the Big Apple!

"He's the face of our team and the face of the league," said Murstein. "He is one of those talents who can see the big picture, not just on the field where he can see the play developing before it even does, but how social media can help the sport grow and he also does a great job with that."

Rabil brings thousands of fans out of their seats each week, but he reaches so many more away from MLL venues with his camps, clinics, apparel line, and a foundation that "is committed to helping children with learning differences by creating programs and partnerships through sport and scholarship."

The marriage between Rabil and the Lizards goes far deeper than just a player and a team. With Rabil also being a success away from the field with his entrepreneurial endeavors, it's appropriate that Murstein is the Lizards' owner because he too is a success outside of lacrosse as the President of Medallion financial Group. The sports arm of the company, Medallion Sports Properties owns the Lizards and the Richard Petty Motorsports NASCAR team.

Rabil can appreciate the expertise that Murstein brings to the table.

"Being that close to a portfolio company of Andy's I think is beneficial for our team," said Rabil. "Obviously Andy and the rest of our ownership group care deeply about our sport. There's a passion for it and there's kind of this economic belief that lacrosse can be great."

Murstein is a hands-off when it comes to the lacrosse side of the franchise. He leaves that in the capable hands of CEO Jeffrey Rudnick and General Manager/Head Coach Joe Spallina, who engineered the trade that brought Rabil to New York. But Murstein still believes in developing relationships with the players, getting to know them, and picking their brains when it comes to the team getting better.

"I frequently take them to lunch, sporting events, and even fly them to NASCAR races to watch our team," said Murstein. "It's a great bonding experience."

Rabil is the latest superstar to become a part of Murstein's inner circle. In addition to working with Richard Petty, Murstein also has a relationship with Major League Baseball legend Hank Aaron and Pro football Hall of Famer Jim Brown, who was part of the ownership group when Murstein bought the Lizards in 2012.

Murstein has always been able to surround himself with greatness.

"I have been fortunate to get close with not merely superstars but legends," said Murstein. "Each one has transformed their respective sport and taken it to new levels."

And Rabil has done the same for the sport of lacrosse, and he's already delivered a championship to the Lizards. But a team needs more than just one star player to succeed, so the Lizards were busy this off-season, not only re-signing Rabil, but also re-signing super scorer Rob Pannell and acquiring star mid-fielder Joe Walters.

But the big catch was re-upping with the greatest player in the game, and now Murstein is expecting Rabil to help hoist another Steinfeld Cup ... or two.

"I do," said Murstein. "A lot goes into winning. Even when you are the best on paper though, it doesn't guarantee a championship. You need a leader which we have in Paul. You need a great coach and front office and we do in Joe and Jeff. You also need chemistry and luck. If those two things fall into place for us, watch out. New York fans will be experiencing the start of a dynasty."

If that happens, the fans in New York might be happy, but the other fans around Major League Lacrosse might be downright miserable. Andrew Murstein and the Lizards aren't worried about that. Paul Rabil remains in the fold, and that's good for business.

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Peter Schwartz is a sports anchor for WCBS Radio in New York as well as the CBS Sports Radio Network. He was the play by play voice of the New York Saints of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League from 1993 to 1996 and also currently writes for CBSNewYork.com, usafootball.com, and elitesportsny.com.