Billionaire Stan Kroenke has never much enjoyed the limelight. In ninth grade, during a basketball tournament in central Missouri, Kroenke's coach tapped him to shoot a free throw for a technical foul. Normally a deadeye shot, Kroenke was unnerved to be playing in front of so many fans. "My knees were knocking," he recalls. "I missed the free throw and was useless the whole tournament."
Thirty-two years later, in 1993, all eyes were on Kroenke again when he emerged as a lead investor and the public face of St. Louis' ultimately failed bid to win an National Football League expansion franchise. Kroenke was by then a hugely successful shopping-center developer, his career catapulted by his marriage into the Walton family of Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) fame. He thought he could handle the media scrum. He couldn't. Sportswriters panned his somnambulant performance. "I was somewhat naive—not in a business sense, but as far as the whole public side of it," Kroenke recalls.