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NBA doing the Maloofs’ talking for them

Oct 6, 2011, 9:52 AM EDT

Los Angeles Lakers v Sacramento Kings Getty Images

The Maloofs’ relationship with Sacramento is decidedly love-hate. When the Kings were winning and Joe and Gavin were plastered on TV during games, Sacramentans were ready to propose.

But it’s funny how life works — the team started losing and (gulp) started asking the city of Sacramento for money, and everything has been downhill since. Their 2006 ill-fated measure to finance an arena was a PR disaster. Now the relationship they have with fans after a failed attempt to get out of Dodge in April is well, think Elin Nordegren and Tiger Woods having dinner at Thanksgiving with their children.

It’s all about the Kings, so I won’t throw this turkey leg at your head.

In all fairness, the Maloofs have dealt with a city that has acted like NBA franchises grow on trees and that people will gladly pay property taxes absent the consideration of amenities.  But let’s not get into details, because who cares about those?  After all, more than half of the basketball public believes the players are ‘on strike’ because Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson ran away with all of the dollar bills to make it rain with.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t surprising in the least to read Rob McAllister’s latest report on KFBK.com about the big meeting in Dallas between arena-related parties. McAllister reports that yesterday the city of Sacramento, NBA representative Clay Bennett, AEG, and others met to lay out parameters, timelines, etc. You know, arena stuff.

But is he forgetting somebody? I’ll let McAllister take it from here:

The Maloof family was not at the meeting in Dallas and there is no time table that currently details when the Kings’ owners will join the negotiations. (Sac City Councilman Rob) Fong said he expects the “Maloofs to be a part of the talks,” even though the city has been dealing directly with the NBA.

If you recall, the NBA kindly told the Maloofs to give Sacramento one more year to get an arena, after Kevin Johnson came up with $10 million in corporate sponsorships and an eleventh hour plan – while simultaneously fans pulled a ‘hell no, we won’t go.’

Make no mistake, it’s not typically the NBA’s protocol to block a team from moving, particularly if the old city has balked at building a new arena. As long as the supply for NBA teams is restricted, and the demand for teams remains high, then the NBA will always have that leverage (see antitrust: reasons why the NBA wants never to speak of it).

So telling the Maloofs to get back in the negotiating seat would normally mean that they, ya know, sit at the table, right? Wrong.

This time Ron Burkle and prospective buyers lurk in the background behind Kevin Johnson’s promise that Sacramento can be an NBA city. The Maloofs, hit hard by the economy, have sold all but two percent of the Palms, and what had once been rumors was finally put into print when NBA insider Jonathan Abrams wrote at Grantland that they “would have likely been forced to sell had they relocated to Anaheim, which remains a distinct possibility.”

Even at city council meetings, where opponents of the arena initiative would normally rail against giving money to rich people, they’re now talking about the various uses of public funds rather than making it about the Maloofs. And arena proponents barely even talk about the Kings these days. Instead, they talk about the A-list acts that will go to the Bay Area if an ‘Entertainment and Sports Complex’ isn’t built, and the millions being lost in Sacramento property tax revenue that a new ‘Entertainment and Sports Complex’ would address according to top economists.

The Maloofs have made just a handful of public comments regarding the process since it was decided that they would stay, and nothing that would make the 10 o’clock news.

For a family that doesn’t exactly lay low, it’s almost like they’re not there, complicit with the idea that their presence could somehow derail things in Sacramento.

It’s a pretty simple decision to hide the Maloofs, given their past history with arena initiatives, the threat of moving, and the like, but as Abrams alluded to there is more at play here.

As much as you would like to hide the Maloofs if you’re Sacramento and the NBA, any owner would be expected to be involved in a process like this, and their representatives would certainly be at meetings of this type. In this case, Bennett is there instead to keep things on track.

The NBA has invested a ton of time in getting an arena deal in Sacramento, and frankly, had they wanted to be in Anaheim they would have simply let the Kings go. But there were too many reasons not to go at the time.

Henry Samueli rolled out the red carpet for the Kings and really, really, really wants to take over for the Maloofs if they can’t afford to play with the other billionaires, but he has an image problem. Convicted of lying to regulators in a stock option scandal years ago, he was suspended as an owner in the NHL. He has a history of philanthropy and Donald Sterling is obviously tolerated, but still, it’s a blemish.

Compared to David Stern’s drooling over Ron Burkle, it’s quite clear who the NBA would prefer to pick up wherever the Maloofs leave off, assuming of course Burkle or the other suitors are still interested.

And then there’s the small issue of the lockout. Back in April the NBA was preparing to ask the Jerry Busses of the world to dish out some pie in the form of revenue sharing – not exactly the right time to plunk a team in his back yard. In fact, there may be no right time to do that if the NBA quadruples revenue sharing – at least not for a while. Don’t tell that to Sacramento, though, since Anaheim is still being dangled over their head (not like a carrot, like a guillotine).

Besides, can the NBA really uproot another franchise — after a lockout — when Sacramento has so publicly been supported by just about everybody in the NBA?  And financially, do they really want to abandon the 20th largest market in the United States, just to overlap what they already have in L.A.?

No. Not now. Not under these circumstances. Not if Kevin Johnson can deliver an arena.

So Clay Bennett will show up and lay out the parameters that have likely already been communicated to Kevin Johnson, AEG, and the rest of the team. Johnson and Sacramento city councilman Rob Fong will be there to discuss what they believe can and cannot pass in the council, which ultimately controls Sacramento’s checkbook. The NBA will negotiate on behalf of the Maloofs, but as long as a reasonable plan gets presented by Sacramento, they’ll turn to the Maloofs and say, ‘here it is.’

And they will take it.  Whatever they choose to do with it from there is anybody’s guess.

  1. beastoffareast - Oct 29, 2011 at 12:02 PM

    “Convicted of lying to regulators in a stock option scandal years ago, he was suspended as an owner in the NHL.”
    Perhaps in the courtroom of public opinion, but if you check the records, those cases were dismissed by a federal judge: http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE64S0A620100529?irpc=932 (courtesy of Reuters)

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