Sports Opinion & Analysis

Kings Of Karma

In NBA on March 26, 2013 at 6:35 am

By Kevin Wolfman 

There are many words and phrases to describe the feeling of being unfairly treated by somebody in a position of power.

Used. Manipulated. Strung along. Jerked around. Messed with. Put upon. Screwed.

The ongoing saga of the Sacramento Kings, and their possible definite possible definite possible relocation to Seattle has given birth to a new one: Maloofed.

Maloofed: 1. (verb) Completely and unashamedly lied to and deceived by the most worthless owners in sports over a period of months and/or years. 2. (verb) Screwed by the shenanigans of the Maloofs.

For years, the Maloof brothers have presided over the Kings organization about as well as anyone with an ounce of common sense could have expected a family of business-illiterate trust fund party boys to—which is to say, terribly. After a brief period of competence in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a period which gave rise to what Sports Illustrated called the “Greatest Show on Court” and a throwback brand of frenetic hard-court showmanship that almost single-handedly pulled the NBA out of its post-Jordan doldrums, the Maloofs suddenly remembered they were Maloofs, and got right back to the more familiar business of losing or ruining everything they put their soft, caviar-smeared hands on—first a beer distributorship, then a Las Vegas casino, and finally Sacramento’s beloved Kings.

There’s no need to reproduce here an exhaustive list of all the idiotic, short-sighted, and/or callous decisions that have defined the majority of the last decade at ARCO Arena Power Balance Pavilion Sleep Train Arena (although the decision to name the arena after a company that makes bogus magic bracelets is certainly one of them). It will suffice to say, for our purposes, that Forbes gave them this unholy distinction for a reason. And it’s not like the Maloofs are the first terrible owners to come along. Clippers fans have been putting up with their slumlord owner for decades. Raider Nation endured a generation of Al Davis mistaking fast 40 times for actual football talent.

So the Maloofs have no monopoly on incompetence.

"I'm still telling you, Jamarcus Russell's going to be a star!"

“I’m still telling you, Jamarcus Russell’s going to be a star!”

But what sets the Maloofs apart from your garden-variety billionaire doofus or dick is their long-standing and unrepentant embrace of dishonesty and deceit. They haven’t just run the Kings worse than 99% of pimply teenagers with an Xbox and a copy of NBA 2k13 could–they’ve done it while literally lying through their teeth about their intentions every step of the way.

For years, the Maloofs insisted—at times outrageously, flaming with righteous indignation—that the Sacramento Kings were absolutely staying in Sacramento.

Then they tried to move the team to Anaheim—Anaheim!—in 2011. That gambit failed at the last second, thanks to the efforts of Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and the first-grade-level knowledge, shared by every powerful NBA affiliate with a functioning brain stem, that Anaheim is a terrible NBA market.

Following that embarrassing episode, the Maloofs still brazenly insisted, despite all obvious evidence to the contrary, that keeping the Kings in Sacramento was still their most heartfelt desire. They kept up the charade for a little bit longer, actually “agreeing” to terms with the city of Sacramento on a new arena construction deal in early 2012, an “agreement” made possible by an ungodly amount of cajoling and persuading from commissioner David Stern himself. The deal was approved by the city council in March, and the Maloofs soaked in the resulting thunderous applause and appreciation of a fan base ecstatic for the arrival, finally, of some basic stability.

And then the Maloofs reneged on the “agreement” only a month later, claiming that they were forced into it, and it was a bad deal for them, and mayor Johnson and the folks of Sacramento were big meanie-heads who hurt their feelings and didn’t share enough toys.

Speed kills common sense.

Speed kills common sense.

This was a lie, of course. The 2012 deal was ridiculously generous to the Maloofs, who had long been unmasked as an entitled gaggle of of deluded wannabes who had no business owning a Subway, much less an NBA franchise.

But even this quintessential “dick move” paled in comparison to the lie the Maloofs spouted repeatedly for years–before, during, and after the Anaheim debacle of 2011 and the arena sabotage of 2012. Through all of the bungling and stumbling that defined the 21st century in Maloof-Ville, there was always one fundamental constant: The Kings were NOT for sale.

Until, of course, they were. Until it turned out they actually were for sale the whole damn time—just not to anyone interested in keeping them in Sacramento.

Well, shoot.

Well, shoot.

Kings fandom erupted in January 2013, when reports came from practically out of thin air that the Maloofs had reached an agreement to sell the Kings to an ownership group from Seattle. After years of denials, years of righteous indignation, the truth finally came out. The Maloofs showed their true colors once and for all, which turned out to be “Anything but purple and black.” They negotiated with the Seattle group incognito, never telling anyone connected to Sacramento that the team was up for grabs. Never giving anyone with Sacramento ties a fair chance to purchase the team. This was by design. The Maloofs may or may not hate the Kings’ fans, but they certainly do disdain mayor Johnson and the city of Sacramento itself. So they decided to sell the team out of the blue, to an outside group, and screw Sacramento in the process out of pure spite.

Really? Seriously?

Really? Seriously?

And this is where karma comes in.

The NBA Board of Governors meets in mid-April, at which time it votes to approve or deny any sales of teams. By reaching an agreement with the Seattle group in January, the Maloofs gave mayor Johnson and the rest of Sacramento’s vaunted “Here We Stay” movement a full three months to line up its own roster of billionaires and put a counter-offer on the table for the Board of Governors to consider. Yes, the Maloofs, who spent years mastering the fine art of screwing Sacramento and its loyal fan base six ways to Sunday, couldn’t even do that right this time, the one time it would hurt the most. The Maloofs had Maloofed themselves.

In response, mayor Johnson worked some magic and lined up a blue-chip ownership group, headlined by 24-Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov and grocery billionaire Ron Burkle, in a matter of weeks. He announced the completion and filing of Sacramento’s counter-offer before the end of February, at his State of the City address. In the meantime, Kings fans rallied like no NBA fans had ever rallied before to keep their team. Millions of dollars were pledged from prospective season-ticket holders. Millions more were pledged from local corporate sponsors. A minority ownership group surfaced, headlined by none other than Kings legend Mitch Richmond. Sacramento’s city council voted 7-2 to basically get out of mayor Johnson’s way and do whatever it would take to keep the Kings in town. And oh-so-slowly, the whole “Kings-to-Seattle” narrative began shifting. “Definitely moving” became “well, maybe.” And while it happened, the whole country started learning the full extent of the Maloofs’ chronic and unforgivable Maloofery. (Yes, that is now a word, too.)

David Stern learned, too—in fact, he’d probably known all along. So when word first surfaced that the Sacramento group’s initial counter-offer was too low, he personally met with Mark Mastrov to break the news. Days later, Sacramento just happened to add Silicon Valley billionaire Vivek Ranadive to its blue-chip lineup. While Stern was one of the few people with detailed knowledge of the Seattle group’s offer, he was also under zero obligation to let Sacramento know how its own initial offer measured up But he did—and that speaks volumes. By doing so, he basically saved the Kings’ chances of staying in Sacramento. (He also took the opportunity to throw the Maloofs under the proverbial bus.)

The driver is now his personal chauffeur.

The driver is now his personal chauffeur.

The Maloofs don’t just want to sell the Kings—they want to rip the city of Sacramento’s heart out. Their final inglorious act as NBA owners will be to take the Kings away from California’s humble capital city, in one of the most lucrative, and disgusting, temper tantrums in sports history.

If they get their way. And lately, it’s been looking more and more like they very well might not.  The NBA can’t force the Maloofs to sell to the Mastrov/Burkle/Ranadive Sacramento group, but it can prevent them from selling to the Seattle group–or any other group–if it believes keeping the Kings in Sacramento is in the best interests of the league and its owners. At the mid-April Board of Governors meeting, there is now a very good chance that that’s exactly what will happen. The Maloofs may well be told, in so many words, that only a sale to the Sacramento group is acceptable. Not Seattle. Not Anaheim. Not Virginia freaking Beach. Not one of the other hundreds of other cities across the United States the Maloofs don’t have some inexplicable, visceral loathing for. Only Sacramento. Beautiful.

Here’s to karma coming through on this one.

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