David Stern needs to learn to not trust grown men that frost tips or wear personalized jerseys (Getty Images)
The city of Sacramento was right to not want to trust the Maloof brothers — the over-leveraged, casino-running owners of the Sacramento Kings. The fans of the team were right to be dubious when the brothers went on record in anticipation of the NBA's yearly board of governors meeting as saying they wanted to renegotiate a local arena deal that several non-Maloof'ian entities were helping finance. And you're right to assume that just about any amount of embarrassing public behavior by NBA owners will be tacitly and tactlessly approved by David Stern and the NBA.
Because it appears as if the Maloofs will get their way and weasel out of their handshake agreement with the city of Sacramento. A city, led by former NBA All-Star Kevin Johnson, that even Stern on Friday admitted had done "what we asked them to" in order to finance a new arena to replace the money-hemorrhaging formerly titled Arco Arena. Utilizing a third-party economist -- one that Stern said came into ongoing negotiations "with ill grace" -- the Maloofs produced documents that predicted that the city of Sacramento would be in bad financial shape after moving forward with a partially publicly financed arena and used this as leverage to pull out of the handshake deal.
Swell guys, those Maloofs. Always looking out for the city of Sacramento. And though Stern went out of his way to show exasperation in announcing his indirect approval of the Maloofs' machinations, as he's done with various NBA owners through the years, he made no attempt to get in the way of their skeeviness.
Here's the commissioner, from Friday's meeting with the media:
"I am extremely disappointed, on behalf of Maloofs and city of Sacramento, but I think that there's nothing further to be done. This is a situation that the Maloofs will make judgments on and city will have to make judgments on. I think we've done as much as we can do."
That last part isn't entirely true. There is sporting precedent for the NBA to be heavy-handed and step in to influence the Maloofs to follow through on their initial agreement, or find a motivated buyer for the Kings (like, say, the NBA itself? Now that the Hornets have been bought by the owner of the New Orleans Saints?) that would sign off on the previous agreement with the city of Sacramento. It's not as if Stern is some free-market obsessive -- not only did his league own the Hornets for more than a year, but he said Friday that he was set to grease the wheels for the new Sacto arena by fronting the Kings more than $70 million to aid the Maloofs' financial woes while the facility is being built.
Working the laissez-faire strategy -- even if Stern is correct when he points out it's the Maloofs' "right" to do as they please with their team and its future -- seems like an odd sidestep.
It's completely fair to speculate as to whether or not Sacramento can field and fund a profitable NBA team -- and fair to wonder if any arena deal would be a millstone on the local economy. Even expertly run teams with heaps of fan support and sensible payroll plans that lead to plenty of playoff appearances can lose money. In a vacuum, the pair is almost free from criticism.
We're working amidst context, here. One that reminds us the Kings are 12 months removed from seemingly playing their last game in Sacramento. And that the Maloofs seemed desperate to want to move the team to Anaheim. And that the Maloofs are dealing with several financial frustrations in the wake of the suffering of their casino franchises. And that the pair had to be goaded into just half-heartedly committing to a new arena plan by both Johnson and the NBA -- a plan that honestly seems remarkable in its scope and attention to detail once you factor in the speed in which it was put together.
All is not lost, and there's still a planned meeting between the Maloofs and Johnson (who said Friday he would not renegotiate with the duo after they, not sure if you heard, ALREADY AGREED TO THE NEW ARENA PLAN), but the writing is on the wall.
The Maloofs want nothing to do with your city, Sacramento, and they don't care how bad they look weaseling their way out of dealing with it in the process. No matter how sensible the plan, the Maloofs don't care about you or your city or the Kings' future in Sacramento. They want out of being in business with Sacramento.
If only the NBA would Swanson-up enough to put the wheels in motion to get out of business with the Maloofs.
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