How much is a handshake worth?

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
11:12
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
ESPN.com
Archive
Remember this scene on February 28th?

The Maloofs and mayor Kevin Johnson had just returned from Orlando, Florida with a newly agreed upon arena deal hammered out. At All-Star Weekend, David Stern and the NBA sat in a room with the owners of the Kings and the Mayor of Sacramento and came to an agreement. The deal allowed the Kings to stay in Sacramento after a year of serious doubt that compromise could ever be in place.

This scene is the opposite of what you saw from Warriors fans during Chris Mullin’s jersey ceremony in which the fans showed their displeasure with the direction of the team and the failed promise of playoffs. This was a city congratulating the owners of their favorite franchise on finally doing what’s right in this situation and keeping the direction of the franchise firmly planted in Sacramento. This was a fan base rejoicing that they wouldn’t be treated like Seattle. They would get to keep the team they love with their own public funds.

They were happy to pay their fair share.

Joe and Gavin Maloof stand at halfcourt, basking in the warm wave of cheers, applause and elation that gently ran from the highest of upper deck seats, down to the floor in which many basketball battles have been fought. Watch the video. Watch them enjoy the moment. Look at them soak up the praise that should have been going to Kevin Johnson, AEG, and David Stern more than it should have reached a family of seemingly incompetent businessmen who tried to weasel their way out of a town that was desperate to keep their business.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about this,” Gavin Maloof exclaimed as he ran his hand under the “Sacramento” on his shirt. “Thank you for all you do. Thank you for the love you’ve shown our family. We still love you, we’ve always loved you, and we always will love you. Thank you!”

Those were the words from a man whose family tried to move the team to Anaheim without many of the team’s employees knowing if they’d have jobs in the next couple of months. Fast forward a month from this celebration of Kings basketball staying in Sacramento, and those awkward words from the Maloof family now look like the same pathetic lies everyone assumes have been spewed during much of the arena process.

This week, the NBA Board of Governors meeting is being held and part of that meeting will be the Maloofs trying to convince the board that the deal they agreed to at All-Star Weekend has major concerns and potential delays that could derail the 2015-16 expected debut of a new downtown arena in Sacramento. And if that happens, they’d like the team to be allowed to move to Anaheim, the place that tried to capitalize on a disorganized and failed money grab of the Kings’ owners less than a year ago.

Here’s the problem with these claimed delays and issues potentially blocking the needed opening of the new arena in Sacramento: it appears that the Maloofs are the ones trying to cause such delays.

Aaron Bruski from Pro Basketball Talk breaks down the current break down in the Maloofs operating on good faith:
The Maloofs’ attorney, Scott Zolke, followed Rose’s statements by issuing a letter to Sacramento assistant city manager John Dangberg, providing specific legal notice to the city about issues the family had with anything and everything. In fact, if you wanted to derail an arena project you would want to start a checklist using the items on that list. From the timing of environmental reviews to the ability of arena opposition groups to delay the process or stop it in its tracks – items that could have been discussed behind closed doors were now floating around in an increasingly hostile public domain.

The city responded to this first initial red flag, explaining to the lawyer that he had compiled information for his complaint from six-month old estimates from the city manager’s office that had since been publicly updated. The 88-page letter went on to address the numerous issues raised by the Maloofs, but made one key point: “It is critical that all parties are pulling in the same direction.”

If it wasn’t clear after Rose’s newspaper run, it became abundantly clear where the Maloofs stood following their April 2 response to the 88-page letter, when they admonished the city for not responding to its concerns over an arena opposition group.

During the lockout, there was an issue of both parties not operating in “good faith.” The owners seemed to fire at the Players’ Union that they weren’t willing to deal in good faith and it was causing the negotiation process to never get off the ground. The Union felt it was the NBA who was in fact not operating in good faith. It was basically a he said, he said kind of circular argument that got nowhere.

If you wanted an example of not operating in good faith then look no further than what the Maloofs are doing here. I get the motivation. Sacramento is a very small market, especially when lined up side-by-side with the city of Anaheim. The television contract alone would help the Maloofs recover the assumed loss of wealth from their alleged failed business ventures over the past few years.

When you’re bad at business, you need to find a way to get good at it and improving the market in which your business is based is a good way to start. The problem is they’re trying to move into a market that doesn’t really need a third team. Most major markets don’t even have two teams, let alone a third.

The Maloofs are saturated in bad faith dealings right now because just a month and a half ago, they emerged from the negotiations with the NBA and Kevin Johnson saying that this was a “fair deal.” Now, they appear to be looking to get any little loophole they can find to weasel out of a handshake deal that gave the Maloofs a chance to repair what their word means to the public and the consumer.

Kevin Johnson has always been good at what he does. He was an excellent NBA player who climbed mountaintops on the hardwood floor to provide legendary highlights and probably would have made the Basketball Hall of Fame if injuries didn’t derail his career. He’s also been a very good mayor in Sacramento, succeeding in areas that most figured he never could – like building a downtown arena.

To beat Kevin Johnson at something, you have to be at the top of your game. That’s how it’s been his entire life. He’s just often better than the people he faces off against. The Maloofs are not at the top of their game, especially when it comes to the dealings with this team. They helped build a franchise up and then through horrendous decisions and a lack of savvy in their field, they let it crumble down.

Mayor Johnson is not taking to the poor business and unethical tactics the Maloofs are employing right now. He’s fired back to their concerns and scheming as they try to plead with the Board of Governors to ignore the facts and just give them what they want with a letter to the family, explaining the city’s position. You can read the entire letter at Sactown Royalty, but here is a long excerpt that is essential to understanding what is going on right now:
Third, and most critically, under no circumstances will the City make material adjustments to the current terms of the deal. Put simply, we have done our part.

We are 100% committed to moving forward under the framework laid out in the term sheet.

And there should be no expectation in tomorrow’s conversation that this deal is subject to further negotiation.

In light of these facts, the ball is in your court.

Our community stands ready to support the Kings and do our part to bring a state-of-the-art entertainment and sports complex to our downtown.

We look forward to the thousands of jobs, millions in new visitors, and billions in new revenues such a facility promises for our community.

We take you at your word that you are committed to Sacramento as you've said repeatedly in recent weeks.

The best - and only - way to demonstrate that commitment is to honor the "fair deal" as all other parties have done. Your handshake is your handshake. Your promise is your promise.

Given all that the people of Sacramento have endured and achieved on your behalf, we deserve nothing less than a partner who will work with the city in good faith and as a true partner.

It’s now seemingly up to David Stern to keep firm on his work from All-Star Weekend. That weekend they came to an agreement that was suitable for every side involved. Now the Maloofs are claiming it’s not good enough and essentially that what Stern has done for them isn’t acceptable moving forward. I would like nothing more than for Stern to either convince the Maloofs that this deal is going to move forward as agreed upon or figure out how to get an ownership group that knows how to run a business, especially in good faith, to purchase the franchise.

The Maloofs’ proclaimed “fair deal” is now in question for no reason at all. Once again, their word appears to have no value in any form and their handshake is nothing more than the cold, clammy embrace of lying and bad faith. Mayor Johnson is going to meet with the Maloofs and the NBA once again, to figure out how to make this situation work.

It’s time for David Stern to put his foot down and show that a handshake is actually worth some good faith. After all, it’s all about Sacramento at the end of the day. The Maloofs said so themselves.

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