Commentary

Treat the Kings like a business

In other industries, failed enterprises hold fire sales and disappear

Updated: April 17, 2012, 12:53 PM ET
By Tim Keown | ESPN.com

A hypothetical scenario: A once-thriving business in your community starts to fade. I don't know what happened; maybe the layabout son takes over for the hardworking father, maybe the neighborhood goes to hell and the layabout son doesn't do anything to make the customers feel safe walking through the parking lot. Maybe the economy crashes. Whatever the case, the product suffers, the physical structure falls into disrepair and everybody in town laments the business's demise even as they shop somewhere else.

Probably in a building as big as an airplane hangar, where they sell everything from doughnuts to shovels, but that's another story.

Inevitably, the layabout son runs low on money. He hires cheap, lousy workers who know and care less than even he does. Now he's in the worst position of all; he can't improve the business, even if he had the desire.

[+] EnlargeMaloofs Watching Kings
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesGavin Maloof, left, and Joe Maloof, right, will probably stick to their box for coming home games.

What happens to a business like this one? Simple: One day there's a sign on the door announcing a big closeout sale, and after that the place has boards on the windows.

Transfer the same scenario to professional sports, and you get the Sacramento Kings. So what happens to a pro sports franchise that alienates customers and allows the product to crumble at its feet? If you're the Brothers Maloof, cash-poor owners of the Kings, you work the system. You tell the customers you're going to move into fancy new digs, cry at a news conference, profess your love for all your loyal customers.

And then, in the end, you throw up your hands and complain that the city -- a city struggling in its own right -- isn't giving you enough money to move your business into the fancy new (hypothetical) digs. You make noise -- hollow, hollow noise -- about wanting to fix up the old shop, which happens to be the same old shop you've spent the past 10 years running down and refusing to fix up because it simply isn't worth the trouble.

Which leaves you one option: Apply for relocation.

After all, you can't make it work in the current location, and you're sure somebody else wants you and your undertalented, underfunded club. They'll throw you parades and sell out a fancy building, because that's how it works in America. It's a winning deal for everyone but the once-loyal customers who wanted the business to succeed but could no longer make the case for giving it their money.

The Brothers Maloof lost vast amounts of money in the casino business, being forced to sell all but 2 percent of their stake in the Palms Casino in Las Vegas. There's a good chance they no longer have the kind of money you need to stay in the pro sports game, but they managed to persuade Sacramento -- a city with blocks and blocks of foreclosures and the 336th-ranked unemployment rate among U.S. metros -- to provide $255 million of the $400 million for a proposed new arena.

(We can all argue among ourselves about the sanity of hinging much of the funding on partially privatizing the parking for the arena. Get out of your cars? No way -- it's your civic duty to avoid public transportation and drive your damned car to the game in a city that has some of the worst air pollution in the country.)

The Brothers Maloof say they were duped into a gentleman's agreement with the city, then duped into standing at midcourt at a Kings game with their arms raised next to mayor Kevin Johnson. They're the victims, of course, and it's the same stuff the people heard last year when the team was negotiating with Anaheim. They want you to believe their problem is with Johnson, the former NBA star who thought he added "savior of the Kings" to his résumé.

[+] EnlargeTyreke Evans
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesImagine what Tyreke Evans (16.5 points and 4.6 assists per game this season) could do with a contender.

The Brothers Maloof are practicing their best sad faces and professing their devotion to the city. But George Maloof, previously the quietest but recently the loudest of the three, tossed out a little warning Monday when he told CBS Sports he's heard from another city, which of course he would not name for fear of either alienating said city or being exposed as having made it up.

So here's another hypothetical scenario: What if NBA commissioner David Stern looked at the Kings' situation and saw an opportunity to improve the league from a basketball standpoint? What if he spoke that always-unspoken word?

That's right: contraction.

What if Stern looked at the Kings not as a nearly $300 million asset (according to Forbes) but a horribly mismanaged, failing business? (Like New Orleans before them, and Charlotte before that.) The league might never have a better chance to cut ties with one of its bottom dwellers, owned by three brothers who managed to turn off one of the most loyal fan bases in sports with their incessant arena double-talk and the league's lowest payroll. What -- aside from that $300 million thing -- is the downside? The people of Sacramento are going to lose this team anyway. It's just a matter of time. The next city -- Anaheim again? -- would miss out on a poorly run, perennially bad team it wouldn't care about anyway. The Anaheim Kings would be Clippers Lite, circa 2003.

Each of the 29 other franchises would immediately gain in value. The seven or eight legitimate NBA players on the Kings' roster would get new homes. The talent level would rise, and the league would become just a little more competitive, almost immediately. Tyreke Evans might find himself on a team that suggests that passing the basketball is not something you do only as a last resort. DeMarcus Cousins would be free of coach Keith Smart's bizarre rotation, which generally calls for the starters to play as long as they possibly can, with the signal to substitute coming when Cousins begins fouling intentionally just so he can go over and sit down. Jimmer Fredette might find a team that employs logic, unlike what he encountered Sunday, when he scored seven points in seven minutes in the first half and then was called back into action for the final five seconds.

None of this will happen, of course. The $300 million speaks loudest, no matter who owns the team. The players' association would fight the job losses. The real world refuses to intrude into our fun and games, unless by "real world" you mean increased taxes to benefit pro sports teams or funky parking schemes to benefit pro sports teams or ticket surcharges to benefit pro sports teams. And that's why the Brothers Maloof are in an amazing position: They own a failing business in an industry where failing businesses don't fail.

Tim Keown | email

Senior writer, ESPN.com

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