Kings In Anaheim, And The Allure Of Fortune

NEW YORK - JUNE 06: Rapper Lil Jon (center) poses for a portrait with Gavin Maloof (L) and Joe Maloof (R) at the Maloof Money Cup on June 6, 2010 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The Maloofs have, for all intents and purposes, lost their once considerable fortune. This isn't to say that the Maloofs are "broke" (though they may be), but just that they were once (recently) quite rich, and now they are not as rich. Blame The Palms and the crash, the downturn of the Sacramento Kings as a product and revenue driver, whatever. It's a fact not even the most loyal Maloofians would dispute: the Maloofs have lost their fortune.

When you're a gambler who has never been less than wealthy and you lose your fortune, you get a new fortune. You marry up. You find a new game, and you invest yourself into it totally and you get a new fortune. Anaheim -- Los Angeles, HOLLYWOOD -- is the Maloofs' new fortune, or so they would hope. When you're a gambler who has never been less than wealthy and you lose your fortune, you don't stick with the old method. You move on, move up. In Donald Trump's America, this is called strategic bankruptcy. Bleach the Earth, and move to the next planet.

The fortune is not in Sacramento, and they know it. At best, in a market like Sacramento, with on-court success and a favorable arena deal and a new collective bargaining agreement and real revenue sharing, you can make money, but not Palms Third Tower money. Not Lakers money. That's what the Maloofs need, a new fortune, not steady but modest profits. As Akis has said time and again, if you can't afford to lose money on your sports team, you can't afford to own a sports team. Not when the competition have no pockets, only mobile vaults filled with gil.

Mind you, there's no f--king way Anaheim is a definite new fortune. It's a bet on a new future, and maybe a good one. Maybe a bad one. The reported $125 million in TV revenue over six years is nothing to sneeze at, and a personal loan of $75 million cleans up the Sacramento loan, leaving just the relocation fee to handle. That's still a heartbursting "just" to account for, but one less hurdle is one less hurdle. And that's just the front-end: once the Maloofs get down there, they should be able to hit those steady but modest profits while praying that Tyreke and DeMarcus and Player X recreate something special, something that can make Orange County passionate and peel off some Lakers fans and peel off some Blake Griffin genuflection.

Throughout the Maloofs' tenure, L.A. has beaten Sacramento. Part of that is money -- the Kings couldn't afford to get Kevin Martin a Pau Gasol, and the Maloofs can't afford a Phil Jackson. Sacramento can't sustain a $30 million luxury tax bill. They used to say, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." That's the Maloofs' plan: we can't compete with Buss' bank, so we're going to elbow in there. We're going to find a new fortune where Buss found his. In L.A.

The backlash against "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" has always been based on pride. Or, if you translate the axiom with pride in mind, it becomes "If you can't beat 'em, quit. Watch what they do. Copy them." In this case, that means giving up on Sacramento. Whatever, I'm not that bitter, if that's how the Maloofs want to go out. But it shows a lack of pride in their ability to grind in Sacramento and make it work. They want an easier path.

Everyone balances risks and rewards constantly, in everything we do. The Maloofs' risk in Anaheim is that the new fortune doesn't materialize, and they can't compete even there, and they lose the team to Samueli, the guy bankrolling the grand experiment, the guy who is on the record as desiring an NBA team. But the potential reward? A new fortune, in the form of a more valuable franchise in the No. 2 market in America. The risk in Sacramento is the last two years on repeat, which leads to losing the team to an NBA-selected owner like Burkle; the reward is steady but modest profits. You can't blame the Maloofs for choosing the path of biggest potential. They are gamblers. They don't know what it's like to be "stuck" waiting for that steady growth. They will never know, because they will always be chasing the next fortune.

If they crash? They will never be without; the wealthy are never without. This society worships moxie, and the "boys" have it in spades, and there will always be another opportunity to cash in on. If the NBA doesn't work out for them, and Vegas doesn't work out for them, they will find another chance at fortune, and maybe they'll make better decisions with that one. Maybe they'll pick steady but modest growth over the crapshoot. Maybe they'll pick pride over money.

I doubt it, but anything is possible.

***

This all ignores the fact that the NBA actually stands in the Maloofs' way. What's happening now is the kid kicking and screaming and refusing to do what the parent commands. But I want to play with Anaheim NOW! Go to your room, boys.

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