Ailene Voisin: A look behind the bust - a Q&A with Kings co-owner Joe Maloof

04/15/2012 12:00 AM

04/15/2012 1:57 PM

Unlike a year ago, when Joe and Gavin Maloof disappeared after almost relocating the franchise to Anaheim, the Kings' co-owners are not going into hiding. Two hours before today's 3 p.m. tipoff against the Portland Trail Blazers, they will squeeze back into the arena formerly known as Arco Arena – that same dumpy facility that would have been replaced by a $391 million sports and entertainment complex if they hadn't trashed and burned the handshake agreement last week in New York.

Seriously. No kidding.

Here they come.

Here they stay (they say).

For the record, count me among those who believed the proposed arena deal was a once-a-generation opportunity to transform and invigorate Sacramento's urban center. The Sprint Center's prominence in the makeover of Kansas City, Mo. – the former home of the Kings – makes me crazy. That could have been us.

So how could this have happened?

While pondering the recent developments Saturday afternoon, I called Joe Maloof's cellphone, and in yet another in an ongoing series of surprises, he not only answered but responded to a quick series of questions. Here is an abbreviated version of the intense, 20-minute conversation.

Why did you kill the deal?

It was a bad deal. The main thing was the projected revenues were too high. They were at 2005 levels, before the housing bubble burst and the economy went down. We kept telling (NBA attorney) Harvey Benjamin that. He didn't listen, he didn't listen.

How do you feel 24 hours after the fact? Any regrets?

We feel like criminals, and we didn't do anything wrong. This was just the wrong time and this was the wrong deal. When the time is right, we'll do a deal. We'll look at another downtown deal or something at Natomas. Bring us a deal we can sign. Nobody wanted to get an arena done more than we did. We've been talking about it for 13 years. Everyone just needs to calm down. We all need to cool off.

You sold your beer and liquor companies, and divested yourself of 98 percent of the Palms. The perception here and elsewhere is that your family is broke – one reason you dropped out of the partnership with the city, NBA and AEG. Can you afford to run a competitive franchise?

We have tremendous personal wealth. Wells Fargo stock but I don't want to go into. But we have no debt. We're fine.

Can you regain the community's trust after you almost moved the team to Anaheim last year and then

But we didn't, we didn't. We stayed. That's the bottom line.

So what's different a year later? A lot of people still suspect your plan is to spend next season in Sacramento and then file for relocation in March.

That's not true, that's not true. I swear that is not going to happen. I don't care what rumors are out there. It's our team. We're not selling, and we're not leaving. Our identity is the Sacramento Kings. That's how we're known.

What about the need for a modern arena to provide the additional revenue streams that appeal to sponsors and partners? That's all anyone has heard for more than a decade. Now none of that matters?

Things have changed. The new collective bargaining agreement has revenue sharing that helps out small markets like us, San Antonio, Portland, Utah. That's huge, huge for us. We didn't have that before.

David Stern, Darrell Steinberg, Kevin Johnson and several other political and civic leaders are furious, both about the reasons the tentative agreement failed and, frankly, the way it went down. They feel ambushed and betrayed. If you didn't like the terms, why did you let the process continue as long as it did, essentially letting it simmer?

It was a nonbinding agreement. (NBA Commissioner David) Stern told us, "Boys, we have this framework of a deal. You can get out of it at any time." Stern is not happy with us. Kevin (Johnson) has a different view, too. We disagree. Some of those revenue projections aren't feasible over 30 years. We brought in this economist who is an expert in California. We hired him months ago and paid him a lot of money. You heard what he said. If this deal was right, we would have jumped on it.

But can you understand that people feel jerked around again emotionally? After the handshake agreement was reached in Orlando, there was celebrating, and even tears. Gavin cried during the news conference. That image doesn't go away. Then you come back and join the mayor in the festivities at midcourt and then the deal is dead?

Yeah, yeah. We're emotional people. We wanted it to happen. It's not fun hearing what a lot of people are saying. But we're not disingenuous. At the game what happened was that the mayor came running over, grabs my arms, puts them in the air. We made a mistake putting our hands up because we knew, we knew we had concerns. We just didn't want to embarrass him in front of all the fans.

What was the reaction of the other owners during your 90-minute presentation Thursday?

We got a lot of support. I can't tell you how many owners came up to me and Gavin and George and told us, "You can't do this deal. Stay patient. Concentrate on getting your team better. There will be a time for a new arena." One owner – and I'm not saying who – said we should do the deal, but that was about it.

Are you seriously considering refurbishing or renovating Power Balance Pavilion?

We'll look at everything. We're getting a lot of calls. A lot of our customers like the arena right where it is.

So what happens now?

We've had our ups and downs like every owner, but we're profitable now, one of four or five teams making money. We have to make some moves this summer and get a high draft pick, and fix our team. We have to get our team better. But we are not going to fold. We are resilient. We're coming to the games. We'll be there (today). We're not outsiders anymore. It's our team, our city. Everything in life is timing."

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