One of the huge stories at the end of the NBA regular season has been the probable ending of the Sacramento Kings as we know them. Tom Ziller has a piece on SBN.com about it. The article that got me came from Dan Devine at Ball Don't Lie. It's not so much what he said as the visuals, the pictures. Click through that link and scroll down through them. Look especially at the first picture, the one of the dad kissing his crying son. That's going to form the framework of this post.
I know the NBA is a business. But that doesn't make this OK. For most owners, the Maloofs included, the real money comes from somewhere else and the team is, in essence, a fancy toy. It's a toy that costs them millions, money for which they have every right to battle I suppose. But it's not like their position of ownership is taking food from their table, causing their children to starve, forcing them to move out of their foreclosed homes as so many people have during this recession. This is the equivalent of a really big, expensive luxury car for them, one of those Italian jobs that costs tens of thousands a month to keep in repair. This is the equivalent of a huge mansion where the deed comes with a multi-million dollar added costs in upkeep and property tax each year. They get the thrill of driving or watching drama in their life-sized amphitheater. They get the prestige of being known as "that guy" who owns the goods. It's a fantasy world with trappings of business thrown in. And you know what? More power to them. If they can afford it they should go for it! The first thing I'd do if I had a few billion is talk to Paul Allen about purchasing the Trail Blazers. And make no mistake, billions is what I'd need...not only for the purchase price but because the league isn't going to approve anybody to own a team who doesn't have enough overhead financial space to make risk non-existent no matter what the yearly costs are. Whether they make a yearly profit or sell the franchise later at an inflated cost the owners make bank and will continue to do so. You'll know instantly the moment this doesn't hold true. The league will fold the moment these franchises put their owners in real financial peril of the "I can't eat anymore" variety.
This move is about money. This move is somewhat about arenas, really about advertising dollars. I understand that. But see, I'm weird. I have this odd idea that life is about more than money. I've sat and held hands with plenty of people as they've passed from this world. I can't even count the number of Final Conversations I've had. (That's part of my day job, in case anyone is wondering.) Those reflections are as different as the people who make them but one thing holds true: they're never, ever about money. They're not even about stuff. I've not sat with a single person who's looked back and said, "Life was worthwhile because I had that awesome Mercedes sport coupe." People's happy, meaningful memories always revolve around things they were able to do for others: the love they shared with their family, the sacrifices they made for their friends, the smiles they brought to the face of a child. Those are the only things that count in the end. Arena revenues don't count. Advertising dollars don't count. On the basis of what really matters in life, this move stinks.
Go back to that picture of the dad and his kid. Is this what your ownership means? Is this what life is supposed to stand for? Is this what NBA basketball is ultimately about...bringing tears to kids (of all ages...check out those sportscasters and the guy in the #13 jersey on his cel phone too) because you robbed them of something that you long ago convinced them to believe in? One could argue that there will be new kids in Anaheim. Maybe so, but odds are those kids are Lakers fans and will continue to be. Corporate suits and local business looking for ad exposure who aren't willing to pay the Lakers' price tag? You'll get plenty of those. Sacramento passion, joy, that sense of connection that makes us all human and makes being human worthwhile? No.
I grew up in the age of the video game. Every so often some group or other would come out with a fear-filled polemic about how these games desensitized children to humanity, made lives into playthings, were slowly turning the next generation into monsters. Well, we all grew up OK, perhaps with a slight propensity towards carpal tunnel but not much more. The irony is, you know what really desensitizes people to others? Money. Lots and lots of money. The vast majority of folks out there would think they were rich with a million dollars in hand. Once you start talking hundreds of millions, let alone billions, it becomes just a fancy way of keeping score in an ill-defined game that most people can't (or won't) play...a game that quite frankly sucks. It's fine when it's just sports cars and mansions but when your pretend game brings anguish to the eyes of a real kid, when you're willing to take away joy from the hearts of many--joy that they've invested in just like you've invested in your casinos and stocks and properties--just so you can get a new High Score? I don't know how to describe it, but why aren't all the parental watchdog groups up in arms about that? Factor in the money, the business principles, the rights and prerogatives that these guys are able to exercise as free citizens and moneyed people...I don't begrudge them any of that. I still suspect that if I was mama or papa Maloof today and I saw that picture, I would not be very proud of my baby boys. I'd fear that I missed teaching them something important...something that they're now far too wealthy and insulated to learn. And I'd wonder what my children were going to have to look back on when they were in that final bed, having that talk. I'm sure there will be many other things: family, charity work, what have you. But this? I can't believe they'll look back on this and take satisfaction in it. There aren't enough billions in the world to pay for the look in the eyes of those people. There's no explanation that ends up resolving that hole inside you that appears when you made a move that takes from the world instead of gives to it. That's a crater that all the money in the world can't fill.
Congratulations Maloofs and the people who do business around them. Deeply sorry, Sacramento.