As the fate of the Sacramento Kings still hangs in the balance, the extensive reprehensible behavior of the Maloofs is coming to light. While digging for the truth about the (soon-to-be) former owners of the Kings, Cowbell Kingdom found out that the Maloofs were close to buying the San Antonio Spurs in 1996. Think about that for a second, while I quote Tom Ziller's article on the subject:
The Maloofs ... almost owned ... the Spurs! Before Tim Duncan, at the very start of Gregg Popovich's coaching tenure, in the middle of David Robinson's career. The Maloofs! Needless to say, this is the darkest timeline for San Antonio. While the family proved loyal to Geoff Petrie in Sacramento -- he's still employed all these years later -- it turned on Rick Adelman as soon as the glow came off. Thus began a hilarious succession of overmatched but inexpensive coaches. Once the economy tanked in 2007, the Maloofs simply stopped spending on the team. Tim Duncan for Mo Williams' expiring contract, anyone?
Darkest timeline indeed. Imagine the camera-hungry Maloofs dealing with attention-averse Gregg Popovich. Do you think that relationship would have lasted? And how about the lack of spending after their fortune disappeared on a few bad business ventures, crowned by the expansion of the Palms? The final episode of Tim Duncan's career, assuming he was with the Spurs at that point (far from a given), would have been spent fighting for the eighth seed next to a cheap coach and not-that-supporting cast.
Yes, a possible reaction to this hypothetical would be "not even the Maloofs could have screwed up with Tim Duncan and David Robinson"; there might truth to that. But remember that the Kings were also a contender in the early 2000s. They just couldn't successfully reload on the fly like the Spurs did and fell into irrelevance, only to see funding cut by the owners. The great Rick Adelman was forced out, while Geoff Petrie, who lost whatever magic he once had a long time ago, is still their GM. This is a guy that drafted Quincy Douby over Rajon Rondo and Spencer Hawes and Jimmer Fredette with lottery picks, traded for John Salmons and his contract and bid $3 million on Travis Outlaw after he was amnestied. The team has been a mismatched mess for years now. Can you see Pop and R.C. working for guys who think that is acceptable?
Now, the Spurs have an arena, so relocation probably would have been off the table. But with the family strapped for cash and the Seattle group desperate enough for a team to value the Kings at over $500 million, you bet the Maloofs would have tried. Or worse yet, they could have held on to the franchise forever, even when they didn't have the means. After all, they were reluctant to sell the Kings until recently. Imagine that: the Spurs could be owned by a combination of Donald Sterling's douchiness and Robert Sarver's frugality. Bye bye, model franchise.
Thinking about that possibility for even a milli-second enhances my appreciation for Peter Holt. Holt doesn't have the deepest pockets and lacks public recognition, but the guy is committed to San Antonio and the Spurs and has spent money when the people he hired told him it was necessary. He never pressured PATFO to change the style of play to generate publicity or money, even as the Spurs "boring" style surely cost him opportunities. Holt stuck with Pop and his plan because he wanted to win and to create culture of hard work and respect, not a money-machine. Unlike the Maloofs and other owners, Holt doesn't use the team as platform to increase his public profile either.
Owners are often an afterthought when discussing basketball teams, and for good reason. As fans we care about the on-court product, and the players and coaches are the ones who should get the credit or the blame. But the whole Kings saga has brought to light how important cohesion is between all parts of a franchise when it comes to achieving lasting, sustainable success. The worst owner could get lucky and get a huge star one way or another; just look at how Donald Sterling got Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
Yet does anyone really trust Sterling to keep a low profile and put the right people in the right roles to ensure that the Clippers stay relevant ten years from now? How about Robert Sarver not spending money to create a winning team, selling late first rounders at the peak of Seven Seconds or Less? We've all heard how former Grizzlies owner Micheal Heisley apparently had a lot of influence with Memphis picking Hasheem Thabeet in the 2010 draft over James Harden and Stephen Curry. Ownership matters.
I don't think Spurs fans always realize how lucky we are to not have to worry about the franchise owner making a fool of himself, pinching pennies or interfering with basketball operations; worse yet, do all that and then hold the city hostage, sandbagging it time and time again. Most of us know how blessed we have been with the players we've had over the years and appreciate PATFO's genius. A quick look around the league makes it readily apparent that we also hit the jackpot when it comes to ownership.
Update: Dan McCarney from the San Antonio Express News brought to my attention that the fact that the Maloofs tried to buy the Spurs is not new information. In fact, Buck Harvey reported about it in 2009. And not only that but Harvey also reported that Clay Bennett was part owner of the Spurs and they risked relocation at one point. Thanks to Dan for pointing these two articles out and my apologies to Harvey.