Sacramento offered the Maloofs an arena; it wasn't good enough for the current Kings ownership. That's how things go in today's NBA.
Players are expected to stick around with the team that drafts them—the new CBA greatly incentivizes it—and are seen as traitors if they dare to wander, even though it is their free-market right to do so. Owners, on the other hand, can blackmail a city into granting them a new arena with threats of selling or moving (in the midst of a terrible economy, mind you) and then still not show up at the table negotiating in good faith.
The Maloofs didn't just get a deal; they didn't get the perfect deal. So now they're threatening once again.
To be sure, the Maloofs are being reviled for their actions. Except they are seen as businessmen driving a hard bargain, albeit incompetent ones hanging on for dear life. Ownership in the NBA are cast as villains for their willingness to make unpopular decisions and alienate fanbases, but they're the bosses. It's what we expect of them.
The guys at the top didn't get there by playing nice or fair, and when they stoop to the level of the average fan, or actually seem to care, it's alternately charming and disastrous. They are hedged in by their station in life.
It's lonely at the top, but also cold and brutal.
If not acceptable, it's certainly part of the role they play. That is, jerks worried about the bottom line who will very often spit in the face of sentimentality if it serves their interests. Owners have basketball teams to make money, not to make people happy. They go for the best deal they can because it's the nature of their enterprise.
It's gotten almost too familiar, these rumors of the Kings moving to Las Vegas. One of the most loyal and long-suffering of the small-market fanbases is subjected to almost annual torment at the hands of the Maloofs.
Yet this family isn't cast as evil; they're simply greedy and incapable of anything other than the worst possible actions. We learned this with the Seattle Sonics: Anyone wanting NBA owners to have a heart simply doesn't get what they do for a living, and owners, while they like to win, are most concerned with all the money they have invested in the team.
It's business, plain and simple, and when kooks like the Maloofs are involved, it gets ruthless, ugly and particularly clumsy.
Players, though, are somehow bound by expectations that owners are not. It isn’t merely that we want them to do the ethical thing—which, really, owners should do too, albeit in their own peculiar language. The idea that players could be business-minded above all else is viewed as somehow offensive. Because they play the game and others watch, athletes are entrusted with the most overcooked passions associated with sports.
Two years later, we are still killing LeBron James for “The Decision.” Really, though, what did he do so wrong, relative to the Maloofs? Every code he violated is largely imaginary.
Howard Schultz basically ushered the Seattle Supersonics out of Seattle, his home city. Around this town, which I call home, people remain stunned at his lack of humanity. In the case of LeBron, the humanity is assumed. It's what was perceived as a refusal to acknowledge, or listen to, this part of himself that led to riots in the streets.
Granted, at the end of the day, all owners have to worry about is their money. That’s their career. Players need to craft a legacy, which is as much a story and series of career highlights as it is stats, rings and, oh yeah, money made.
The Maloofs not only act like jerks; it’s virtually condoned by what we expect of businessmen. Dwight Howard has made a clown of himself, and yet suppose we swap his behavior with the Maloofs. There isn’t much difference, except that Howard is viewed as a goof messing with fans and coaches, while the Maloofs are demented power brokers.
Dwight Howard may not be so bright, but he’s certainly making business decisions. If we’re going to turn the Maloofs into garden-variety corporate villains, then let’s extend the same luxury to players. If they totally screw it up, like Howard, then they’re in the Maloof category. Otherwise, we may need to accept that they’re just trying to do a part of their job—no matter how little we want to admit that’s part of the picture.
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