All Hail the Kings
Can't we keep the Kings in the playoffs? Granted, Sacramento was eliminated on Sunday in Game 5 of its first-round series against the Jazz, but this time let's make an exception: Let the loser keep playing. Perhaps the Kings could replace the Knicks, who might prefer to continue their blood feud with Pat Riley's Heat rather than face the benign Hawks. Or maybe Sacramento could take Atlanta's berth, since hardly anyone seemed to care about the Hawks' little-noticed first-round win over the Pistons.
Do whatever it takes, just don't send the Kings home. The postseason needs the gallant play of center Vlade Divac—the best player on either team in the Utah series, despite his constant worries about family members in wartorn Yugoslavia (page 114). It needs freewheeling fast breaks led by point guard Jason Williams and alley-oops to forward Chris Webber. It needs the no-conscience, crunch-time jump shooting of unlikely heroes Jon Barry and Vernon Maxwell. Sacramento brought flair to the ultraserious world of the playoffs. "That was one of the best series I've ever played in," Karl Malone said after Game 5. "It was fun, and I'd say that even if we had lost."
Here's a playoff prediction: You won't see a more entertaining, fearless performance the rest of the way than the Kings produced against Utah. They missed a chance to close out the Jazz in Game 4—a 90-89 loss at home—and then recovered to scare the daylights out of Utah on the road in Game 5. "Most of these guys are too young to feel pressure or to let a loss get them down," said Maxwell after Sunday's overtime thriller. "We play every game like it's the playground, shirts against skins."
The Kings aren't perfect. Williams should treat late-game possessions more cautiously, and Webber has yet to become the big-game player Sacramento needs. "They've got some things to learn," Malone says, "but I'll tell you one thing. I won't miss playing against those guys." The rest of us will miss watching them, though.
Selling the Caps and Indians
Gettin' While the Gettinn's Good
Two events in two leagues last week cast a spotlight on the gap between sports' rich and poor. First, Abe Pollin got $200 million from Internet baron Ted Leonsis for the NHL's Washington Capitals plus minority interests in the NBA's Wizards and MCI Center. Pollin says the Caps lost nearly $20 million this season. About half the NHL's teams claim to be losing multimillions, and while players' salaries have jumped from an average of $733,000 in 1995 to $143 million, each club gets only $2 million from the league's TV contract. That's one reason Mighty Ducks general manager Pierre Gauthier calls NHL ownership "a suicidal business." It's no wonder Pollin, who had owned the Caps since the club was founded 25 years ago, wanted out.
On the same day Pollin sold the Caps, Dick Jacobs announced that he plans to sell his Cleveland Indians, a profitable team that has sold out 308 consecutive games and is off to the best start in its 99-year history (page 48). Jacobs, 73, has squeezed nearly every drop of revenue out of the Indians, including $60 million from a public stock offering last year, an unprecedented move for a baseball club. He watched as other baseball and football teams went for sky-high prices in the past 18 months—$350 million for the Dodgers, $530 million for the Browns and a proposed $800 million for the Redskins. In such a market, said Jacobs, he was "forced to sell."
Forced? No, he's just cashing in, and why not? Jacobs, a commercial real estate magnate, bought the Indians in 1986 for $35 million and can count on getting about $350 million for them. With Jacobs Field already sold out every game, it's doubtful the club will be worth much more than that anytime soon. Jacobs has always viewed the Indians as a bottom-line business and not as a hobby, and the sale will be purely a business move. "I believe in the profit-to-the-nth-degree theory," he said of his decision.
His good timing might mean still more profit. Indians stock rose 75% in the two trading days after his announcement, a jump that might add millions to the club's sale price. Unlike Washington's Pollin and his NHL brethren, Jacobs is getting out while the getting is great. As a farewell, the old Indians chief will probably leave his successor one important source of revenue—the naming rights to Jacobs Field.