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This weekend the brothers will once again be the life of the party as the NBA All-Star Game, with its attendant high rollers and bacchanal, comes to Las Vegas. The Maloofs were crucial to bringing the event to Sin City (Joe and Gavin pitched commissioner David Stern, then George had to get every major casino in town to suspend all betting on the NBA during the weekend), and the players will stay at the Palms--which features the $25,000-per-night Hardwood Suite, complete with a half-court and three extralong Murphy beds, which pull out from the baseline.
"They don't pass themselves off as supersophisticated, though they've got a pretty sophisticated business understanding of most things," says Stern, who has known Joe and Gavin for half their lives, dating back to the Maloof family's ownership of the Houston Rockets. "The beauty of it was that the Maloofs were on the ground and they allowed us to communicate with all the right people in the best-natured way. They were invaluable to us being able to have the game in Las Vegas. It couldn't have happened without them."
Like their father, Joe and Gavin are not merely ambitious. They work hard at remaining young and try to generate as much fun or profit from each moment as they possibly can. Why? "The Maloofs don't live a long time normally," says Gavin, "especially the males."
George Maloof Sr. was 21 when he left the University of Colorado in 1944 and returned home to Albuquerque to run the family business after his father, Joe, a Lebanese immigrant, suffered a heart attack. (Joe died in 1956 at age 54.) The Maloofs were the local Coors beer distributors, and young George worked hard to gain the franchise statewide. Over the years he would add to the family's holdings a trucking firm, hotels, a majority interest in Albuquerque's First National Bank and, in 1979, at a cost of $9 million, the Rockets.
When George Sr. and Colleen's children were as young as 10, they were put to work in the beer distributorship, cleaning the warehouses and organizing the recyclables. Like his sons today, George was also in a hurry. "He used to take me and Gavin around with him," says Joe. "He'd say, 'Someday these two guys are going to be running my business.' He kept telling that to people, and I didn't know why. And he'd say, 'Remember, when I die you've got to stick together with your mother. You and your brothers and your sister, you've got to stick together with your mom.'"
That time would arrive unexpectedly. On Nov. 30, 1980, George Sr. suffered a massive heart attack and died at age 57. "It's Friday night, about 10:30, and my mom gave me a phone call: 'Your dad's sick, come on over to the hospital right now,'" Joe recalls. "I was so happy that I didn't go out partying that night, so I got to spend a few hours with him before he died. He was in the hospital with my mom and--were you there?"
"Yeah," says Gavin, "I was there."
"He died in front of us," Joe continues. "Jeez. And you know what he said before he died? He said, 'How many points did Moses have?' Moses Malone. That's a true story, right?"
"Yeah, and I'll tell you one that's even better," says Gavin, as he launches into another tale from their father's last night. "We opened up the Classic Hotel in Albuquerque, that's probably what killed him. An $18 million hotel, that was a big risk for us back then. It had just opened, and he was in the coffee shop; he was eating and he got sick. My mother takes him outside--he'd just had a massive heart attack--but before he gets in the car he's reaching in his pocket to take care of the bellman. And my mom says, 'George, come on, you can worry about him later.'"
"He was vomiting," says Joe, "and he's trying to take care of--"