bellman," says Gavin. The two often finish each other's thoughts, like a
trying to find some money to tip the guy."
"He was the
greatest," Joe says of his father.
The sons remember
their father as brave, for continuing to live hard despite his premonition of
an early death, and omniscient, for rushing to prepare them for a future
without him. Indeed, upon his father's death, Gavin, just 24, was named the
Rockets' president, becoming the youngest owner and operator in pro sports
history. The team flourished, making the playoffs in all three years of Maloof
ownership and reaching the NBA Finals in 1981, but the family sold it--a move
Colleen immediately regretted--in '82 for $11 million, reportedly to appease
George Sr.'s two sisters. (Not satisfied, they subsequently filed a lawsuit
over his estate.) Colleen spent the next decade staving off creditors in order
to provide her children with the same opportunities that George had inherited
from his father.
During those hard
times the Maloofs established two covenants that remain in place today: No
major decisions would be made unless the family unanimously agreed, and the
children would invest their energies in businesses that inspired them. George
Jr. launched a small, highly successful hotel and casino, aimed at locals, on
the northern outskirts of Las Vegas; he would cash out in 2000 in order to
build the 703-room Palms, which the family opened a year later (and which does
not take bets on NBA games). The resort, which was the headquarters for MTV's
Real World: Las Vegas, has made George a fixture in gossip columns: In 2003 he
was linked to a post-Justin, pre-K-Fed Britney Spears. Phil spent seven years
in the state senate before a failed run for Congress in 2000. He then turned
his attention to the family's music and TV-film production arms; for opening
night of the Playboy Club his date was Gabrielle Tuite, a blonde Barker's
Beauty from The Price Is Right. Adrienne, the only sibling to be married, lives
in Beverly Hills with her husband, Paul, a plastic surgeon who was featured
last season on the E! show Dr. 90210, and their three children. She plays a
significant role in mapping out the company's marketing and promotional
strategies and does philanthropic work.
Wanting to return
to sports, the family purchased the Birmingham Fire of the World League of
American Football in 1990 but sold it two years later. In '97 Joe and Gavin
tried to get the Maloofs back into the big leagues, negotiating to buy the
Tampa Bay Lightning. The move was vetoed by George--thankfully, it turned
out--because of the NHL's bleak financial prospects. Instead, on Jan. 15, 1999,
the Maloofs agreed to spend $247 million on the moribund Kings, who hadn't
finished above .500 since moving to California from Kansas City in 1985, and
Arco Arena. The team welcomed its new owners by going 27--23 in the
lockout-shortened '98--99 season, and it has not had a losing season since.
Imagine the first
impression Joe and Gavin made on the Sacramento community. With their thick
shoulders (both played college football, Joe at New Mexico and Gavin at
Division III Trinity in San Antonio), hoarse, loud voices and a shared accent
that cannot be traced back to any known people or society, they come across
like a couple of auto mechanics wiping their blackened hands on dirty rags as
they try to explain in plain English what they're doing to your car. (They
sound eerily like their father, says Colleen.) The brothers take pride in their
everyman comportment, maintaining an eclectic group of friends and hangers-on.
Joe and Gavin's personal guest list for the Playboy Club's opening weekend
included childhood buddies from Albuquerque named Chucky, Phil and Billy; Mike
from California, who helped Joe quit smoking; a New Yorker named Carlton, who
befriended the Maloofs--while also becoming their stockbroker--after
cold-calling Joe several years ago to try to interest him in an investment; and
the driver they use when they visit New York, a nervous, heavily tattooed guy
named Joey. "He's the only limo driver I've ever been around who could drop
you off at the busiest street in Manhattan, never knowing how long you're going
to be up at the meeting, and when you come down, he's always in front,"
says Joe. "You don't have to walk a block with this guy."
The Maloofs are
comfortable in any environment. Last summer they visited their mercurial star
forward, Ron Artest, at his annual basketball tournament in Queens. "I was
showing them the neighborhood, and they had to go to the bathroom," recalls
Artest. "So they went [down] one of those ghetto hallways--all pissy
smelling, you know--[and knocked on a door], and when they were done they told
the people, 'Thank you for letting us use your bathroom.'" Joe and Gavin
served as honorary coaches for the tournament's all-star game, during which a
couple of bottles of a potent homemade cocktail known as a nutcracker were
tossed to them from the stands. "I thought it was pineapple juice," Joe
says. "Everybody was laughing, and I think that's when we won the crowd
over, when we were drinking the nutcrackers."
Kings fans who
approach the Maloofs have been known to receive a team jersey in the mail a
week or two later, and $100 tips are not infrequent for waitresses and bellmen.
In 2002 Joe struck up a conversation with the bathroom attendant in a Los
Angeles restaurant. "The next thing I know," says Gavin, "the
bathroom attendant is on the plane with us going to a game." Given their
outgoing natures, Colleen admittedly worries about charlatans taking advantage
of her sons. "But it hasn't hurt them so far," she says.