Which is why the
Maloofs are confounded by the opposition to their request for public funds for
a new, $470 million building that would replace Arco, at 19 the third-oldest
arena in the league. The campaign against a proposed quarter-percent hike in
the Sacramento County sales tax, which would've helped raise $600 million over
15 years, turned into a referendum on the Maloofs' lifestyle. In October a
national TV ad for the Hardees and Carl's Jr. chains rolled out in which all
four Maloofs, with Dean Martin's Ain't That a Kick in the Head as background
music, are seen entering the Palms with a horde of beautiful women, then dining
on burgers, fries and a 24-year-old Bordeaux--the $6,000 Combo Meal. Two weeks
later a group of local civic leaders staged a protest in downtown Sacramento by
eating the same Six Dollar Burger at a press event to mock the playboy
brothers' requests for public assistance. Katherine Maestas, a political
consultant in the state capital, referred to the ad as "a slap in the face
to our community."
Having lost the
Nov. 7 vote on the financing plan, the Maloofs have asked Stern to intervene in
their continuing negotiations with city officials. They are also beginning to
consider a move to another city. This will surely lead to speculation that the
team will wind up in Las Vegas, though the brothers have denied that they are
entertaining that thought. "The way we look at it, we can't afford to make
a bad deal in Sacramento with this arena," Joe says. "The newness of
the arena is going to wear off in about three years. What happens in Year 26?
Did we make a deal good enough that in 26 years it's going to be a financially
viable franchise still? If you give your parking revenue away, if you give your
naming rights away, you're going to be at a big disadvantage competitively with
the other teams."
There's no doubt
the Maloofs want to keep winning. That's part of the reason they acquired
Artest from the Indiana Pacers for popular forward Peja Stojakovic in January
2006, when the team was 18--24. While Artest's history of kaleidoscopically
unpredictable behavior scared away most of their peers, the Maloofs were
intrigued because they'd already reaped the benefits of a similar trade:
Shortly before they bought the franchise, it had been transformed by a deal for
Chris Webber, another MVP-caliber talent whose reputation was in ruins. A week
after Artest's arrival the Kings began a 14--4 run that helped keep alive their
playing for the Maloofs will help bring newfound stability to his career.
"I never knew my owners before like I know them," says Artest, who like
point guard Mike Bibby and other Sacramento players routinely calls the Maloof
brothers to chat. "Without them I wouldn't have this chance I have now.
They've taken a lot of weight off my shoulders--not just basketball-wise but in
every aspect of my daily life. I've got a little more room here to correct my
mistakes, and breathe a little bit too."
But the Kings
still have to deliver. Their win total has dropped in each of the last four
years, from a high of 61 in 2001--02 to 44 last season, so last summer the
Maloofs made their boldest move: replacing Rick Adelman, whom they inherited
when they bought the team and who is one of only two coaches to reach the
playoffs in the last eight years, with Eric Musselman, an aggressive leader who
is more in line with the owners' straightforward approach. "Whoever was
going to be the coach, [president of basketball operations Geoff] Petrie said,
'You guys have got to get along with him,'" says Joe, in reference to the
disputes he and Gavin had in the past with Adelman, primarily concerning the
team's lack of defensive focus. It was the Maloofs, not Petrie, a two-time NBA
Executive of the Year, who picked Musselman. "Their instincts over the
years have proved to be pretty good, and I think you need to trust that,"
says Petrie, who gave them a short list to work from. "I was just the tour
guide, and I told them what I thought. But it had to be somebody they could
relate to and somebody they wanted to coach their team. In the end they took a
family vote, and I wasn't part of the vote."
After a long run
as the most aesthetically pleasing team in basketball, Sacramento is seeking to
launch a new era reflective of the Maloofs themselves--less urbane and nuanced,
more assertive and blunt. "For once we've got the word defense in our
vocabulary," says Gavin. "In the past you'd scream, 'Defense! Defense!'
but Kings teams have never played defense. But now the whole focus is on the
defensive side of the ball."
As discouraged as
they are by the team's 22--27 record, the brothers aren't ready to give up on
Musselman. Even his October arrest and recent no-contest plea for DUI (he was
fined and has to perform 48 hours of community service and enter a
first-offender program; the NBA also suspended him without pay for two games)
hasn't soured the Maloofs on their coach. "It's a new system, and the
positive about Eric is nobody's going to outwork the guy," says Joe.
"We're behind him, we want him to succeed. We picked him, and we expect him
to be with us for a long time."
A few hours
before the grand opening, Joe and Gavin led their visiting friends around the
plush red and black decor of the Playboy Club as if giving a tour of their
family home. "You've got to see the men's room," said Gavin, holding
open the door to show walls covered with nude pinups and centerfolds. Over the
next two nights the club would be filled with celebrities--actors Jamie Foxx
and Kate Hudson, porn star Jenna Jameson, dozens of Playmates and Hugh Hefner
himself, who traveled everywhere with the three blondes from his reality show
The Girls Next Door and their entourage of camera operators, soundmen and
Joe and Gavin
often wonder what their father would say about the life they've made over the
last 27 years. As proud as he would be of their business successes, he would be
just as frustrated by their failures to wed. The closest the brothers have come
to a marriage recently is their merger of the Palms to Hefner's Playboy Club.
"That's the disappointing part of our lives," admits Joe. "I mean,
that's the part that's missing from my life."
In the starkest
contrast of all with their father, neither Joe nor Gavin has any children of
his own to teach and pass on the family's wisdom. "It's sad, and it bothers
me a lot," says Colleen. "I kept nagging so much about marrying and
being married that they'd see me and run. My sons were running away from me, so
I said I'm just not going to say anything anymore."