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Joe Maloof's Bizarre Plea

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An article by Ailene Voisin for the Sacramento Bee reports that Joe Maloof, the owner of the former Sacramento Monarchs, would like to bring the Monarchs back to Sacramento.

Maloof plans to beg WNBA President Donna Orender and plead with NBA Commissioner David Stern to reinstate the original WNBA franchise that captured the 2005 championship and routinely ranked near the middle in attendance.

"Just give us a few years," the Kings co-owner insisted. "Timing is everything."

For those of you new to women's basketball fandom, the Monarchs were one of the eight original WNBA franchises. On November 20, 2009, the Maloof brothers - owners of the Monarchs - folded the team. According to Mechelle Voepel at ESPN, even the employees of the team weren't informed - employees, season-ticket holders and the press all found out the same way, by press release. The idea was that with the Monarchs folded, the Maloofs would devote all of their energy to the Sacramento Kings - the NBA franchise in Sacramento.

How much advance notice the WNBA was given is still a state secret. In practical terms, it left the WNBA to scramble to find new ownership mere weeks before teams needed to know the upcoming season schedule and before the positions for the 2010 WNBA Draft were determined. Add the facts that the American economy was in recession and that it's very hard to wheel and deal during Thanksgiving and prospects for the Monarchs relocation or resale looked bleak. On December 8, 2009, the WNBA gave up the effort and on December 14, 2009 the former Monarchs were dispersed across the league.

Some WNBA writers, like Mike DiMauro, were glad that the Maloofs were gone:

It's great news, just not for the people of Sacramento, who will miss their team.

But for the future of the league? This is beautiful. Because the WNBA just rid itself of a fraudulent ownership group.

The WNBA did not - and does not - need owners who feign interest in their franchises. It's still a problem. Some owners supported shrinking roster sizes from 13 to 11 last season, a move that crippled teams beset with injuries.

...

Let's be clear on this: Owners who spend more time cutting jobs than finding new and creative revenue streams (as some franchises did last summer) should get rid of their franchises forthwith. No, really. Get out. It's OK. Clearly, you tolerate your teams at best. So dump them. And then don't let the doorknob leave a lasting impression.

So given the difficulties that the Maloofs caused the league, why would this ever come up as an issue again? As the song says, "How can we miss you if you won't go away?"

My first question is: was this an unprompted comment? Was Voisin's discussion with Maloof specifically about the Monarchs? Or was it about several topics, with the Monarchs being one topic of many? The article failed to make that clear, and context would help us a lot. Furthermore, did Joe Maloof contact Voisin or vice-versa? All of the context for this conversation...is missing.

Context is important. If the conversation was about the Monarchs specifically, or if Joe Maloof initiated the conversation, it might indicate that Maloof really is interested in bringing the Monarchs back. But if Voisin posed the question, it could be that Maloof - to put it nicely - is feeding Voisin a massive line of horsepuckey. Maloof's thoughts might have been, "Hey, if I say something nice about the Monarchs I might be able to get a couple of ex-Monarchs fans to see Kings games."

The latter will probably never happen. WNBA fans and NBA fans tend not to overlap. The old Monarchs season-ticket holders would not want to be offered the Kings as a consolation prize, particularly if the unspoken message is "Ex-Monarchs fans, come and see the important Sacramento basketball team!" The impression left by the Maloofs when the Monarchs were dumped was that Monarchs fans were an afterthought to the Maloofs; it would take great effort by the Maloofs or Kings management to turn back the memories of that snub.

Let's assume that we're taking Joe Maloof's comments at face value, a dangerous proposition. Does the WNBA really want Joe Maloof back? It's not about the Monarchs being back; the W would be just as happy with some other owner with big pockets putting a team in Sacramento. Rather, it's about the Monarchs being back with Joe Maloof as the head.

Rick Horrow wrote in 2005 for CBS about the difficulties in starting a league. (Oddly enough, the Monarchs won their WNBA championship in 2005). One of the four factors that Horrow listed for a successful league was "The start-up league must attract a stable of emotionally and economically secure owners and investors committed for the long term."

Note the emphasis on emotional maturity. The WNBA doesn't need owners that will bail out at the first sign of trouble. No league does. At Pleasant Dreams I wrote the following in 2009:

For the WNBA, I think the more important question is that of the "emotionally secure" investors. How long have the owners of WNBA teams had their fortunes? How experienced are they as business managers? How likely are they to bail out at the first sign of trouble? I have my doubts about some of the WNBA owners - without naming names, I wonder if some of them really have the nerve - there's no nicer way to say it - to navigate the rough patches.

I wrote this in September 2009. Two months later, the Maloofs blinked in the face of the recession and the troubles with the Kings. They bailed. They didn't show emotional maturity, at least not on the WNBA side of the ledger. If Joe Maloof is being serious, the proper answer to the Maloofs by the WNBA , by the NBA and by Donna Orender or David Stern should be a collective "Joe...you can't be serious."