Sunday Musings: It’s time to stabilize the Sacramento Kings

Vivek Ranadivé with Raj Bhathal and Paul Jacobs. (Photo: Jason Wise/Kings.com)

The NBA is a young man’s game.  When I enter a locker room, I am typically older than every player in the room – yes, even the grizzled vets.  Maybe more important than age is a lack of real life experience.

The first season I covered the Sacramento Kings, there wasn’t a single married man in the room.  They were the youngest team in the league, both in age and spirit.  It was more frat house than it was a home.  And for a group of early 20-somethings with pockets full of cash, that doesn’t exactly breed responsibility.

For some of these players, the NBA is their first job and their first time on their own outside of a college dorm room or shared apartment.  Their first paycheck can be more than their parents have made in a decade or even a lifetime.  There are players who’ve had rough childhoods and a lot of guys raised in single-parent households. The fact is everything about the NBA process personifies instability.

That is why you need strong leadership from top to bottom.

Not to disparage the Maloof family, but they have not been leaders within the walls of Sleep Train Arena for quite some time.  There may have been a time when they were on the ground doing good work.  But not in the last three years that I have been around and I believe it has been longer than that.

While they have always preached family values, they are not the beacons of stability on that end either.  From my knowledge and research, Joe, Gavin, George and Phil Maloof are all single men.  They are serial bachelors and that is totally fine – I’m not judging.

But when you need to sit across from a 22-year-old millionaire and have a conversation about growing up while you’re still living a playboy lifestyle well into your 50s, there is a disconnect.

We don’t ask for the owners to be perfect because no one is.  But what you need is leadership from the group and stability.  Celebrating with the team on the sidelines is perfectly acceptable, but there has to be more.  There has to be substance.

Sacramento is not Las Vegas.  It is a community that is built on the backs of blue collared workers and medium-income state employees.  There are no Fotune 500 companies centered in the county limits and I’m not even sure there is a single billionaire resident.

It is a stable community that developed an identity as a great place to raise a family.  And while it is not glamorous, NBA players who give Sacramento a fair shake tend to keep strong ties there long after they have left Sleep Train Arena.  They feel like they are part of a community and perhaps even more – part of a family.

When you meet the new ownership group, you get a vibe that things will be different this time.  More to the point, you get that same sense of stability and  family that Sacramento is synonymous with, something they are hopefully going to impart onto their young team of NBA players.

“They’re so talented individually,” long-time minority owner John Kehriotis said of his new business partners during Thursday night’s rally.  “I think once we put our minds together, there’s no stopping us.  These guys are all positive possibility thinkers with no limits.  And they’re all open-minded and they are all nice guys.  They bought this for fun and they’re all excited.  And when I say excited, they’re off the charts excited.”

From Vivek Ranadivé’s daughter, Anjali singing “Love Song” with the rock band Tesla to small children running around the VIP tent wearing Kings’ purple, this new ownership group is not just a collection of deep-pocketed individuals.  They are real people with real lives.

Mark Mastrov beamed as he told us how his ten-year-old daughter can crossover any of the Kings and take them right to the rack.  He was in attendance at the “Long Live the Kings” rally with his wife Mindee, but their four children didn’t make the trip up this time.  Count on the family being a fixture at Kings’ games next season like they have been at Oracle Arena.

“For the next 35-years, my two little kids will grow up knowing what it feels like to be part of something special in an amazing community,” said Brad Jenkins, CEO of O1 Communications and member of the local ownership stake, to Cowbell Kingdom.  “Something they cannot get from other outlets – the ability to belong to a community that supports a common cause – Sacramento and the Sacramento Kings.”

Kehriotis has survived Jim Thomas and now the Maloof’s ownership regime and his first impression of the group is off the charts.

“These guys are so enthusiastic,” Kehriotis told Cowbell Kingdom.  “Nothing but positive things are going to come from this.  It’s going to be great for the city.  It’s going to be great for the state of California.  The Sacramento Kings are going to be a known factor again.”

This is what the players need – enthusiasm, energy, stability and leadership.  The new ownership group understands that changes are needed.  But they also understand that something here was broken and before you can fix it, you need to assess what is wrong.

“I think when you have a team that has an uncertain future, it’s hard for everyone to get focused,” New Kings Vice Chairman Paul Jacobs told the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast  “Now there’s stability.  We know it’s going to be here for the long term.  We’re going to bring in some great people to help us run this team, great players and I think this team is going to be on its way up.  That’s what the fans want, that’s what the fans deserve.”

Change is here and even more change is coming.  Each of those steps will come with one thing in mind – stabilizing an extremely shaky situation.

It won’t happen over night, but expect this ship to get righted, sooner rather than later.  And expect leadership from the top all the way to the bottom for the first time in years.

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About: James Ham

James Ham provides coverage through news analysis and in-depth interviews with Kings players and staff. James is also one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary "Small Market, Big Heart". James graduated UC Davis with a degree in history and is happily married with two children.