An Open Letter to Ron Burkle

Ron –

A few years back, you served as a knight on a white horse, riding to the reduce of my beloved Penguins. Outside of a couple of ugly labor issues since, your stake has shown to be worthwhile. The Penguins found a way to return to competitiveness, and your work with the City of Pittsburgh and with your co-owner got a new arena, a gorgeous palace for fans to watch Sid, Geno, Marc Andre, and all the rest. You not only saved hockey in the City of Pittsburgh, you’ve become part of a true renaissance of the sport there, from the school level (three of the gold medal winning world junior champions team are local boys), college (with RMU and Penn State both playing), to your own team.

And now, you’re being asked by another city to be their savior.

This time, it’s Sacramento, California, and the future of the city’s NBA franchise, the Kings. As someone who grew up in Pittsburgh, and who lives in Albuquerque, I think I can bring unique perspective.

Back in the mid 1990s, Pittsburgh was in position to lose its historic marquee franchise, the Pirates. And Sacramento came to the rescue, in the form of Kevin McClatchy. He bought the team, and worked through a land mine of local issues to get a new ballpark, PNC Park, built. It is a gem. The team may struggle on the field, and ownership has changed, but the fans’ faith was reaffirmed through the actions of Mr. McClatchy in support of the City of Pittsburgh.

Now Sacramento, a city similar in size to Pittsburgh, faces a similar struggle with its lone pro sports team. The principal owners are the children of George Maloof Sr., who made his name and his money with a Coors beer distributorship here in Albuquerque (it was a good investment – we drink a boatload of beer here). Dad did well enough to own a chunk of the Houston Rockets in the late ’70s, which was sold after he passed in 1982. But by this point, the bug of owning something, some part, of an NBA franchise was in the family.

The Maloof kids grew up here. Some of them went to school here. But for the most part, the kids are better known for what they own – the Palms Casino in Las Vegas – and where they’re seen – The Real Housewives of Orange County, for one. They also own the majority share in the Kings.

Now, to say that the kids have over the last decade become…overextended is not an exaggeration. When you sell off the cornerstone of the family business, the beer distributorship, a veritable cash cow, because your other bills are so high…well, lets just say there’s a problem.

Some of that problem is the casino. Some of it is the Kings. Last year, the family readied a move of the franchise to Anaheim. You had apparently enquired about whether the team was for sale. “Stop calling”, the brothers said. But Sacramento fought back. They started real, honest to goodness grassroots efforts to keep the team, to build a new arena – sorely needed – and in the end an agreement was (apparently) reached. The mayor, Kevin Johnson, stood at center court with two of the brothers, arms raised high. A new arena was agreed to. Things would work out after all.

And then reality hit.

The team was for sale. And Seattle (more specifically, Microsoft honcho Steve Ballmer and hedge fund manager Chris Hansen), which had lost their Sonics to Oklahoma City last decade, came in with a monstrous bid. Sacramento, knowing this was coming (as the Maloof cash flow issues weren’t improving), began an effort to counter-bid. Several local businessmen have placed a stake forward, but it covers only a small fraction of the amount offered by Ballmer and Hansen.

So now, a single sport town turns its eyes to you, Ron. It is a devoted fan base. I know, I follow things there a bit, with friends who are there. it’s a fan base that, through lean years and good, sold out the arena formerly known as Arco, when other teams – the Sonics included – didn’t. They want to know if you’ll be there for them the way you were with Mario, in Pittsburgh. The same batches of plans for a new downtown arena, to serve as a cornerstone for revitalizing the city’s core, are in place.

They just need you, Ron.

I for one hope you’ll be there. I hope you can return the favor that Kevin McClatchy did for the City of Pittsburgh years back.

Hoping to hear from you soon,

Kevin in ABQ

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Random points

As I’m lacking a continuous long-form thought stream, I wanted to get a few random thoughts written down:

We are now past the halfway point of President Obama’s tenure in the Executive Office. We made it through the last four years; we can make it through the next four, with each others’ help and prayers.

From reading reports on the inauguration (sorry, I was working) it sounds as if the crowds were smaller. But just as petty as four years ago. You remember, don’t you? Back then, they booed and chanted “na na na na, hey good bye” to President Bush; today, they booed Paul Ryan. A movement chock full of people better suited to throwing snowballs at Santa Claus at Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia.

The Obama campaign apparatus – now reclassified as a not-for-profit – is appropriately designated. As it really represents a religious movement. Nonetheless this organization may be used to mobilize voters for issues, it appears unlikely to be put at the beck and call of another’s campaign. This same hubris cost Democrats in 2000, and Republicans (to a lesser extent) in 2008.

My life, in aggregate, is good: my wife and kids are healthy. My Penguins are 2-0 to start the year. I’ll need whatever distractions I can get. But I also need to get involved. Now.

I finally discussed the new shotgun with the wife tonight (I’m looking at taking up sporting clays). With little kids around, she’s been hesitant in the past. I think I made a good case for a safe plan that will provide appropriate safeguards, while enabling the kids to learn and respect the tool, as they would any other that could injure them. Which is to their advantage in the long run. Fearing a gun, or any other weapon, isn’t the concern: avoiding their misuse, or deterring someone with another weapon and malicious intent, is.