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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