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The NBA Is Full Of Horrible Owners

Why name just one "worst owner in the NBA" when there are so many fantastic options? Everyone is terrible!


On Friday, ESPN The Magazine's annual franchise rankings were released. The Toronto Maple Leafs finished at the bottom, with the Sacramento Kings a close second-to-last-place. Among the individual categories, the Kings finished dead last in owner rankings, with the Maloofs taking the prize. In the FanPost on Sactown Royalty discussing that ranking, the most heavily recommended comment read:

They ranked them too high....

Every beaten and bloodied fan base probably thinks they have the worst owner, and many of them have cases. Deadspin offered up some candidates perhaps more deserving than the Maloofs, and commenters -- sorry, Kinjaians or whatever -- had even more ideas. There are a lot of bad owners in pro sports, and many cases to be made. The NBA itself is no exception -- for every George Maloof, there's a James Dolan, a Donald Sterling, a Michael Jordan.

So why limit ourselves to a single "worst owner"? Let's diversify. Let's offer up worst NBA owners in various categories to ensure that all fans' misery is recognized fully.


Winner: Donald Sterling.

Donald Sterling Recording

Let's get this one out of the way first: no NBA owner -- heck, to my knowledge, no major North American pro sports team owners period -- is a worse human being than Donald Sterling. He settled a record-breaking discriminatory housing lawsuit from the United States Government several years ago, with witnesses claiming he had policies to preclude his rental properties from being leased to black and Hispanic tenants. He also had sexual harassment settlements in his history, reportedly took a woman into the Clippers locker room and told her to marvel at the "beautiful black bodies" and allegedly told his GM he wanted a white coach and black players from disadvantaged backgrounds in to replicate a plantation scenario on the Clippers. And this is just the widely reported stuff -- who knows what other skeletons hang in his closets.

Donald Sterling is an awful, awful, possibly irredeemable human. As we complain about other NBA owners, let's not forget that.


Winner: Dan Gilbert.

On the whole, Dan Gilbert's not a bad owner. He's not depraved, as far as we know. He spends plenty of money to improve his team. He seems to let his basketball people run basketball ops. He seems to give fans a good experience for their money. He had the Cavaliers on track to win a title (thanks to having the best player on the planet).

But man, this dude can whine. There was the whole tragi-Comic Sans letter to fans on the night LeBron James chose South Beach, complete with an assurance that Cleveland would win a championship before The Chosen One did. (Welp.) Later, it was Gilbert who wrote a letter in December 2011 complaining that the Chris Paul-Lakers trade was unfair. In case you've forgotten just how unbelievable that leaked letter was, here's the best line:

When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals?



Winner: Michael Jordan.

We're giving MJ credit for his work as a minority owner who ran the team as president. He did the same thing for a while with the Washington Wizards, so we're opening up a wide umbrella here. He's not a good basketball decision-maker. Period. He picked Kwame Brown and verbally beat him into submission ... which didn't work. He sold the farm for one playoff season in Charlotte ... a move which set back the team's long-term progress years and years. He presided over the worst season in NBA history by winning percentage. And while there now seems to be a long-term plan led by Rich Cho, Jordan somehow has a rebuilding team that has or will feature each of Corey Maggette and Ben Gordon.

This might be the Birmingham Barons II. MJ just might not be good at leading a basketball organization while wearing a suit.


Winner: James "Jimmy" "J.D." Dolan

Oh my goodness is James Dolan a terrible owner. MJ is bad because he chooses friends for important jobs and possibly values the wrong attributes in prospects and decision-makers. James Dolan is bad because he thinks he knows what he's doing but clearly has no idea whatsoever. His claim to fame is that his father was rich. That explains Dolan's prominence in sports, in entertainment and in business: his dad was rich and smart. Despite this, Dolan continually takes matters into his own hands in the front office, reportedly pushing hard for the Carmelo Anthony trade and still! trying to get Isiah Thomas, the most inept GM of our times, back in Madison Square Garden.

Dolan spends tons and tons of money to give some of the most passionate, knowledgeable sports fans on the planet a mediocre product year after year after year. In gross ineptitude over time, Dolan gives three-decade owner Sterling a run for his money.


Winner: Jerry Reinsdorf.

Robert Sarver, the Maloofs and Sterling get lots of heat from fans for being cheap. But for my money, the Bulls' Reinsdorf is the worst in this category. Why? Because he's absolutely loaded, he spends gobs of money on the Chicago White Sox and he has instituted what amounts to a hard cap on his team -- a team knocking on the door of a championship. He's been rather cheap going all the way back to the title runs in the '90s, nearly costing the Bulls a championship season by getting into protracted bickering with Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen. He did shell out the two standing largest single-season contracts in NBA history ($30 million and $31 million to MJ in 1997 and 1998), but he's currently refusing to break the luxury tax threshold to give Derrick Rose and Luol Deng the help they need to challenge the Heat. It must be infuriating for Chicago fans to know that the team is so close, and that while Rose and Deng and Joakim Noah and Tom Thibodeau will do absolutely whatever it takes to get there, the man signing the checks isn't going match the efforts of other team owners.


Winner: The Maloof family.

This is how bad the Maloofs are at owning a pro sports team: there are indications that the family has been trying to move the Kings to Las Vegas or Anaheim since 1998 ... before they owned the team! The Los Angeles Times reported in 1998 that the Maloofs were angling to purchase a majority share in the team and move them to Orange County. It's 2012, and they are still in Sacramento. Talk about ineptitude.

What happened, if those old reports are accurate? The team got good in a hurry right when they took over. They inherited a general manager (Geoff Petrie) and coach (Rick Adelman) who had plans for big things. The Kings quickly went from laughingstock to most entertaining program on television, with the Maloofs -- young, brash, rich and with insatiable thirst for attention -- sitting courtside. All that distracted them from the grand plan. George Maloof, the young portly member of the family, leveraged the family's fortune and good name to double down on The Palms resort in Las Vegas, expanding it and puffing it up as the place in Sin City for the hip crowd.

Then the bottom fell out ... of the team and of Las Vegas. The family went broke on The Palms expansion; after selling off their late father's touchstone business, a New Mexican beer and liquor distributorship, the family still didn't have enough cash to stave away creditors. The Maloofs now own 2 percent of The Palms. George remains as a figurehead CEO, but recent reports suggest the new owners are trying to un-Maloof the resort. Meanwhile, the team lost money for a bit and the family shuttered the WNBA Monarchs. The Maloofs put together an escape plan to Anaheim in 2011, but were too inept to pull it off: the Sacramento mayor, some local businesses and a fan group all managed to block the family's move. The Maloofs earned revenge by declining a perfectly good deal to stay in a new building in Sacramento crafted by the NBA; now they float in purgatory, unwilling to stay and unable to leave.

This is why ESPN The Magazine is right to give the Maloofs the nod as the worst owners in sports. Sterling is an awful human being, but he's still able to do basically what he wants. He's not really ever been prevented from being as awful as he wants to be. Dolan is awfully inept, but he still runs one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world. The Maloofs, though? They are truly too awful to function. They can't even destroy their team's fan base properly. That's worthy of the mark.


The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.