Going the Extra Mile

(Insert Marv Albert voice) YES!!!!

Speak with Joe Maloof for just a minute or two, and it’s quickly apparent how the president of Maloof Companies and his family have built a vast, extremely successful business empire that includes the beautiful Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas and the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.

Maloof was kind enough to share several minutes of his time with me while watching the Warriors and Clippers go at it in summer league play last week, delving into topics as various as the keys to his success, the future of the NBA and his tight (hermetically-sealed) relationship with brother Gavin.

With the relatively simple, yet often fleeting combination of work ethic and taking care of people learned from their father and emulated from an early age, the Maloof’s had a staple both of how to do business, and how to act towards others.

What follows is a transcript of our courtside conversation:

Mike Trudell: Your father put you and your brother Gavin to work shoveling beer cans at his Coors warehouse in New Mexico when you were just 10 years old. Is it fair to identify that as your first taste of really hard work?
Joe Maloof: You know, Gavin and I never had a holiday to ourselves when we were young. We were always in the warehouse, on the truck, delivering beer, dropping off cases. We got that strong work ethic, and it’s carried on throughout our lives. But one of the things we learned early on was that if you could put two days work into one day, you could out-work your competitor. Therefore, we don’t mind working hard and long hours.

Trudell: Like working hard, the philosophy of treating people well and taking care of your employees has been a long-standing Maloof family business trait that you learned from your father and grandfather.
Maloof: That’s absolutely right. We’re a family-owned business, and we like to treat all of our employees like family. We are a very close family, all of my siblings and myself*, but we found out we couldn’t do it all ourselves. We have honest, hard-working, loyal employees that are going to do the job when you’re not there. The only way you can have them continue to work hard for you is to compensate them and take care of them.
*Brother Gavin is the Vice Chairman of Maloof Companies; sister Adrienne Maloof-Nassif is involved in marketing, fashion design, promotion and politics of the organization; brother George is President of Maloof Hotels, including the awesome Palms Casino and Resort (housing several NBA teams, including the Wolves, during summer league play); and brother Phil is the point person for Maloof Production and Maloof Music.

The Maloof siblings: George, Joe, Adrienne and Gavin at the All-Star game (brother Phil is not pictured)

Trudell: Two things that are also at the core of your philosophies are…
Maloof: Our two philosophies with the Maloof Companies are to take care of your employees, and take care of your customers. We’ve lived by those philosophies from my grandfather to my father to ourselves.

Trudell: Speaking of your father, you’ve spoken before of how he would literally go nuts if a customer wasn’t taken care of. That clearly influenced you particularly.
Maloof: You know what, when I was about 17 years old I went on a business trip to Milwaukee, Wisc., with my father. At that early age, I learned a big lesson. He told me, “Let’s keep track of all the people that we come in contact with that have an opportunity to service us as customers. Let’s see how they take care of us.” I remember that there were 57 people that had an opportunity: bellmen; waitresses; taxi drivers … We kept track, and there was only one person out of 57 that really went out of her way to cater to us. That was a lady at a downtown Milwaukee café who went the extra mile. That’s where I learned the value of service for the first time. If you can take care of your customers better than your competition, you will be successful.

Trudell: The Timberwolves are staying at your hotel right now, and the customer service has been terrific so far. Hope you don’t mind that I used your name to get into the two best night clubs in Vegas, Club Moon and Ghost Bar … But let’s talk about marketing for a second, an area in which you’re very experienced. What would you like to see change about the way the NBA markets itself?
Maloof: I think there has been a little bit of a change in direction in terms of the marketing strategies as we’re trying to reach a wider demographic. We do know one thing, that our game is the most popular game amongst young people. Kids love the NBA, they love skateboarding and they love the X-Games. Those surveys have been done, and we have an advantage here. But where we need to expand our marketing is in the 25-50 age demographic. We’ve lost some of those customers to other sports, and that’s a direction we have to explore. How do we get that young, 25-year-old executive and keep him or her until he or she is 67?

Trudell: Well, let’s not use the word “executive,” but I’m 25. I can start on a grass-roots level and make sure all my friends keep coming to Wolves games. Cool?
Maloof: OK. Sure.

Gavin's head, Joe and friend Eva Longoria. She's not hot on opposite day.

Trudell: In recent years, the NBA has taken its game global, and we’re seeing a plethora of international talent come in. We have MVPs and No. 1 picks coming from Germany, China, Canada and Italy. What’s the next step?
Maloof: I think we’re just at the beginning of a curve that’s going to be spectacular in the name of NBA China, which provides a huge opportunity for the league. There are 1.3 billion people in China, and basketball is the second-most popular sport after soccer. I think the future of the league is going that way, and we have an advantage that football doesn’t have in that they don’t understand football internationally, but they’re already playing our game.

Trudell: Let’s change tunes here. Many people might not know that the athletic gene is really quite strong in your family. Both you and Gavin played football in college: Gavin at New Mexico Military Institute and yourself at the University of New Mexico. So … who was better?
Maloof: Ha. Well, I have to say that I was.

Trudell: Fair enough. I understand that you two are quite competitive with one another. Since we’re here in Vegas, I’ll set the odds at 10 and take the over in terms of how many beer cans you threw at each other while shoveling them for dad.
Maloof: I tell you, it was the worst job in the world. My dad had us shovel thousands and thousands of aluminum cans into a big semi. I’ve never done anything as hard as that. But yes, Gavin and I compete in everything. He’s a million times better golfer than I am. It’s fun that we’re so close, because we’re best friends. We travel everywhere together, have a great time, and that’s what life’s all about.

Trudell: No arguments here. Let’s flash back to 1979 when your father bought the Houston Rockets for nine million dollars. What are your recollections, and how did that experience dictate that you wanted a team yourself one day?
Maloof: I think that we got a great amount of experience and learned from our dad all about the industry, and our philosophies have never changed or wavered. I saw how my dad took care of customers, how he took care of the fans, how he took care of the ushers and the parking attendants. People want to be taken care of. If someone in a department store is surly and doesn’t treat you right, you may never go back again. It’s the same thing with the Kings, where we have been blessed to have some of the greatest fans. We have over 315 sellouts, but those don’t just come. You have to work at that. You have to take care of people, get into the community, and do whatever you can to make their experience at that arena a positive one.

Trudell: Community service is extremely important in what you do through Maloof Companies. You and Gavin have won the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame’s Most Involved Executives award for 2001, along with the Pro Team Humanitarian Award in both 2002 and 2004. What specific contribution has made you most proud?
Maloof: We’ve been able to have some wonderful projects for the Sacramento youth. Every year we donate $100,000 of the proceeds from a preseason game to various causes. For example, we took an old little league baseball field and refurbished it, re-sodded it, put up new concession stands and a scoreboard. Thousands of kids will be able to play there in the future. We’ve also repaired buildings in downtown Sacramento to house Hemispheres, an after-school performing arts and visual academy, done arts programs with high school kids, and created a community cultural and youth sports center for the Asian Sports Foundation. We like to do anything we can with kids, especially kids at risk.

Joe and Gavin with a special friend at one of their numerous community functions

Trudell: Terrific. As we sit here watching the Warriors and Clippers go at it, what can you say about the Las Vegas Summer League?

Maloof: I think it’s one of the best summer league’s I’ve ever attended. The NBA has done a spectacular job getting 21 teams here. What I’m going to do next year is put together a ticket package for our season-ticket holders, to bring them out here for four or five games. All the top draft picks are out here. I’ve seen (Greg) Oden twice, (Kevin) Durant, our guy (Spencer Hawes) of course, and your Corey Brewer. The way it’s set up with the venues here at UNLV and the talent we have here, it’s just great.

Trudell: Speaking of venues, you and Gavin built what is certainly among the league’s best atmospheres at ARCO Arena in Sacramento. But after a great run with Chris Webber, Vlade Divac, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic, Doug Christie and Bobby Jackson, the team has really struggled. As the owners of the team, what do you do to get it back?
Maloof: I think when you have a really successful team like we had in the past, with 55-60 wins a year, you start taking draft picks that are 22, 23, 24. You’re able to pick up some great role players, but there is a cycle in sports. You can’t always stay at the top. Look at a team like the Lakers, who won three championships recently, but all those years of late draft picks are starting to catch up with them. That’s all it is.

Trudell: I’ll apologize in advance here for bringing this up, but: it’s Game 4 vs. the Lakers in 2002. The Kings force a tough shot … one rebound, and you’re in the NBA Finals … Divac, for some reason, tips the ball out to the top of the key, and Robert Horry catches it …swish.
Maloof: I’ll never forget. I thought about that shot last night. There isn’t a night that goes by where I don’t wonder why Vlade tipped the ball out, how Horry happened to be there at that time. I was sitting on the baseline with my brother Gavin, and I stood up, watched that ball and I knew it was in. When it went in … oh God. Jesus. I asked Jerry Tarkanian, and he said “You’ll never forget that as long as you live.” But we can get back to that some day, it’s just a matter of time.

Trudell: Had Horry missed that shot, you would have been up 3-1 heading to Sacramento, but instead it was 2-2 and L.A. pulled it out. Then two years later, my Timberwolves got you in the Western Conference semis. That couldn’t have felt good, either.
Maloof: Oh, sure. That was the second-biggest heartbreak I’ve ever had. When Webber’s three to tie it when in and out? Ouch.

Trudell: That must have hurt right in the heart, and a little in the mind, huh? I was in the upper deck that night, and I literally almost fell over the ledge when Webber’s shot was halfway through.
Maloof: In and out. Oh, man.

Trudell: Let’s talk about something that will make you feel better. Your company has “exclusive proprietorship rights to the distribution of Coors, Miller, Corona, Heineken, Tecate, InBev, Boston Beer and Guinness products throughout New Mexico,” according to the Kings’ website. We’re going to need your favorite beer, please.
Maloof: I tell you, I’ve tried them all. My favorite beer is Miller Chill. I’ve never had a beer that tasted that good. It has a little bit of lime and salt in it, and is light.

Trudell: Miller Chill? Why haven’t I heard of that? A good Chill wouldn’t hurt right now in this 115 degree heat you have in Vegas. Give me a break.
Maloof: You like the cold better?

Trudell: Hey, I’m from Minnesota. It’s tough in January, but my bones are used to it.
Maloof: Wow. Well, Minneapolis is a beautiful city. I love it.

Joe's better at football, but Gavin's better at golf ... and spinning balls. Not even going to try, Joe?

Trudell: Indeed. But I digress. Now, where do you fall in the ongoing debate between Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and commissioner David Stern, with whom I know you have a long-standing relationship?
Maloof: Let me say this. Our relationship with David Stern goes way back, and I think he’s one of the top -- if not the top -- commissioners in the world of sports. One of the advantages that Stern has is that he’s very active, and he understands the owners. He understands what we go through and how competitive we are. You’re not going to get along with everybody. That’s life. Some owners he gets along with better than others, but that’s not to chastise Mark Cuban because he’s been terrific for the league. Look what he’s done with that team. That was one of the worst franchises in sports, and he’s turned them into a perennial contender. I think Cuban and Stern are softening a little bit. I think they’re getting along better now.

Trudell: OK. Towards that end, people are intrigued by how much owners should be involved in the basketball operations of their franchises. Where do you stand?
Maloof: There are two different parts to an NBA franchise: the business part, and the basketball part. We try to balance the two, but in reality, our decisions are going to be based on what’s best for our team on the court, not business wise. Four out of eight years we’ve paid the luxury tax, and we’re not afraid to pay it. We want to put the best basketball team we can on the court and not worry about the money. We’ll worry about that later.

Trudell: Something Kings fans appreciate, I’ll imagine…
Maloof: By the way, you guys have a heck of an owner in Glen Taylor. Wonderful guy, really. Great guy. I had an opportunity to talk to him a few times at the Board of Governors meeting, and he’s great for the league. He’s a tremendously successful businessman that is very competitive, and we’re lucky to have in the league.

Trudell: All right Joe, thanks again for taking the time with us.
Maloof: My pleasure.