LAS VEGAS — It was a long time coming for the Maloof family.
“It’s only been about 45 years for us,” said Gavin Maloof, who was in tears after the Vegas Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup-winning celebration on Saturday night.
The long journey wasn’t just frustrating, it was painful. Real pain.
“My dad, George, purchased the Houston Rockets in 1979 and died in 1980. I was 24 years old. I was the youngest owner in major league sports.”
That year the Rockets became a Cinderella team by reaching the NBA Finals as the only team with a losing record (40-42) since the Minnesota Lakers in 1958-59 when they were swept by the Boston Celtics.
The Lakers moved to Los Angeles after that season.
The Rockets managed to win two games before the Celtics won the title. “We ran into Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish,” said Maloof.
The Maloofs sold the Rockets the next year and returned to their beer distributorship empire. “We had every major beer brand in New Mexico except Budweiser.”
In 1998 the family acquired a minority interest in the Sacramento Kings and assumed majority control a year later, with Gavin and older brother, Joe, in charge of operating the franchise.
At the same time, brother George Jr. was in charge of opening and operating the $275 million, 430-room Palms Hotel Casino, which became celebrity central when it opened in 2001.
The financial crisis of 2008 devastated Las Vegas, with the hard times leading to the sale of the Palms and leaving other major companies deeply in debt.
The economic crash led to the Maloofs selling the Kings in 2013.
On the day after the sale, Gavin and Joe Maloof were at the NBA office in New York and decided to pay a visit to National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman.
“The offices were close together so we walked down and met with Bettman.” They didn’t waste his time.
“He was very gracious,” said Gavin Maloof. “We mentioned the MGM parent company was building an arena. He didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no. I left thinking we had a shot.
“Then something kind of odd happened when we went back to Las Vegas,” he said. When they met with some MGM executives they got a cold reception, he said. “They actually did not want the team. Now this is not the same executive team that’s there today. They said ‘we want dates for concerts. We were dumbfounded. We went to Bill Hornbuckle (another MGM executive and he said ‘let’s talk further.’”
In the process of selling the Kings, the Maloof brothers learned one of their attorneys was friends with Florida businessman Bill Foley. A few days later the Maloofs met with Foley. Later, “we would go back and forth to his ranch in Montana and tell him about the opportunity in Las Vegas. We have any of the big four major sports leagues here. No one but my brother Joe and Bill Foley thought it could work.” Foley saw the Mountain West as an untapped region for marketing merchandise.
With Foley in the fold, the rest of the Maloof brothers got involved in the season tickets drive.
Once they had the buzz going they started the “Las Vegas 75,” the who’s who of Las Vegas. They did a tremendous job. We created a firestorm about the team. The team really brought the business community together.
“We’ve been in sports our entire lives. They say in sports you have to have your heart broken several times.”
U.S. Open ties to Las Vegas
Rickie Fowler, the third round leader of the U.S. Open, has several Las Vegas ties.
He sold his luxury condo at The Summit Club in Summerlin for $6 million last year, six months after purchasing it for $2.1 million.
He worked with Butch Harmon, who coached Tiger Woods for almost 10 years. When Harmon stopped traveling around the tour, Fowler worked with John Tillery for three years, but that relationship ended after three years when Fowler suffered through his worst slump. He reunited with Harmon and turned his game around.
He shot a record 62 in the first round, breaking the U.S. Open record of 63 set by Johnny Miller in 1963. His flurry of birdies disappeared in the final round. He finished in a tie for fifth, with a five-over par 75.
Las Vegas author Jack Sheehan was hired in the mid 90s for a major series for GOLF Magazine called “18 Holes With.” His job was to play a round with famous people at a course of their choice. “I played with President Bush 41, Sean Connery, Matthew McConaughey, Larry Bird, Wayne Gretzky, and others.
“Terry Bradshaw agreed to play, but only if we played L.A. Country Club. I made a reservation from Golf Magazine that was accepted. Two days before the round, I was called by the club and asked who my celebrity was. When I said Terry Bradshaw, they said, ‘We’re sorry, but he’s not welcome here.’
I got no other explanation. They don’t like celebs or jocks at LACC. Weird.”
Las Vegas represented at College World Series
Jacobs Godman is representing Las Vegas in the College World Series at Omaha, Nebraska.
He is the starting catcher for Oral Roberts University, the third-ranked team entered the tournament with the best record (51-12).
Godman, a senior, attended Palo Verde High School here.
Burlin Germany, a local developmental coach for the Dodgers Elite Scout Team, said Godman was known as a ‘very good defensive catcher, a plus arm, great receiver. His hitting has gotten much better. His twin brother was drafted by the Boston Red Sox as a pitcher.” Godman hit .291 for ORU in 50 games, with 29 RBI.
When pro sports teams win a title, they usually hop on a plane to Las Vegas to celebrate. The Vegas Golden Knights just needed to drive down the street as they celebrated their Stanley Cup championship win on Tuesday night at Omnia…. Just two days later, the Denver Nuggets flew to Las Vegas to celebrate their championship Thursday night at Hakkasan after their parade.