Maloof Bros. Interview

The Maloofs have asked skateboarding, "How can we serve you?"  Launch Gallery » AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

When you're talking about the Maloofs, the theme has to come down to service. Just how two brothers from a family that gained its initial fortune from Coors beer distribution in New Mexico came to be involved in one of the most spot-on skate contests seems like a total mystery. But, again, service seems to be the answer.

This American family of Lebanese descent has taken the money their father made from beer distribution, hotels, trucking and banking in the Southwestern states and expanded it to casinos, sports franchises, music, reality TV and now skateboarding -- all with the customer in mind. There's no doubt they bring their own interests to the table in each one of their business pursuits, but even before the inaugural Maloof Money Cup last year, Joe and Gavin Maloof, along with event producers, listened intently to what the skaters wanted.

Now in its second year, the event has only improved, by involving Geoff Rowley, Lance Mountain, Erik Ellington and Braydon Szafranski in the street course design; picking top skaters (instead of relatively unknown contest-only skaters); adding in wild-card skaters voted in by fans; and continuing with the jam format. But, it's still a wonder -- why skateboarding? We caught up with the Maloofs just before the July 11-12 event.

ESPN Skateboarding: Seeing how you're the owners of the Palms Casino and know a bit about gambling,
business, and what a safe bet is, who would you put your money on to win the street portion of this year's Money Cup?

Joe Maloof: [Laughs] Oh, God. I gotta stay neutral, but I'm excited because we've got the best in the world -- any one of them, all of them, could win.

Fair enough. The Maloof family has a deep history in traditional sports. Your dad was the owner of the Houston Rockets. You and your family are the current owners of the Sacramento Kings. But skateboarding is a little different from traditional sports. What sparked your interest in skateboarding, and what made you take that to the next level, spawning the biggest purse contest in the sport?
When I was young, I'd see everyone outside, playing catch with baseballs or Frisbees. But now every time I look out the window, I see people skateboarding -- from 10- to 40-year-olds. I thought, 'This is something I might want to get involved with.' Let's host a camp in Orange County. Then people came to me saying, 'Why don't you do a competition?' Then it blossomed into this.

Typical Maloof style.
It's the same thing [as other sports]. What I learned about skateboarding is these are wonderful athletes, No. 1. No. 2, it's basically the same demographic as an NBA player -- 19 to 34 -- you have some young kids like Nyjah [Houston], but for the most part, these are high-class, highly trained athletes that are amazing at the tricks they do. That's what captured my imagination. Jake Brown was actually the first skateboarder I met who got involved.

So you saw that it was a big pastime with guys that were hucking their bodies and you thought it could be bigger?
Not everybody can be 6-5, 250 pounds and play linebacker for the Chicago Bears. These kids have an opportunity to make a living at skateboarding. They have a lot of talent; they train. They're just as good as any athlete in any major sport I know, from basketball to football or anything else -- I respect them, I really do.

Have you or your brother ever dabbled in skateboarding?
I tried it once when I was about 13, and that was the last time. I grew up in Albuquerque, and there was this shopping mall called Kissel Callister, and they had a slant that I went down, and I ran into a drain. When I hit the drain, I went flying … hit my face, tore it up. That's about it, man, but that's why I have so much respect for what these guys do.

You definitely put your body in danger.
There's a whole lifestyle, too -- the music, the apparel. … There's a big celebrity to these guys.

What would it take to get you to have a go at jumping down the largest gap on the street course?
I'd give a million bucks to be able to do that.

What would someone have to give you to jump the largest gap out there?
I don't think I could do it. I don't want to make bets I can't win.

I guess you've been in Vegas long enough to know what's a good bet.
That would be a good bet for a madman.

With your foray into the skate world, who are the skaters that you've gotten to know?
We've gotten a lot of help from Rob Dyrdek. He was instrumental in helping us last year and he's been a consultant this year. Andrew Reynolds designed the course last year. Geoff Rowley designed the course this year. Bob Burnquist, PLG, Jake Brown -- they designed the vert, so really, this is their competition. I would like it to be the world's greatest skateboarding event, and it's like it is because they designed it and decided everything about it. All we did was build it.

Are there skaters who stood out to you as interesting characters?
Adam Dyet has his own thing going. The Lizard …

Lizard King?
See, I've gotta learn names. He does his own thing. Paul Rodriguez -- P-Rod -- he won it last year. He's a nice guy. Bob Burnquist, Danny Way … he really helped us last year. We've really had help from all the top guys. I think they've kind of embraced it.

Who, in your opinion, puts in more work: a professional skateboarder or a professional basketball player?
It's close, man. You know, Sheckler was out here yesterday and you could just see it in his face. You could see him skate one part of the street course over and over and over. I wouldn't be surprised if he skated the middle and then the other part of the course. These guys are determined -- they're pros. They're the best in the world. Basketball players are wonderful athletes as well, so it's hard to compare the two.

You said you let the skaters plan the street course and how the contest would go down. Did you initially plan on doing it and having someone come in and direct it?
We had to come with our hat in our hand. We had to ask the skaters themselves how to do things, because I didn't want to come in and do it my way, because that's the wrong way. We learned a lot from the X Games, the Dew Tour, and we respect what they've done and incorporated it into what the skaters want, and it's worked out great.

Was there any consideration to build a course in a place where it could remain as a public skate park after the slight backlash of complaints from tearing down last year's concrete course after the comp?
You know, we can't leave it here. I look at it two ways: The greatest in the world are going to skate this street course, and then we're going to take it away, never to be skated on again, so it's kind of a little legendary. But then the business side of me looks at it and says, 'What a waste.' But it's worth it, I think. I'm going to do it every year. I'm sure we'll eventually have more than one of these (I hope), and maybe we can do a course in other parts of the country, where we can go into a city, build a course, have a Maloof Money Cup there and then leave the course for the public. Maybe that can happen in the future. It kills me to tear it down, but we can't leave it here. So, there's kind of a mystique behind it. It's legendary that they skate it and then it doesn't exist anymore.

With a contest now two years in the running and a positive response, what plans do you have to push the Money Cup into the future and build it out in the coming years?
My dad used to have this saying: 'What we do good today, we must do better tomorrow.' So, it's great and fabulous, but we've got to make it better next year. There are things we learn every year. We've learned a lot this year, the design, the format, how it should be judged -- all that sort of thing. So, we just want to listen. If you take your advice from the skaters in the street, then it'll be OK.

[Gavin Maloof approaches.]

So you and your brother came up with this idea together?
Gavin Maloof: Actually, Joe came up with the idea -- I just backed him up. He noticed thousands and thousands of skaters and said, "There's gotta be something there," and he came up with this. It started as a skate camp, and then one thing led to another.

Like a lot of Maloof projects, I suppose.
Gavin: He's in the forefront, but everybody -- all the family chips in.

What does the rest of the family think of it?
Gavin: Well, at first, there was some apprehension.

Isn't that how your family is with a lot of your ideas?
Gavin: Yeah, a lot of apprehension. Then, they came last year and saw that it sold out, and they were like, 'Wow.'

To learn more about the Maloof Money Cup, go to the Money Cup site. To watch the live webcast, July 11 and 12, go to FuelTV. Check back all weekend for contest updates, results and photos on ESPN Skateboarding.