Joe Maloof, the owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and the Palms Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, is not a skateboarder.
The successful 53-year-old businessman tried the sport once as a kid growing up in Albuquerque, N.M., in the late 1960s. The way he tells it, he tried rolling down a cement ramp into a parking garage, hit a drainage grate, went flying through the air and badly skinned his face.
“That’s the last time I ever got on a skateboard. I took up tennis after that,” Maloof said.
Although Maloof’s skateboarding talent is questionable at best, it’s hard to question his business acumen.
When the mogul sees an opportunity, he pounces on it, and that’s just how the Maloof Money Cup skateboarding competition was born last year at the Orange County Fair.
Billed as the tournament with the biggest prize pool in the sport — roughly $450,000 in total prize money, of which $100,000 goes to the winner of the street competition — it’s coming back for a second year, July 10 to 12.
Riding around in a car and looking out the window, Maloof said he was taken aback by the amount of kids skateboarding in the streets, and that’s where the idea was hatched.
His partner in the venture, Etnies skateboard merchandise company founder Pierre Senizergues, says Maloof’s observation is more than just an anecdote.
More kids skateboard these days than play baseball, according to Senizergues.
“I always had this dream that some day it would happen — that skateboarding would become popular,” Senizergues said in his thick French accent.
Senizergues started down the path of success in the skateboarding industry after he began to get noticed after winning two world championships, but he wasn’t always working in a meticulously kept office complex.
He moved to America from Paris and for a while was homeless. He began doing skateboard tricks on the boardwalk at Venice Beach for tips.
So in the same way that Maloof comes at the sport as an eager, energetic dilettante, Senizergues has stuck with it his whole life, through the thinnest and thickest of times.
Before last year’s inaugural event, both men were nervous. What if nobody showed up? What if skaters viewed the competition as a corporate money-making ploy?
“I was really worried. I didn’t know what to expect,” Maloof said.
But their fears were put to rest when the tournament exceeded their expectations and drew 20,000 spectators and an estimated 200,000 people walking through the rows of booths they set up for vendors to sell skateboarding merchandise.
Senizergues attributes the success to Maloof’s willingness to default to skateboarding experts on the design of the course and layout of the competition, instead of insisting on his own way.
As a European expatriate, Senizergues was blown away that it was covered on national television for one hour Sunday at noon, right before coverage of the Tour de France bike race.
Despite being a relative newcomer to skateboarding, Maloof said he has “never had more fun,” even likening the tournament to sitting in the stands as his Sacramento Kings fought the Lakers in epic playoff matchups during the Kings’ glory days in the early part of the decade.
This year’s competition features Ryan Sheckler, Paul Rodriguez, Eric Koston, Andrew Reynolds and many other pros.
Tournament officials released the street course layout earlier this week, with elements such as park benches, planters, staircases and a bunch of other features that skateboarders love to use for tricks.
There will also be a vert competition — where skaters launch off the ends of two opposing ramps and do stunts — for a $75,000 first prize and a new car.
Maloof and Senizergues expect this year’s competition to be even more popular than last year’s and want to keep it going for years to come.