SACRAMENTO — Joe Axelson has been in the National Basketball Assn. for 17 years, but he is acting these days like a kid with a new toy.
Actually, his new toy, the Kings' franchise, is only refurbished. The coaster wagon has a new set of wheels. The fancy red stripes along the side are freshly painted, the chrome polished and shiny.
For the second time in his career as an executive of the Kings--the franchise has been steadily moving west--Axelson has directed a move to a different city. In 1972, he moved the Cincinnati Royals to Kansas City and changed the team's nickname to Kings, since the baseball Royals were already ensconced in Kansas City. The franchise had begun life in 1948 as the Royals in Rochester, N.Y.
In Kansas City, Axelson said, the Kings went relatively unnoticed. Sacramento appears to be more fertile territory.
"For starters, we've had a positive cash flow swing of $7 million," said the Kings' president and general manager. "We won't play to an empty seat this year (in the Kings' new 10,333-seat Arco arena).
"That's because we are going to do what the Dodgers do. We own the whole McGilla, the new arena they're gong to build just 1,200 feet west of the Arco, concessions, everything."
Axelson made his remarks in a luncheon speech to western regional members of the Associated Press Sports Editors. And, being in the kind of happy mood he is in these days, he was especially loose and candid about things in and around the NBA. Some examples:
--On the recent statement in Sports Illustrated by Dave DeBusschere, general manager of the New York Knicks, that Pat Ewing had all the leverage in recent contract negotiations with the Knicks: "Ewing had all the leverage all right. After all, he could have gone to the Globetrotters, or to Europe, or . . . "
--On who will win the NBA title this season: "The Lakers. They've go the best nine players, and they've got Magic Johnson, who is the best leader in the NBA since Bill Russell. He just keeps bouncing that ball right at you up the middle, and there's no way the Lakers aren't going to reel off a 10-0 spurt on you after a while. There's never been a better team in this league."
--On how the Lakers got that way: "You get a $9-million payroll, and it's like throwing mud up against a wall. Pretty soon, some of it is going to stick. You don't have to be that smart."
--On his ratings of the 10 best senior prospects on the West Coast for the NBA draft: "I'll tell you who they are and I'll tell you they aren't very good. I've got eight forwards and two guards. The forwards are Kerry Boagni of Fullerton, Scott Fisher of UC Santa Barbara, Paul Fortier of Washington, Andy Franklin of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Tod Murphy of Irvine, Forrest McKenzie of Loyola Marymount, Johnny Rogers of Irvine and Steve Woodside of Oregon State. The guards are Dwayne Polee of Pepperdine and Keith Smith of Loyola Marymount. That's the first time in my memory that UCLA has nobody on the list."
--On his treatment by the media in Kansas City in the team's last year there, at a time when he was hanged in effigy by fans: "The Sacramento papers have been very fair. They even talk to you before they run a story about you, which is a refreshing change from Kansas City."
--On his feelings about the lack of free-agency movement in the NBA: "I'll give you an example. We had three on the list going into this season. Don Buse retired, Mark Olberding signed again with us. And then there was Joe C. Meriweather, who retired two years ago and didn't have the decency to tell us about it until now."
--On his two years of having been an executive in the NBA office, whose duties, among other things was to be in charge of the referees--"That's like trying to take care of a wounded water buffalo. It can't be done."