NBA Kings: Sleepless in Sacramento

Local NBA fans, K.J. and city millionaires hustle against long odds to block Kings' sale and move to Seattle

Mayor Kevin Johnson again discussed plans to keep the Sacramento Kings in town at an afternoon press conference this past Tuesday at City Hall.

Mayor Kevin Johnson again discussed plans to keep the Sacramento Kings in town at an afternoon press conference this past Tuesday at City Hall.

photo by nick miller

Are there any basketball experts outside the Sacramento bubble arguing that this week’s Kings-to-Seattle deal will fall apart? SN&R hasn’t found any. Here inside the city limits, however, the prevailing attitude is that there’s still time on the clock for local “activists” (including Kings fans and sports journalists), deep-pocketed millionaires and Mayor Kevin Johnson to make a final last-ditch heave for the winning bucket to keep the NBA in town.

A day after Monday’s announced sale of the Kings, Johnson rallied the troops to outline the next few steps of his effort to block the sale and move. Kings fans toting anti-Seattle signs and wearing jerseys mingled with millionaires and regional electeds while flanking the mayor during an afternoon press conference.

K.J.’s plan is a four-stepper: find a big-money equity partner to buy the team, lock in a downtown arena deal, demonstrate that Sacramento is a good NBA market and build a local ownership group. On Tuesday, he’d already accomplished this last goal.

“In three days,” the mayor began, “we got 19 people to come in at a million dollars” and make a commitment to pay to keep the Kings. These local millionaires included former arena developer David Taylor, online-gaming maven Mark Otero and developer Ali Youssefi.

The next move for Sacramento will be to lock in a billionaire-club potential buyer; Grant Napear told SN&R on Tuesday that an announcement of such deep pockets is “definitely on the horizon.”

Still, as one city council member pondered at the press conference, “I wonder what the odds are in Vegas [that Sacramento actually keeps the team]?”

National media, for instance, seems to think that Seattle has the Kings in check. As has been widely reported this past week, the Maloofs announced a binding agreement to sell majority ownership of the Kings to a group of Emerald City investors lead by billionaire Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. They’re paying a record price for an NBA franchise and—interestingly—have reportedly agreed to give the Maloofs a $30 million down payment by February 1, which they won’t be able to recoup if the deal falls through.

This unusual, nonrefundable $30 million deposit intrigues. As Tom Ziller of local Kings blog Sactown Royalty noted, “Word is that if Sacramento continues to push for the league to reject the purchase agreement, Hansen could sue” either the NBA or even the city, because there’s now actually dollars—millions—on the line.

National sports writers are already rumor-mongering: that legendary coach Phil Jackson is itching to come out of retirement to be general manager of the Seattle Supersonics next season, or that U.S. Olympics basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski will leave Duke University to run the team.

At the same time, elite Sacramento players are engaging a full-court press of their own. Even Darrell Steinberg—current state Senate pro tem and onetime Maloof adviser during 2006’s Measure Q and R arena ballot-measure debacle—is presumed to have contacted the state Department of General Services to request information on how much state government spends on Microsoft products.

“I am troubled that a company and a CEO that has for so long enjoyed a prosperous and beneficial working relationship with the State of California and its taxpayers would blatantly engage in activities which are clearly and measurably detrimental to our State’s job and revenue base,” Steinberg wrote earlier this week.

Sports-radio host Carmichael Dave, who founded the Here We Stay movement that kept the Kings from moving to Anaheim in 2011, told SN&R that “there’s just too many things [about the sale] that don’t make sense,” including the “awfully high valuation for a franchise” and the unique $30 million down payment.

“And you’re dealing with the Maloofs. They’re a pack of charlatans,” he said, adding that NBA owners won’t rubber-stamp a sale or move until late April, and that anything could happen between now and then.

The mayor’s office has stated that Johnson will be allowed to present to NBA owners at this very April meeting, too, in an attempt to persuade owners to allow locals to buy the team.

City council pundits also agree that there are enough votes to approve a new arena project, again. And the Anschutz Entertainment Group, or AEG, who agreed to pitch in tens of millions of dollars on last year’s failed arena deal, told the NBA and Sacramento last week that it’s still game to help pay.

And, even if the Kings do leave town, there still might be more arena drama. Sactown Royalty’s Ziller wrote that the city will “likely pursue building an arena downtown to a) give the city a legitimate major entertainment venue and b) persuade the NBA to send a team Sacramento’s way.”

No rest for the weary—even the arena weary, apparently.