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Penguins owner Ron Burkle heads effort to keep NBA in Sacramento

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Billionaire Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle and San Francisco investor Darius Anderson emerged Thursday as part of a new plan to keep the Kings in Sacramento or help the city draw another professional basketball team if the Kings move to Anaheim.

Burkle, a California native, is one of two owners of the Penguins National Hockey League team. He has been chairman of the board and the controlling shareholder for companies including Dominicks, Fred Meyer and Ralphs grocery stores. The 58-year-old was listed as having a net worth of $3.2 billion by Forbes in March.

Anderson, who is in his mid-40s, is a political strategist and fundraiser, as well as founder and chief executive officer of San Francisco-based Kenwood Investments and the lobbying firm Platinum Advisors, among other companies. He led the $2 billion Treasure Island redevelopment project and also bought and renovated the Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco. He lives in Sacramento part of the time and also has homes in Sonoma and Southern California.

"News today is that billionaire Ron Burkle is very interested in buying the Kings and keeping them in Sac," Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson tweeted Thursday afternoon from the St. Regis Hotel in New York.

Johnson announced the development shortly after making a pitch to National Basketball Association team owners Thursday at a Board of Governors committee meeting in New York in an effort to stop the Kings from leaving the city or at least make the case that Sacramento is a good candidate for another team.

Anderson was vice president of external affairs for Ralphs grocery stores when Burkle owned the company. The two are now friends and partners in the Burkle Group.

Anderson masterminded the deal several months ago, but it was kept under wraps until a meeting before the NBA Board of Governors finance committee Thursday afternoon, according to one source.

The pair later issued a statement confirming they made a commitment to “significant” investment to “keep the NBA in Sacramento” to NBA team owners during Johnson’s presentation to a meeting of the relocation committee and at least one other committee. The statement didn’t mention a desire to buy the Kings.

“This group, led by Pittsburgh Penguins owner Ron Burkle, is prepared to assist the mayor by bringing significant resources and the best possible expertise in professional sports, facilities development and financing to bear in the effort to keep Sacramento as an NBA city,” Anderson said in a prepared statement issued Thursday afternoon.

“The Burkle Group, our local partners and other investors are looking forward to working together with the mayor and other regional leaders to keep the NBA in Sacramento, deliver on a new facility and provide Kings fans in the region with decades more of great memories,” he said.

No further information on a plan to buy the Kings was available Thursday. Additional developments may take place over the next few days, a source said.

Maloof family members, who reportedly own or control a majority share of the Kings, have repeatedly said they plan to hold onto their interests in the team.

"The Maloofs will not sell the Kings," said Troy Hanson, vice president of media relations for the Kings, after the Maloofs made a presentation to other team owners Thursday.

Hanson wouldn’t discuss what the Maloofs said during their presentation. Gavin Maloof represented the family during the full Board of Governor’s meeting. Hanson couldn’t confirm reports that the family will file a relocation request on Monday – the filing deadline.

The percentage of shares in the Kings owned or controlled by the Kings couldn’t be verified Thursday. All Kings owners reportedly have first right of refusal to buy shares if any of the other owners want to sell.

During his presentation, Johnson spoke not only as Sacramento’s mayor but as a product of the league’s success, said mayoral Special Assistant Bob Graswich.

"The league is one of those organizations that takes great pride in the success of its people after they leave," Graswich said Thursday morning. "He represents exactly what the league strives for in its players. He wouldn’t be here (as mayor) without them."

Just a night before, a crowd packed nearly all the seats at Power Balance Pavilion for the Kings’ last home game of the season. Fans waved homemade signs showing love for the team and opposing a move to Anaheim throughout the game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

After the Lakers won 116-108 in overtime, fans didn’t bolt for the doors. They stayed to applaud the team and Head Coach Paul Westphal then applauded the fans in return.

Johnson, who attended part of the game, told reporters Thursday morning he was moved by the dedication the fans showed at the end of the game, Graswich said.

"They didn’t want to leave," he said. "They didn’t want to leave the building. They didn’t want the Kings to leave. It really resonated with him."

Representatives of the Pittsburgh Penguins could not be reached for comment. 

Editorial Note: This is an updated version of an earlier story. 

Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @SuzanneHurt. 

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