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The Sacramento Kings future to be determined in early May

The cruel and convoluted tale of what will become of the Sacramento Kings is reaching the last leg of what has been a complicated three year odyssey. The NBA is meeting this week to critically analyze every detail of the formidable bids from both Sacramento and Seattle. NBA Commissioner David Stern has speculated that the decision on the future of the Kings could take several weeks to determine due to it’s imperative and unprecedented nature.

The saga of what city the Kings will call their long term home has been among the most intricate in professional sports history. This long and winding road began in the Spring of 2011, when it was leaked that the Kings owners, the Maloofs, had been secretly negotiating with Anaheim and were just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on the agreement. It was considered a mere formality that they were gone. But the heroics of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson coupled with the relentless efforts of various grassroots groups ultimately persuaded the NBA to advise the Maloofs not to file for relocation in 2011. Kevin Johnson’s made an impassioned speech to the NBA’s Board of Governors that included a vow to get a new arena deal in place within one year.

In that calendar year, Kevin Johnson managed to find more than $10 million in corporate sponsorships for the Kings that the Maloofs either couldn’t or refused to look for, while also working tirelessly with the NBA crafting a new arena pact featuring creative public finance mechanisms and sizable contributions from AEG (the owner of the world’s most profitable sports and entertainment venues) and the NBA itself. In February 2012, the Maloofs, Mayor Johnson and representatives from the NBA emerged from the negotiating table with a collective sigh of relief as an agreement had finally been reached. Days later, the Maloofs and Mayor Johnson appeared at a Kings game together, arms raised in front of all of Sacramento to signify a formal end to the relocation talks and a long term commitment to Sacramento with the new arena deal completed.

Just a week later, the Maloofs managed to find a way to vacate the agreement, rendering an entire year’s worth of work by the NBA and KJ obsolete. The Maloofs weren’t even involved in these discussions, the NBA did it for them. The deal was non binding, so the Maloofs were within their rights to walk away, but in the eyes of Sacramento their intentions to relocate the Kings had never been more apparent.

The Maloofs eleventh hour defection left such a putrid taste in Kevin Johnson’s mouth that there were no further negotiations between Sacramento and the Maloofs for the forseeable future. That certainly didn’t stop the Maloofs from flirting with other cities, as Virginia Beach and the Maloofs began a courtship over the Kings in August 2012. Reportedly Virginia Beach had interest in attaining a professional sports team but was never able to secure the financing needed to construct a new venu, and thus were never  considered a realistic threat to swipe the Kings.

All was quiet on the relocation front for several months, until early January when news broke that the Maloofs had agreed to sell their 65% controlling interest of the Sacramento Kings for $525 million to a powerful alliance of Seattle billionaires hellbent on returning the NBA to the Pacific Northwest. The Maloofs, who maintained for nearly a decade that the Kings absolutely weren’t for sale, again went back on their word and what made matters worse is they didn’t even give Sacramento notice the team was for sale.

The news of the sale to Seattle caught Kevin Johnson completely off guard, but it took little time for him to assemble a plan and a competing ownership group to make a counter offer and keep the team in Sacramento. Johnson lobbied to Commissioner Stern that Sacramento was at least deserving of an opportunity to match the Seattle bid. The NBA obliged, Johnson constructed a confluence of successful California businessmen to match Seattle’s bid. He then resuscitated and renovated a new entertainment and sports complex plan and again made a pitch to the league about the necessity of NBA basketball in Sacramento.

So now the decision is in the NBA’s hands. The thirty owners of the league will engage several times over the next couple weeks discussing both proposals at great length. For Sacramento to keep the team, and subsequently force the Maloofs to accept Sacramento’s offer, eight of the thirty owners must vote no to the Seattle offer.

There are various pro’s and con’s for each side.

The prospective Seattle owners, Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer, have spent the last 18-24 months organizing and financing the arena project. Seattle has acquired nearly all of the land parcels on the area they desire to construct their new arena. They submitted the largest offer in the history of the NBA for a franchise. They have already written a non-refundable $30 million good faith deposit to the Maloofs to showcase their intent to buy the team. Seattle features a passionate fanbase starving for a return of their beloved Supersonics. In recent days, Hansen increased the valuation of the franchise at $550 million, thus increasing his bid by nearly $17 million. From the voting owners perspective, Seattle boasts a considerably larger television market than Sacramento. There is speculation that if the team moves to Seattle they would succeed and thus wouldn’t be a bottom feeding, luxury tax recipient as the Kings have been for seven straight seasons in Sacramento.

The city of Sacramento, in the words of David Stern has done everything the league has asked and more these last several years. The Sacramento ownership group of Vivek Ranadivé, Mark Mastrov, and Paul Jacobs was assembled just a short time ago but has an offer that is competitve with Seattle. Sacramento has a viable arena plan in place as well, as the public financing sector was passed 7-2 by the Sacramento City Council in March 2013 and enlists billionaire developer/ NHL owner Ron Burkle as the main cog for the remainder of the financing. From the voting owners perspective, potential owner Vivek Ranadivé’s Indian heritage could be of particular interest, as the league views India as an untapped beacon. If the Kings stay in Sacramento, they would be the only professional sports team in town. A 100% market share is extremely rare in pro sports. Commissioner Stern has personally invested years of his own time in finding viable solutions for a new Kings arena. Additionally, there’s the fact that a team has never left it’s incumbent city when there was fan support and an arena proposal in place. Sacramento answers both of those concerns in resounding fashion.

Sadly, the only certainty in this story is that one city is going to be devastated. The NBA has remained steadfast on it’s stance that expansion is something that is not a viable avenue at this time. With a number of teams closer to losing money and struggling at the gates, the NBA would be closer to contraction despite how it seems very logical for this unparalled set of circumstances. The NBA would obviously benefit in the interim by accepting the standard $350-$400 million expansion fee, but from the other owner’s perspective, that’s just one more way they’d have to slice the revenue pie amongst each other. The other concern is whether or not there are 15 more worthy players of being considered the best in the world. One look at the Charlotte Bobcats roster suggests perhaps not.

When the Maloofs and the Seattle group originally agreed to the sale in early January, it was described as "first and goal on the 1" in Seattle’s favor. Mayor Kevin Johnson persevered and met the Seattle group blow for blow. As he did two years earlier in defying Anaheim, he is attempting to once and for all end the threat of relocation and keep the Kings in Sacramento. The two sides couldn’t be closer, both offering formidable, wealthy ownership groups with legions of loyal, impassioned fan bases eager for a basketball team to call their own. This unprecedented situation is in the NBA’s hands now, an arduous decision that nobody envies.


About the author

David Spohn

David Spohn was born and raised in Northern California and is proud to call the Sacramento area home to this day. Primary related work experience includes a lengthy tenure at Bleacher Report as the Sacramento Kings Featured Columnist. Since attending his first Sacramento Kings game nearly twenty years ago, he fell in love with the NBA game, cultivating a perfect marriage of his two biggest passions: writing and sports. David is married to his high school sweetheart Whitney and is the proud father of two boys, Landon and Devon.

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