March 25, 2013

As someone who’s seen a nearby professional sports franchise ripped out from under a city’s feet, I sympathize with the Sacramento Kings. (Of course, I’m speaking of the Montreal Expos, who relocated to Washington, D.C., prior to the 2005 season, in a move that made all the business sense in the world. But seeing the Expos leave, and the idea of a 1.5-hour Sunday drive north of the border to see professional baseball, hurt.)

Nostalgia aside, here’s the Kings news: On Saturday evening, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, himself a 3-time All Star PG in Phoenix, announced in a series of tweets that the city had reached a $448 million deal with a private equity firm to build a new downtown area, in one last effort to save the Kings from heading north to Seattle.

And, seven tweets later. (For more.)

Quick refresher: Two months ago, the NBA confirmed the sale of the Kings to a Seattle-based group headed by hedge fund guru Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. By all accounts, the Kings appeared headed to Seattle, even by next season, with a name change to the SuperSonics apparently also imminent.

Then, Sacramento’s counter-bid, headlined by grocery tycoon (and Pittsburgh Penguins’ co-owner) Ron Burkle and 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, was deemed insufficient by NBA Commissioner David Stern. Now, there’s this, presumably a better offer.

Both sides, Seattle and Sacramento, will present their cases at a meeting in New York on April 3. The NBA Board of Governors convenes April 18, at which point a vote on the team’s sale and relocation is expected. According to ESPN reports, a franchise sale requires the approval of  three-fourths of NBA owners and relocation requires a majority.

In a February 2011 interview with ESPN’s Bill Simmons, Stern said he had ‘regrets’ about the way two franchise relocations, the Sonics from Seattle to Oklahoma City and the Grizzlies from Vancouver to Memphis, were handled, and even suggested Seattle was a suitable NBA city.

In the end, of course, this will come down to money. If the Sacramento group, now devoid of the Maloofs — the Kings’ owners who abandoned a handshake deal with Mayor Johnson to build a new arena at a downtown railyard, even after the City Council voted 7-2 in favor — can propose as good of a financial offer for a new arena to keep the team, it’s hard to imagine the NBA owners forcing a move to Seattle.

(This year’s deal is also considered a better one for the city in that it places much of the pressure — to complete the arena project and develop land contributed by the city, according to the Sacramento Bee — on the private group, not taxpayers.)

So, I say, in support of my Sacramento friends, SAVE THE KINGS!

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

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