NEW YORK Armed with an electrifying proposal from two wealthy California power brokers, Sacramento made a bid Thursday to keep the NBA in the city.
Southern California supermarket tycoon Ronald Burkle, in partnership with well-connected Sacramento lobbyist and developer Darius Anderson, emerged as last-minute potential saviors of the NBA in Sacramento. The duo said they would lead a group that could purchase the Kings or buy another team for the city should the Kings move to Anaheim.
Burkle's dramatic emergence turned the saga of the Kings completely upside down. Anderson, accompanied by Mayor Kevin Johnson and arena developer Tim Romani, essentially presented Burkle's credentials to the NBA board of governors. The board on Thursday began two days of meetings in New York's exclusive St. Regis Hotel to deal with the Kings' future and other matters.
A co-owner of hockey's Pittsburgh Penguins, the multibillionaire Burkle already has been rebuffed by the Maloofs on buying the team, Anderson said.
The family has vowed to hold onto the Kings and insisted Thursday that the team isn't for sale to Burkle or anyone else.
"It does not matter they are not going to sell the team," said Kings spokesman Troy Hanson when asked about the Burkle plan.
But with his wealth, connections and successful track record in hockey, Burkle's mere presence could persuade NBA owners to block the Kings' move to Anaheim and effectively force the Maloofs to sell the team to him, said Lloyd Greif, a Los Angeles investment banker who is not involved in the deal but has known Burkle for years.
"There's a white knight here," Greif said.
Anderson insisted "it's not about trying to move the Maloofs out." But, he said, "We're presenting an alternative in case the (move to Anaheim) gets turned down, in case they opt to sell. And it also shows the owners that there is viable support in Sacramento."
If the Maloofs don't sell and the Kings move to Anaheim, Burkle has a backup plan. Anderson said Burkle is exploring three or four other NBA franchises as possible candidates for purchase and relocation to Sacramento. They include the New Orleans Hornets, a financially troubled franchise literally taken over by the league last year, he said.
Any decision on the Kings' future or a replacement franchise for Sacramento is likely several months away.
Arena still an issue
Despite its interest in Sacramento, Burkle's group put the same conditions on a deal that have stymied the Maloofs and city officials for the past decade: construction of a new arena to replace faded Power Balance Pavilion. The Kings played their last game of the season there Wednesday night, an emotional overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
"We definitely want a new arena," Anderson said. It's widely believed that some type of public funding would be involved to help finance a new building.
Burkle, 58, has a net worth of $3.2 billion and a list of friends that has included Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Salvaging the Kings or bringing another team to the state capital would bolster his reputation as a kingpin in California politics.
Anderson said Burkle, who lives in Los Angeles, "knows Sacramento very well and over a 30-year history has developed many friends in politics and business there."
Besides, it would be more convenient to fly to Sacramento for a game than to fly to Pittsburgh for a hockey game, Anderson said.
Although Burkle didn't attend the New York meetings, he seemed to overshadow the melodrama surrounding the Maloofs and their plans for moving the Kings to Anaheim.
As reporters milled around the St. Regis, co-owner George Maloof said the family would likely ask formal permission to move the team on Monday, the league-imposed deadline.
Maloof said no final decision has yet been made and would likely depend on the reception from their fellow owners. After the family's presentation, he said: "I think we made progress and we'll meet some more (today)."
The family wants to move the team because of frustrations over the arena situation in Sacramento and the allure of a larger and wealthier market in Anaheim. It's believed the Maloofs also are being pressed by internal financial problems, including a mammoth debt on the Palms Casino in Las Vegas. The operator of Anaheim's Honda Center arena, billionaire Henry Samueli, has offered the Maloofs a $50 million loan.
A move to Anaheim would need a majority-vote approval from the board of governors, which consists of one representative from each team. Most NBA relocations sail through easily. But the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers are reportedly trying to kill the move.
Greif said Burkle's presence could present another reason for NBA owners to reject the Anaheim move. That would leave the Maloofs boxed in, and might force them to sell the franchise to Burkle.
"He's made it very clear to the owners that there's an alternative, a clear alternative, that keeps the Kings in Sacramento," Greif said. "Burkle is saying, 'Maybe they (the Maloofs) couldn't afford to keep (the team) here. I can afford to keep it here.' "
Owners hear pitches
Anaheim officials, including Samueli and Mayor Tom Tait, made their own presentation to the NBA owners on Thursday.
"Orange County is its own market, different from Los Angeles, and we feel we can fully support a team," Tait told reporters after his presentation.
Samueli, who owns the Anaheim Ducks hockey team, was unavailable for comment.
Johnson, for his part, tried to sell NBA owners on the viability of Sacramento as a big-league city regardless of the Kings' financial problems. In barely a week, corporations made commitments totaling $7 million for sponsorships, luxury suites and other forms of support for the NBA, he told the group.
"That made owners perk up," said Johnson, a former NBA star.
Anderson said he called Burkle when it became clear the Kings were interested in moving to Anaheim. Anderson used to work for Yucaipa Cos., Burkle's private-equity company.
"Part of this is my personal passion for Sacramento," said Anderson, who has been involved in developing the so-called Docks project on Sacramento's waterfront. "I can't sit idly by and let this happen."
Within the past three or four weeks, Anderson called Johnson, whom he has known for years.
People who know Burkle say his interest in the NBA is about business.
"He's a very disciplined investor it has to make economic sense," said Dan Weinstein, a Los Angeles financier who has known Burkle for years.
Weinstein noted that the Penguins won hockey's Stanley Cup championship under Burkle's ownership despite the handicaps of playing in a small market.
Burkle brokered a deal to build a new arena for the Penguins in 2007. The deal kept the Penguins from moving to Kansas City.
The $320 million building developed by ICON Venue Group, the company working on the Sacramento plan is funded mostly with state and local gambling revenue, but the team kicks in $4 million a year.
Burkle is the epitome of the term "well-connected," with friends ranging from billionaire investor George Soros to rap figure Sean Combs. He has donated heavily to Democratic political candidates and causes, with his contributions in California alone last year totaling $150,000.