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Visit by NBA today could be capital's last chance to keep Kings

Published: Thursday, Apr. 21, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

Is Sacramento major league?

A pair of National Basketball Association representatives come to town today to ask that very question.

Fan groups are asking people to wear purple as a statement of support for Sacramento pro basketball. The real work, however, will happen behind closed doors, where Mayor Kevin Johnson and community leaders will seek to convince the league that Sacramento has the financial wherewithal to support the Kings – including getting a new sports and entertainment arena built.

The visit could represent Sacramento's last chance to keep the Maloof family, owners of the Kings, from moving the team to Anaheim next year.

What's on the agenda today?

Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett arrives along with NBA attorney Harvey Benjamin, at the behest of league Commissioner David Stern. Bennett is the man who bought the Sonics and moved them out of Seattle. Benjamin spent time in Sacramento working for the NBA and the Maloofs during the ill-fated 2006 arena ballot measures. The pair are expected to meet privately with the mayor, city officials, select business leaders and Kings representatives.

What are they looking for?

Last week in New York, Johnson persuaded NBA owners to take a second look at Sacramento before deciding whether the Kings should be allowed to leave town. Johnson said he had gathered $7 million worth of new corporate support for the Kings in mere days. And, he said, the city is working on developing a "clear path" toward building a new sports and entertainment facility downtown. The NBA wants more corroboration of those claims.

Will the NBA representatives announce their findings this week?

NBA officials said the pair are here for business, not public statements. They may speak when their work is done Friday. Their task will be to report back to league officials and team owners in the next days or week.

The league, meanwhile, is looking more closely at the deal the Maloofs have working in Anaheim to see if it is in the best interests of the team and the league.

What's the process for coming to some final decision?

The league has given the Maloofs until May 2 to file a request for relocation to Anaheim. Team officials appear poised to do that. If the team files, league owners will vote sometime in the next few months whether to allow the team to move. A majority of the league's 30 owners will have to say yes to allow the Kings to move.

Is Sacramento's case a strong one?

A few weeks ago, the mayor said he felt there was almost nothing the city could do to stop the move. Wednesday, after meeting with leaders from local cities and counties, the mayor sounded optimistic, saying he's "very confident" the city's case for keeping the Kings is solid.

If the NBA is demanding a new arena, which Sacramento doesn't have, how can its case be solid?

That looks to be the weak link in the mayor's pitch. He will update the NBA representatives on the ongoing arena feasibility study being done by developer David Taylor and the ICON Venue group. That study, authorized by the City Council, won't be done until late May. But Johnson will argue it is showing a "clear path" toward financing and building an arena.

So where does this new $7 million come in?

If the NBA decides Sacramento really is on track to build an arena, the league will want to know how the team will be able to balance its books playing at antiquated Power Balance Pavilion (formerly Arco Arena) during the years it would take to build an arena.

The mayor hopes $7 million in what he says are new commitments is evidence the team can earn more money in the next few years here than it did in the last few, keeping the team stable until the new arena is built. So far, the mayor has declined to say which companies the money is coming from or how firm their commitments are.

How speculative is the city's plan?

It all depends on what the NBA thinks and on what the Kings' accounting books show. The main NBA questions will be: Is that $7 million real money? Is it enough to solidify the team's financial picture in the short-term? And is there really evidence Sacramento can get a new arena built?

Is this Sacramento's only chance to keep the Kings?

No. A group has launched a petition drive in Anaheim aimed at stopping or slowing that city's planned $75 million bond sale to entice the Kings. The group reports it has nearly enough signatures to force a ballot vote.

What if Sacramento loses the Kings?

Johnson has repeatedly said he will push for the region to build a sports and entertainment complex with or without the Kings. If one is built, he said he believes the region may be able to attract another NBA team. Meanwhile, a new investment group, led by billionaire Ron Burkle, has formed to buy and locate a team here, if one becomes available.

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