ORLANDO, Fla. For the host city and all the other communities with NBA franchises, today will be just another celebrity lovefest otherwise known as the All-Star Game.
But for Sacramento?
Think big. Think so much bigger. Folks, this is Super Bowl Sunday.
What happens behind closed doors this afternoon at an area hotel will determine whether the proposed arena deal dies a brutal, abrupt death, with Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof unable or unwilling to participate further, or the parties proceed toward a public-private partnership, a Thursday deadline and a City Council vote March 6.
While NBA All-Stars awaken from their naps today and start preparing for tipoff at Amway Center, the only VIPs who matter to Sacramento will be seated around a conference table for an undetermined period of time, with Commissioner David Stern presiding.
Also participating will be Joe, Gavin and George Maloof; Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson; NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver and general counsel Joel Litvin; and members of the league's relocation committee, some of whom in April urged the Maloofs to give Sacramento's residents, business and political leaders one last shot at securing a viable arena plan.
"There are still a lot of moving parts," Johnson said, "but I think my one takeaway (Saturday) was that we had serious (preliminary) discussions and I get to sit down with the Maloofs (today). We shared phone messages and texted over the last couple days. But this is the first time I'll get a chance to sit down and say, 'Look, here's our pledge as a city. We want you. What can we do to make this a reality?' "
This Sacramento saga is a surprisingly compelling story here, with references to Anaheim, Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, slipping into conversations at various functions throughout the week. While Stern has mostly danced around the relocation issue, threats to the Kings' future in Northern California at least are perceived as legitimate, with Anaheim remaining the preferred destination of George Maloof.
"Is the arena going to happen?" Shaquille O'Neal asked Friday night. "What are you hearing?"
"I just saw the mayor in the hallway," former All-Star Dikembe Mutombo said Saturday, frowning. "That community Sacramento I can't imagine without the Kings."
Well, who can?
The overwhelming sentiment in Orlando is pro-Sacramento, which is more than a little funny. Once upon a time, the notion of a Sacramento franchise seemed straight out of fantasyland. Gregg Lukenbill was a young, eccentric local developer when he approached Stern who was deputy commissioner at the time and said he wanted an NBA franchise for his hometown. Lukenbill's group bought the Kansas City Kings and, after two seasons of lukewarm support in an already saturated sports market, was given approval in 1985 to relocate.
The rest, as they say, is a historic love affair between a team and a town, with occasional arguments creating tension but so far only threatening divorce.
There have been down years and great years, slumping ticket sales and sellout streaks. There have been too many arena incarnations to count. But will there be a tomorrow? Is there a new facility in the Kings' future?
As he left a news conference that included seven questions about the future of the Kings, Stern reminded Sacramento media that he oversaw the construction of two buildings (Arco I and II) and added, "I'm looking forward to opening a third."
The commissioner refused to elaborate. He and his staffers were clearly in lockdown mode because of the delicate nature of the approaching talks.
"Write this down," Stern quipped. "Life is a negotiation."
But his affinity for Sacramento and his desire to secure the team's future has never wavered. He has been intimately involved in the arena situation for the past several years, and when the Maloofs were urged to stick around for 2011-12, he dispatched a marketing and sales team to faciliate the process and re-engage the community.
"The commissioner has said over the years that Sacramento is a smaller market that is a 'model,' " Johnson said. "We all know that. There is still work to be done, but if there is a way for a deal to happen, we'll find a way to make it happen."