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Ailene Voisin: New arena is about much more than just the Kings' home

Published: Thursday, Apr. 12, 2012 - 12:29 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 12, 2012 - 7:47 am

Before the talks begin today in New York, with the Maloofs pleading their case for a more favorable chunk of the arena proposal, and their fellow owners debating the issues, those involved in the negotiations should remember a few things.

This is about the Kings, concerts, Olympic bids. This is about a decade of arena hell. This is about a community that keeps getting kicked in the teeth and keeps coming back for more, and quite frankly deserves better.

As the parties prepare to discuss the proposed $391 million sports and entertainment complex, my advice is this: Bring along all the legal briefs and the high-priced lawyers and the cheat sheets you want. Articulate why this is a terrible deal for the Maloofs (their attorneys) or why this is a terrific deal for Sacramento and the NBA (the league attorneys). In essence, do your jobs.

But arrive without the attitude. Leave the animosity at baggage claim.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney were more successful when they played in the same band, and whether intentional or not, the Maloofs these past two weeks have shattered relationships they have spent the past 12 months trying to repair. Anaheim, anyone? Wasn't it almost a year ago that George Maloof, who oversaw the family's failing casino business in Las Vegas, blitzed the scene and attempted to relocate the franchise?

Then they came back. Then there was a deal. Then the deal – the Maloofs recently said – wasn't good enough.

Huh?

These multimillion-dollar deals are incredibly fragile undertakings, capable of imploding on a dime. For a family that sold its beer and liquor company in an attempt to save its financial empire, as well as its casino, taking the fight to the street makes perfect sense. But pick a private driveway, for heaven's sakes, to argue for more input into design, more control of arena operations, more parking revenue, and none of that $3.2 million pre-development fee.

In other words, try a more persuasive, less incendiary approach.

Ticking off Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, several City Council members, representatives of partner Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), all while stunning and infuriating your community, is an extremely hostile way of making a point.

"I think the NBA wants to partner with the city, and I feel very good about this (particular) proposal," said City Councilman Steve Cohn, a Yale-trained lawyer and an admitted nitpicker. "But there's not much more we can do on our end. Time is being wasted. And at some point, if this continues, I can't see (the arena) happening without different owners. It's going to be up to the NBA and the other owners to figure this out."

So how realistic is that? The figuring-out part?

It could happen.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has spent six years putting together the pieces and the people (AEG, Steinberg, Johnson, Maloofs, NBA lawyers) and overseeing the arena venture at the Maloofs' request. While owners tend to side with owners, at least publicly, the existence of a tentative agreement in Sacramento figures to prod at least some owners into pressing the Maloofs toward a deal.

Additionally, the room will be crowded with billionaires, many with teams in modern facilities. Might a few creative thoughts, ideas and suggestions be offered toward the sports and entertainment complex?

The stakes are enormous. Sacramento is the 20th-largest television market and an enviable one-team town. Before the product became unwatchable and the franchise mismanaged in both business and basketball operations, this was the model franchise – so said Stern.

The Kings still have two of the NBA's top-10 homecourt sellout streaks and, rather amazingly, report encouraging renewal rates. Any positive arena news, said one team official, spikes ticket sales.

In that room today in New York, the grownups need to be grownups. The owners need to contribute, the commissioner needs to table his temper, and the Maloofs need to be receptive, and to remember when, during the Kings' contending seasons, they were kings once.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ailene Voisin



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