Marcos Breton: Arena plan was worth the fight, but it's time to move on

Published: Sunday, Apr. 15, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

What now, Sacramento?

The owners of the Kings have tanked a proposal to build a downtown arena that both the NBA and AEG, the Los Angeles-based arena operators, thought was a good deal.

The Maloofs trashed our community in the process, and now the NBA is washing its hands and walking away. The league won't force one of its owners to sell a team no matter how unsuccessful the franchise. It's game over.

So a yearlong community effort to save the Kings – an effort that revealed the best of Sacramento – is blown up in one day.

The Kings will play at the former Arco Arena next season and will probably leave town after that, with the owners citing terrible attendance and taking no responsibility for driving fans away.

So, what now?

We move on to issues that better deserve our attention. For me, there are no regrets, except the one I've had for years – that the Maloofs own the Kings.

I began calling them out years ago, when it became clear to me that they had no real interest in building an arena and keeping the Kings in Sacramento.

So why pursue the idea of the Kings in a downtown arena with the Maloofs as owners this time around?

Because it seemed that the NBA had misgivings about the Maloofs' efforts to relocate the team and Mayor Kevin Johnson presented an opportunity to pump up the downtown while keeping the Kings.

It was always a long shot, but well worth the effort. Along the way, something truly wonderful happened in that people came together.

Johnson got businesses to contribute more money to the Kings enterprise, though these businesses often had high levels of dissatisfaction with Maloof Sports.

It was Johnson, and other civic leaders, who presented to the NBA – and to Sacramento at large – an alternative image of the city to the one the Maloofs have long had of the state capital.

Have you ever noticed how the Maloofs can never manage to say with any conviction that they want to be here? They don't see it; their eyes take on the guileless deceit of a lying child whenever they profess love for the city they want to leave.

That the Maloofs referred to themselves as "good boys" on Friday was beyond ironic.

When Johnson got Sacramento a one-year reprieve to put an arena deal in place, I promoted the idea for the same reason others did: I love Sacramento.

As a city resident, I want to see the undeveloped railyard go from a big clod of dirt to a revitalized urban dream – a catalyst to lift the depressed pockets of our downtown.

Like many, I also felt that Sacramento had lost too many businesses to let the Kings go without a fight.

I couldn't really argue when some objected to using public funds for an arena that would also benefit the Maloofs.

By last year, the public had grown rightfully leery of the Maloofs. The Kings had become one of the dregs of the NBA and are now on their sixth losing season in a row.

The former Arco Arena has been allowed to erode badly, and the Maloofs have been viewed as suspect since 2006.

That was when they undermined the last arena deal – one that would have raised the county's sales tax – and made a hamburger commercial in which they boasted of having a net worth of $1 billion.

It would have been easier to get an arena built in Sacramento if the Maloofs had been not involved. Despite this, the recent campaign went forward with positive momentum.

Aside from getting the Sacramento business community on board, Johnson got AEG to commit $59 million to the process. But on Friday, the Maloofs called a press conference and eviscerated the whole idea, saying the arena plan was rife with inflated revenue projections. I'm sorry, but I have more faith in the projections of AEG – a wildly successful company – than I do of the Maloofs, who have a failing track record in their businesses and the NBA.

Why did they scrap this deal? Is it that they have no money? Well, we know they owe Sacramento $65 million. That loan would have been refinanced to build an arena, but they balked at putting up collateral.

Some might say the death of the downtown arena plan makes Sacramento look bad, but I disagree.

I don't think this has anything to do with Sacramento. It's between the Maloofs and the NBA.

The Kings are going to play in the former Arco Arena next season, though I can't imagine anyone paying to see the Kings now. I wouldn't.

If the NBA allows the Kings to relocate after that, it would be about an industry whose bottom line depends on public subsidies – and whose members are a fraternity who stick together no matter how unsuccessful any one of them might be.

With committed owners, such as Gregg Lukenbill and his partners, the community can love the Kings.

There have been so many wonderful memories. But the Maloofs' trajectory of failure, backed by the NBA, will end all that.

OK. We can go on now, proud of what we tried to do for our community. The NBA and the Maloofs? They have other objectives. It's their loss.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Marcos Breton



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