HECTOR AMEZCUA / hamezcua@sacbee.com

Mayor Kevin Johnson, left, talks with Sacramento Kings co-owners Gavin, second from right, and Joe Maloof, right, at Power Balance Pavilion on Friday night. In the background is former NBA great Oscar Robertson, on hand for a presentation during the Kings game. Johnson talked earlier Friday with George Maloof in Las Vegas and reported Maloof reiterated that the family "preferred to be in Sacramento."

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Mayor, Maloof break the ice in Vegas, plan to talk again

Published: Saturday, Apr. 21, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Apr. 22, 2012 - 2:53 pm

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and the Maloofs are suddenly on speaking terms again.

Following a week of rancorous dialogue over a failed arena plan, the mayor unexpectedly flew to Las Vegas on Friday to meet with Sacramento Kings co-owner George Maloof. They met at the Palms Casino, where Maloof is chairman.

The tone of the meeting was said to be cordial, with the mayor saying he delivered a simple message to the Maloof family: "Sacramento loves you."

"I can't look at the Maloofs and their family as part of the problem; they have to be viewed as part of the solution," Johnson said during a courtside news conference at halftime of the Kings game Friday evening at Power Balance Pavilion. "I think we both walked away feeling very good."

While George Maloof did not return messages seeking comment, Eric Rose, a family spokesman, described the sitdown as "cordial." Johnson also exchanged warm handshakes with Joe and Gavin Maloof at Friday's Kings game.

Nothing definitive resulted from the Las Vegas session, but the hourlong sit-down was an indication that the sides might be interested in reviving talks over the construction of a sports arena at the downtown railyard.

Those talks collapsed April 13, imperiling the city's latest drive to build an arena.

While stopping short of saying the sides would reopen arena negotiations, Johnson's office said the mayor and George Maloof agreed to have a follow-up conversation early next week.

Johnson said he received important insight from George Maloof as to why the family pulled out of the deal.

"I always felt we had a deal," the mayor said. "They felt they had a different scenario. They felt the (revenue) numbers were aggressive for AEG (the planned arena operator) and the NBA, and those were all things he told me to my face."

The mayor said Maloof also reiterated that the family "preferred to be in Sacramento."

Even if talks do resume, the mayor cautioned that work on the project needs to begin within the next two weeks or "we're not going to be able to make the 2015 season."

The Maloof family pulled out of the handshake agreement to help finance a $391 million downtown arena last week while in New York, holding a news conference in which they blasted the proposal for what they said was the financial burden it would have caused to both the city and the Kings franchise.

The mayor met briefly with the Maloof brothers later that day but refused to renegotiate the plan. In the days that followed, the mayor and his aides exchanged heated statements with the Maloofs. The chair of the mayor's arena task force compared the Maloof family to North Korea, and George Maloof said he didn't trust Johnson.

Then, on Tuesday, Johnson said he wanted the city to explore construction of a downtown arena with or without the Kings. He did not list the franchise among the city's "trusted partners" in the arena process but said his efforts were "not over."

NBA Commissioner David Stern indicated he wanted Johnson and the Maloofs to keep their distance from one another, telling sports editors from the Associated Press on Thursday that "a cooling off period" might be in the best interest of everyone involved.

However, Johnson and George Maloof had attempted to set up a meeting throughout the week, exchanging text messages before scheduling Friday's session.

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