The now annual Sacramento Kings question has lifted its dark head once again: Are they leaving or not?
Perhaps even the Kings don't know.
Team officials declined Thursday to respond to a published report in a Virginia paper that the team will join Comcast-Spectacor and Live Nation in pitching an arena proposal to Virginia Beach city officials next week.
Citing anonymous sources, the Hampton Roads Business Journal said team owners are expected to be in Virginia on Tuesday when Comcast unveils an arena proposal.
But a Kings representative, speaking on background because he was not authorized to comment, said team officials would not be in Virginia Beach when the City Council meets next week.
Publicly, the team acknowledged it has been contacted by other cities in recent years about the possibility of selling or moving the team. The calls began flowing again this spring after a proposed $391 million arena deal in downtown Sacramento fell apart, according to team officials.
"The Kings organization over the last several years has been approached by numerous parties and cities interested in buying and relocating the franchise," team officials said in an emailed statement. "The franchise is not going to discuss which cities have approached the organization and are not going to comment on every rumor."
Mayor Kevin Johnson and NBA officials said Thursday they have gotten no word of any Kings involvement in the Virginia Beach proposal. NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the team has not filed an application for relocation to a new city.
A Virginia Beach spokesman said Comcast and Live Nation representatives met with the mayor and vice mayor earlier this week, and that Comcast officials said they would guarantee a major league team if an arena were built.
Comcast officials issued a statement later saying, "despite preliminary reports, no specific professional sports team from any league has been identified as the potential tenant for this building."
The Virginia Beach council website lists the arena item on Tuesday's agenda simply as an "economic development presentation," and does not mention the Kings or any other entity. A city spokesman said there would be no staff report or other written material issued prior to the meeting.
Philadelphia-based Comcast-Spectacor formerly owned the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team but sold it last year. The company owns the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. Live Nation is a national concert promoter and arena manager.
The Virginia rumors reverberated Thursday in Sacramento, where the team's status has been unsettled for two years for lack of a modern arena. The team negotiated a deal in 2011 to move to Anaheim, but pulled out after NBA officials coaxed the Maloofs into staying at least another year to see if an arena deal could be done in Sacramento. A proposed deal fell through this spring.
Communications consultant Doug Elmets, who has worked in the past with the team, said he questions the Maloofs' sincerity.
"With the Maloofs, it's not what they say, it's what they don't say," Elmets said. "If they are absolutely committed to Sacramento, then why not be transparent in this most recent rumor? By saying no comment, it means you have something to hide."
Elmets is a spokesman for Thunder Valley Casino, one of the Kings' million-dollar sponsors last year. In light of the rumors, he said, casino management would postpone signing an advertising deal with the Kings for this season "until we know more definitively about their plans."
Sacramento City Councilman Jay Schenirer said he has heard nothing about a possible Kings move to Virginia Beach.
"I would simply like the ownership of the Kings to be upfront with the city about their intentions," Schenirer said.
Schenirer said he still believes a deal for a new arena in downtown Sacramento is possible, but questions whether it could be done with the Maloofs as owners.
Councilman Rob Fong also said he learned about the development from news reports.
"To me, it seems pretty obvious that the Kings aren't that interested in staying in Sacramento," Fong said. "We thought we had a deal with them for a new arena, but they kept finding ways to say no to it. Then they said they wanted to rehab the current arena, but I've seen no plans to do that. It's fair to conclude that they are looking elsewhere."
Virginia Beach, whose metropolitan population is smaller than Sacramento's, has been in the hunt for a major league sports team on and off for more than a decade. But no proposals have panned out.
Political leaders in Virginia Beach either declined comment or said they had learned of the Comcast arena proposal from media reports and statements their mayor made Thursday.
Terry Kelley, vice president of the Meridian Group, which reportedly will handle public relations for the plan, said in a phone message that he could confirm only that there would be a news conference Tuesday after the Virginia Beach council meets.
"As far as the Sacramento Kings, I'm not privy to any of those discussions," Kelley added.
The city's vice mayor, Louis R. Jones, said the council had been contacted about a proposal to move a team there but added he knew few specifics.
"We've been contacted by a company called Comcast," Jones said, "and they want to talk to us about a professional sports team, but I honestly don't know which team it is."
Another councilman, John D. Moss, said he heard about the report from another council member and had been told the plan was hatched by the mayor, the vice mayor and the city manager.
"To the best of my knowledge, the council as a whole has no knowledge of the specifics," Moss said. "I've expressed my unhappiness about my ignorance, but I'm waiting to be educated."
Moss said he would welcome any new business to Virginia Beach, but only if no public money is involved.
"The devil's in the details," he said. "I don't believe in public subsidies for anything. Anyone who wants to come and spend their own money without public subsidies, whether it's a 7-Eleven or an NBA team, I don't have a problem with."
Moss added that the metropolitan area is similar to Sacramento in that it lacks a large corporate base. The area has two Fortune 500 companies, officials said, and the largest employer is the Department of Defense and local Navy installations.
The Inside Business report on the proposal indicates that the local hotel-motel association would support a $1 hike in the room tax to help fund an arena, something it attributed to sources.
But the executive director of the Virginia Beach Hotel-Motel Association denied that.
"That is inaccurate information," Nancy Marscheider said. "This has not been brought to our board, to our president. This is the first that I've heard of it."