Ailene Voisin

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Ailene Voisin: Maloofs owe Sacramento a chance to keep Kings

Published: Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Monday, Sep. 23, 2013 - 8:09 am

If ever there was a time for a financial white knight to make an appearance, bathed in the purple and black splendor of the region's only major professional sports franchise, this is it.

One last shot. One last gasp. One more dance.

If Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof are finally willing to sell their NBA franchise – buckling under the financial burden that has been building since the housing bust – they owe Sacramento a chance to cobble together a competitive bid.

Downtown. The railyard. The K Street Mall. The current location in Natomas. Who cares where the cement is dumped if the franchise is still around to tease and torment, to provoke endless conversations about DeMarcus Cousins and his maturity issues, Tyreke Evans and his injuries, Jimmer Fredette and his slump, Geoff Petrie and the loss of his golden touch?

The Maloofs owe us that much. Commissioner David Stern and his board of governors owe us that much. NBA history teaches us that this community is something special, that sellout streaks outlast losing streaks, withstand economic downturns, overcome crappy teams and lousy coaching and Game 7 heartbreak except when threats of relocation extend into a second, excruciating decade.

Ah, maybe even then, too. Kings fans keep waiting, keep hoping for a commitment from the co-owners, for some reason to believe that the clouds will lift, that the sun will shine, that the Kings again will reach the playoffs, and most importantly that the team will be here for future generations.

But the Maloofs' silence on the arena situation, coupled with their prolonged absence at home games these past several weeks, is ominous. There can be no denying that. While no one ever accurately predicts what the co-owners are thinking, feeling or planning at any particular moment – and never ignore the persistent clout of powerful brother George – the newest chapter in this old arena saga has placed everyone on alert.

This is not Virginia Beach, Las Vegas, Kansas City, St. Louis, San Diego or Louisville, just a few of the cities that have inquired about the franchise since the Maloofs decided the numbers didn't pencil out and killed the $391 million tentative agreement in the downtown railyard.

This is not Anaheim, the wealthy and crowded Southern California region just down the interstate from the prosperous Lakers and Clippers. And this isn't Las Vegas, where George lives and the Maloofs once reigned as young and daring casino darlings.

This is Seattle, and this threat is damn serious. If the reports are accurate and a group headed by Chris Hansen is preparing a $500 million offer to purchase and relocate the franchise, Sacramento's grip on the Kings has loosened by, say, a few hundred million.

But that doesn't mean this is over. The Maloofs do not want to sell. They do not want to sell. And while the NBA covets the Seattle market and began contemplating a return almost hours after the SuperSonics fled to Oklahoma City in 2008, league executives also cherish a Sacramento franchise that twice accounted for the NBA's longest home sellout streak; holds a monopoly in the nation's 20th-ranked television market; maintains an impassioned, if angered fan base; and not long ago was almost universally referred to as a civic treasure.

Stern has personally visited Sacramento how many times in an attempt to facilitate an arena? He is a stubborn man. Until we hear otherwise – and he did not return calls Wednesday – assume he still cares.

Local residents still care, too. They whine, they scream, they vent, they avoid the arena in droves, yet they await a reason to go back and do it all over again. A quality product would help. A commitment to Sacramento, to giving local leaders an opportunity to assemble a potential ownership group, or even publicly express an open mind to alternatives, would prove even more beneficial.

"I want the community to know that we're going to fight like crazy to get where we need to be," Mayor Kevin Johnson said Wednesday after revealing he has had conversations with potential investor groups.

Later in the day, Greg Van Dusen, the original executive vice president of the Kings, revealed that his own group – one that includes the original architect of both Arco Arena I and II – has had preliminary talks with Maloof officials about a complete renovation of the current facility. Further conversations, he said, were tentatively scheduled for later this month or early February.

"We have talked about renovating and purchasing the arena and signing them to a long-term lease," said Van Dusen. "We don't anticipate city money being used. This would be privately financed. But if their intention is to sell, we are confident we can find investors to get it done."

Could the community possibly come up with something, anything, that could compete with a potential $500 million offer to relocate to Seattle? The Maloofs have surprised us before. Never say never.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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