With the fate of the Sacramento Kings seemingly changing by the hour, potential buyers who want to keep the team in Sacramento are emerging.
Mark Mastrov, the founder of 24-hour Fitness, told The Bee today that he has assembled a group that wants to buy the team and keep them in Sacramento. The group also wants to "work with the city to get an arena deal if possible."
"There's definitely interest," he said, as reports swirled that the Maloof family had already made a deal to sell the team to a Seattle group. "We've been in touch with the Maloofs."
Mastrov said that Mayor Kevin Johnson is aware of his interest in buying the team and that he's been focused on purchasing the Kings "for a long time."
"(Owning an NBA franchise) is a passion of mine," he said. "I love basketball and I love the NBA."
Mastrov, who lives in the Bay Area city of Lafayette, said he knows the details of Sacramento's arena proposal and that he "likes the idea and concept and location." Mastrov unsuccessfully bid a reported $350 million for the Golden State Warriors when the team was sold for an NBA record of $450 million in 2010. He sold 24 Hour Fitness in 2005 for $1.7 billion, and founded a financial firm three years later.
Also today, Dale Carlsen of Sleep Train Mattress Centers Inc. - whose company is the naming sponsor of the Kings' current arena in Natomas - said he has talked to Mayor Johnson since news surfaced Wednesday of a possible Kings sale to the Seattle group. Carlsen said he's interested in participating in a bid, and has been contacted by other potential investors as well.
"My hope is we're given an opportunity as a community to put our offer in," Carlsen said today. "There's several groups that are trying to put that together."
The Kings organization had no comment on a tweet this morning by a Comcast Sports NBA analyst that it had already made a deal to sell the team for $525 million to a Seattle group lead by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen. A representative for Hansen in Seattle could not immediately be reached for comment.
Eric Rose, a Kings spokesman, said, "Nothing has changed with our position that we will not comment on rumors or speculation about the Sacramento Kings franchise."
The NBA's Board of Governors would have to approve any sale or relocation proposal.
Mayor Johnson was cobbling together competing bids from groups that would keep the team in Sacramento. Johnson has mentioned billionaire supermarket tycoon Ron Burkle as one contender, but a source said other groups loomed as possibilities.
Thursday evening, NBA Commissioner David Stern said it would be reasonable to give Burkle a chance to match Hansen's offer. Officials with the league couldn't be reached for comment today.
Sources have told The Bee as recently as Thursday that the owners of the franchise - the Maloof family - still had not received a formal offer for the team, but was expecting an offer very soon.
Richard Benvenuti, a limited partner in the franchise, said this morning he had not been told of a sale.
"We haven't heard anything about it," Benvenuti said. His family owns 15 percent of the team.
If the team is sold and the deal is approved by NBA owners, the Kings would move to Seattle next season. The team would play at old KeyArena for two years and then move into a new arena.
Hansen's group, which includes Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer and members of the Nordstrom family, has a tentative deal with the city and King County to build a $490 million arena south of downtown.
Until this week, the Maloofs have insisted the team isn't for sale. But sources say they've warmed up to the idea of selling the financially troubled franchise. The Kings are more than $200 million in debt and are on track to lose $6 million to $7 million this year, according to sources.
The team's status in Sacramento became uncertain after the Maloofs abandoned a tentative plan to build a new downtown arena last spring.