Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton: Mayor Kevin Johnson in his element with Kings fight

Published: Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

Mayor Kevin Johnson was born for this moment.

Though it could end unhappily for him and his hometown, Johnson's vow of assembling a group of billionaires to buy the Kings and keep them in Sacramento is gaining steam with the emergence of several potential buyers.

The Kings could still relocate to Seattle, where Chris Hansen – a wealthy hedge-fund manager – is said to be negotiating to buy the team.

But this challenge and the 10,000 ways it could implode is nonetheless tailor-made for Johnson's considerable skill set.

No one in Sacramento besides Johnson has the ability to befriend the filthy rich and talk them into committing their millions for his interests.

No one involved in the now annual ritual of deciding the Kings' future enjoys more respect from NBA Commissioner David Stern and the NBA owners who will ultimately decide if the Kings stay or go.

Johnson couldn't strengthen his powers as mayor because the many small interests in Sacramento feared him getting too big. But in this outsized endeavor to preserve Sacramento's only major sports franchise, Johnson doesn't have to curb his strutting. He doesn't have to dial down his "world class city" proclamations that drew eye rolls among his antagonists in Sacramento.

He's as comfortable and engaged among business and sports titans as he is uncomfortable on the City Hall dais, dying a little each time a bureaucrat drones on about parking easements or pension deficits.

Johnson can face off the Maloofs, who have wronged Sacramento for years as horrible owners, and Sacramentans will be with their mayor – as opposed to how they recoiled when Johnson blew his stack after City Council enemies scuttled his strong-mayor proposals.

Get your popcorn ready. The stage is set. If not for Johnson, the Kings would have been gone already. But he was born for this fight.

He was born for many things, actually, but all the moments that might have been highlights for others were steppingstones for him: His rise above a difficult childhood in Oak Park to be one the greatest prep athletes in Sacramento history; becoming an elite NBA player; his desire to do more with his life than sit on beaches or bloviate about NBA basketball on national television.

He eschewed the big time for home. But his high-profile work in education – and becoming the first African American mayor of his hometown – have been anything but easy fits for Sacramento's most high-profile native son.

The mayor, you see, loves Sacramento and is of Sacramento but still is something of an alien presence in Sacramento.

In a town where everybody knows everybody, nobody really knows him. He aspires to be a kind of CEO in a labor stronghold suspicious of executives. He's a dazzling, tailored suit amid sensible ones strictly off the rack. He's bored by details in the detail capital of California. He keeps his own counsel in a political town fat with handlers.

To top if off, he's Mr. Charter School in the home office of teacher union power. And, good Lord, Johnson is married to the Antichrist of teacher unions – Michelle Rhee, former superintendent of public instruction in Washington, D.C.

Until last week, the mayor was lost in his ill-fitting relationship with the city he loves in his own way. His two citywide elections, each won with relative ease, were proof of a bond with residents. But it has so far been unfulfilling for both.

Johnson seemed to have saved the Kings from leaving Sacramento – until his plan to keep the team and revive downtown with a new arena was obliterated by the deal-breaking Maloof brothers.

After that, Johnson was AWOL from Sacramento as he spent the fall campaigning for President Barack Obama. He has been embarrassed by an aide accused of spending city money on trips, meals and shopping sprees. Last month, the state Fair Political Practices Commission fined Johnson $37,500 for failing to report millions in donations from nonprofits.

Then word broke last week that the Maloofs were close to a deal with Hansen.

What seemed like a death knell for the Kings is actually a great opportunity for Johnson and Sacramento.

A formal process of relocation to Seattle requires NBA approval and provides Johnson and Sacramento the opportunity to present an ownership group bent on keeping the team here.

If the NBA chooses Seattle, the villains will be the Maloofs and the NBA because there appears to be a growing list of rich people who want to keep the team here.

Of course, the Maloofs could always pull back again and continue as absentee owners doing the bare minimum, feeding garbage to the most loyal fans in the NBA.

Or Johnson could secure the Kings' future in Sacramento while ridding the region of slumlord owners despised from Stockton to the Oregon border. In the process, Johnson could also secure an appropriate place of harmony between him and his hometown.

The ball is in his hands. The moment is his.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton, news columnist

Marcos Breton

Hello, my name is Marcos Breton and I'm the news columnist with The Sacramento Bee. What's a columnist supposed to do? I'm supposed to make you think, make you laugh, make you mad or make you see an issue in a different way. I'm supposed to connect the dots on issues, people and relationships that cause things to happen or prevent them from happening in our region. I also write a weekly baseball column during the baseball season. I am a voter in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, I have voted for Barry Bonds - twice. I am a native of Northern California. I am the son of Mexican immigrants. I've been at The Bee for more than 20 years, and I love Sacramento.

Phone: 916-321-1096
Twitter: @MarcosBreton

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