Ailene Voisin, sports columnist
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    Mayor Kevin Johnson pumps a fist as he arrives at his news conference Tuesday. He is putting together an alternative to a Seattle deal to buy the Kings and plans to present it in April to the NBA board of governors in his drive to keep the team in Sacramento.


    Fans David Gutierrez and Maria Davila attend the City Hall event.


    Mayor Kevin Johnson, above, leads the applause for local business leaders who will each offer $1 million toward a bid for the Kings. At left, fans David Gutierrez and Maria Davila attend the City Hall event.

  • Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Keeping the Kings requires a big splash

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013 - 7:53 pm

Based on the size of the crowd at Mayor Kevin Johnson's news conference Tuesday, many of the region's most influential business and political leaders are standing together and still thinking big. They still think there's a chance to save the Kings for Sacramento.

Good for them, and bravo for us.

This arena deal isn't over. I'm not going there yet, either. To Seattle, I mean. This saga has been a real tongue twister, has taken more bizarre turns the last decade than a John le Carré novel. Anaheim and Las Vegas and San Jose and Virginia Beach and Kansas City and San Diego.

Are we missing somebody?

We're missing that whale. Maybe those two whales. Maybe those three whales. Or maybe we're not.

Sacramento keeps the Kings only if the mayor plucks a really, really, really big fish out of the pond and drops him into the middle of the capital city. This has to be one whale of a Hail Mary pass, a Doug Flutie stunner or a Colin Kaepernick-caliber comeback.

Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov. Eli Broad.

Or that super-wealthy fellow Shaquille O'Neal called "Larry Ellis" during Monday's TNT broadcast. Shaq still has a soft spot for the Kings team he dubbed the Queens, and he has joined colleagues Chris Webber, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith in an impassioned campaign to save the Kings.

Shaq meant to say Larry Ellison, the Oracle billionaire who may or may not be interested. The reports are conflicting and changing by the day.

And as of late Tuesday night, The Bee learned that Burkle and Mastrov are in serious negotiations to combine on a bid.

There should be no such confusion about what has to happen in a very short period or the NBA will rubber-stamp the sale of the Kings to the Chris Hansen/Steve Ballmer Seattle group, approve a return to KeyArena while a new facility is built, and send the moving vans to Sleep Train Arena.

This is a fragile and, yes, desperate two-step dance.

First, the power player (or players) has to make an imminent appearance and submit a competing bid for majority interest in the franchise. Second, there has to be a fully funded downtown arena plan, financed by the new investor, by a substantial contribution from arena operator AEG, or by some combination of private and public interests.

Tuesday's news conference? Those folks who pledged their support with $1 million investments in the Kings? That was heartwarming, inspiring and even charming in a Sacramento sort of way. While losing the Kings would cut deeply into the local economy, the emotional wounds are the potentially permanent scars.

Tuesday's symbolic pep rally is significant in the sense that the big boys (Broad, Burkle, Mastrov, Ellison or whoever) would want community support and local boots on the ground while they're globetrotting and generating their billions.

But $20 million is a yawner to the NBA.

True, David Stern's appreciation for the Sacramento market cannot be overstated. Those who work most closely with the commissioner have commented for years about his protracted and very personal involvement in the Kings arena wrangling. Clearly, he finds the notion of abandoning the 20th-largest TV market (Nielsen ratings) – in other words, giving up on a place that lacks competition and has been a good partner – both distasteful and not the best example of good business practices. The Kings sold out the arena in 19 of 27 seasons and twice had the league's longest home-court sellout streak.

Moving forward and thinking big – and doing it very quickly – Sacramento has to make a compelling case. For Sacramento. If a major investor emerges later this week as the mayor predicts, the NBA owners, who have to approve all sales and relocations, will want to hear what keeping the Kings in Northern California can do for them.

They want to see the money. They want to meet these whales. They have to be convinced the Kings can thrive here under new ownership and in a new building and become financial contributors instead of a drain on the league's revenue sharing fund.

And they will need to hear that while Sacramento isn't as large or as corporate as Seattle, its NBA franchise doesn't have to compete against the Seahawks, Mariners or Washington Huskies for attention, tickets and sponsorships.

It's long shots and Hail Marys now. It's down to that.

But until you see those moving vans drive up? It's not over.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a law degree from the University of San Diego before committing full time to journalism.

Her career includes stops at the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and time spent as the backup beat writer for Dodgers and Angels, Clippers and NBA beat writer, sports columnist, along with numerous assignments covering international events and the Olympics. Ailene joined The Sacramento Bee in 1997.

Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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