Ailene Voisin

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Ailene Voisin: Scheming to steal Kings is foul play

Published: Friday, Jan. 25, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 - 3:02 pm

Yes, it makes for intense conversation around the water cooler, in the newspapers, on social media and on sports talk radio. Basketball is a game of passion and partisanship and more than an occasional cheap shot to the ribs.

But a spitting contest between Sacramento and Seattle? Between West Coast brothers and sisters? The only things not to like about Seattle are the traffic and the dinner prices inside the restaurant atop the Space Needle.

But that was before. Now we have serious issues with billionaires trying to run off with the Kings, to steal the region's only major professional sports organization, to dig up a once-model franchise that in recent years has been run into the ground.

We know the deal. Everyone in the NBA knows the deal. The Maloofs went broke and recently decided to sell majority interest in their team, and unfortunately for the folks around here, they went private about their intentions in Seattle before going public with their plans in Sacramento.

Regardless of soured relationships and failed arena proposals, this is Game 6 all over again. This is foul play. It should send shivers up and down the spines of sports fans everywhere, because we know that the Kings belong in Sacramento, that some other team belongs in Seattle, and that the best-case scenario includes an expansion franchise to be forevermore known as the Sonics.

If Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson secures a deep-pockets ownership group to purchase majority interest in the Kings – and we're all waiting – the NBA's Board of Governors needs to revisit its anti-expansion sentiment.

Leave the Kings alone and allow Sonics fans to start over from the beginning, nurturing a homegrown product as it drafts players, makes trades, hires and fires coaches, agonizes over defeats, and competes with the Seahawks, Mariners and Washington Huskies for attendance, suite sales and corporate sponsorships.

That would be the most civil outcome and would seem to make the most sense, except NBA Commissioner David Stern and his owners are adamantly opposed to expansion because of economic concerns. Under the league's newly implemented revenue-sharing system, approximately one-third of the teams are dipping into the communal fund instead of generating revenue, including teams in Memphis, Charlotte, Milwaukee and New Orleans.

The term "contraction" was uttered more than once during the most recent labor negotiations. And, increasingly, the league's newer, wealthier owners are more concerned with the bottom line than preserving sports legacies for their offspring or their community.

That said, most NBA owners are bright people, and they can count. They look at a map and acknowledge that frequent relocations foster a perception of instability, particularly when compared with other professional sports leagues. Major League Baseball has approved one relocation since 1972. Three NFL franchises have moved since 1988. By contrast, five NBA franchises have relocated since 2001, including the Sonics to Oklahoma City in 2008.

If a deep-pocketed and committed ownership group emerges and the NBA still encourages that trend by allowing a move to Seattle, the league might as well start playing its games in a Bekins moving van.

Sacramento has more than established its fitness as an NBA partner, with 19 sellout seasons in 27 years, in a lousy arena often with lousy teams and despite a lousy economy.

"We're willing to fight for what is right," Sacramento native and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Thursday. "We're willing to fight for this team and our economic future."

This is certainly the time to start contributing to the cause, and we're not just talking about the local electeds. This cause is bigger than that. This is about governors and senators and the sharpest political minds in the state. California is always accused of chasing away businesses; this is an opportunity to retain one of the region's most significant ones – and invigorate and reinvent the physical landscape of the state's capital city.

So, yes, this is important. And the intrigue continues.

Clay Bennett's Oklahoma City team is in town tonight. The man who chairs the league's relocation committee – who moved the Sonics – will have a significant say in any sale or relocation. Does he really want another move on his watch?

He has his Thunder. He has Kevin Durant. He has what he wants. He should make the big play and push for expansion, making folks in Sacramento and Seattle happy, averting a potential legal crisis and preventing a nasty hit to the perception of his league.

These are two great cities. This doesn't have to get ugly. But the Kings belong right where they are.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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