Bruce Maiman

Viewpoints: New actors, same script for Kings' sitcom

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 - 4:32 pm | Page 9A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 2, 2013 - 11:39 am

The last time I wrote about the Sacramento Kings, I referred to a line from the film "Tombstone."

"Well … bye."

It seemed the team was "outta here." Then, Mayor Kevin Johnson announced a long-shot bid to keep the Kings in town, brandishing a list of investors – now up to 21 – ponying up a million dollars each, while possibly lurking behind them were a couple of whales: grocery tycoon and Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle, and 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov.

Sorry, but I'm reminded of yet another movie line, the scene from "Godfather III" in which, despite every attempt to go legit, to become respectable, Michael Corleone cannot silence his past and says, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!"

And here we are. Again.

Can somebody please make an offer somebody else can't refuse and pull down the final curtain on this lunacy?

Are you not tired of this push-pull nonsense? Are you not concerned that Johnson's obsession with the Kings has likely resulted in the neglect of multiple issues troubling Sacramento – high unemployment, unfunded retirement benefits, crumbling infrastructure, a besieged educational apparatus?

Yet, here's the mayor with another last-ditch attempt. It's like the "boy who cried wolf," or in this case, "The Boy Who Cried Maloof."

Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg wants to investigate how losing the Kings might impact California's job and revenue base by making veiled threats to Microsoft and its business dealings here because its CEO, Steve Ballmer, is heavily involved in moving the Kings to Seattle.

How about investigating this: What might've been accomplished over the last four years if the energy Sacramento city officials spent groveling to the Maloofs had been put into, say, keeping Campbell Soup here, or attracting other industries, perhaps with a corporate culture more stable than the Three Stooges?

Yet if the Maloofs are as pathetic as everyone says, what does that say about the people who fell for their double talk year after year, no matter how unrealistic the demands, no matter how many times they went back on their word?

Steinberg, who has no more business telling Sacramento officials how to run the city than he has telling a private investment group how to spend its own money, stands by his message, saying he wants to see "if there is an appropriate public policy response" to his concerns.

There is, sent to me in an email from a Microsoft spokesperson: "The effort to build a new professional sports arena in Seattle was initiated and is led by (a) San Francisco-based developer, Chris Hansen, who has announced a number of investors, including Steve Ballmer. Microsoft Corporation is not involved in the effort."

That's way more diplomatic than I'd have put it. Ballmer and Hansen aren't the bad guys here. This was a Maloof problem. Johnson couldn't solve it. Don't go after the people who did.

If history is any barometer, the Kings will be gone. The pattern we've seen here mimics exactly what happened 30 years ago when rumors swirled that the Kings were abandoning Kansas City for Sacramento.

Owners swore they weren't leaving despite multiple indications to the contrary. The Maloofs have done likewise while staking out new locales in Vegas, Anaheim, Virginia Beach and now Seattle.

Kansas City made big concessions, including a lease deal on an aging arena to charge the Kings $1 a year, plus give them percentages of concession and parking. Sound familiar?

Didn't matter. After over two years of denials, the Kansas City Kings left for Sacramento, complete with a blessing from then second-year NBA Commissioner David Stern.

This isn't about fans or cities. This is about money. The NBA is a corporation and cares only about maximizing profits. It's unlikely to favor a patchwork cluster of 21-plus rushed-together investors when a Seattle group in waiting largely has its financing and arena issues worked out.

We'd be wiser pressuring the NBA to insist that the buyers and sellers of the Kings put that $77 million the Maloofs owe Sacramento into an escrow account before the transaction is completed. Negotiations should commence to see if there's a dollar figure the city is willing and able to spend to purchase the existing Natomas site for whatever redeeming community purpose.

Sacramento should move forward on these important tasks, not look backward while offering to mortgage the city's future just to keep a sub-par basketball team whose owners want out.

It's nothing against the Kings. I don't care where they end up, so long as this saga ends. Sacramento is about more than the Kings and can easily evolve without them, provided leadership is there to do it.

Maybe Kevin Johnson only knows how to do that through basketball. Try though he might, maybe, like Michael Corleone, he cannot silence his past, either.

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