Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: NBA faces tough decision on Kings move

Published: Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 - 9:35 am

If the Ron Burkle-Mark Mastrov money men come up with a viable plan to purchase the Kings and construct a sports and entertainment complex – and Mayor Kevin Johnson insists they will – then the NBA board of governors will have one whale of a decision to make.

Abandon Sacramento after all these years? Drop- kick a onetime model franchise to its knees? Banish the Kings to the north, where they will cease to exist and will forevermore be known as the Sonics?

I don't think so. I don't think the NBA can do that.

Bear witness, folks, because this situation is unprecedented. There is no script or case law to follow. There are no samples or similar circumstances to imitate. In the modern era, the NBA has never confronted a situation where two deserving cities are fighting, scratching, scheming and plotting – one to save the Kings for Sacramento and the other to lure the league's most abused franchise to Seattle.

"We're going to come with a fair and competitive offer before the March 1 deadline," Johnson said Saturday before the Kings-Jazz game, "but we want to take our time and get it right."

Again, Seattle is a lovely city. It should have an NBA franchise, probably an expansion franchise, but definitely not our franchise. This Kings team that has had homes in Rochester, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Omaha belongs where it is, amid the farms and the wineries and a fervent, if bruised, fan base.

If the mayor brings the goods? If he returns from his fishing expedition with Burkle and Mastrov presenting a competitive bid?

If the Kings minority owners jump aboard? If the Maloofs stay away and allow hearts and limbs to heal?

We're all suckers for love stories. If this all happens, then start the clock. Game on. The league's 29 other owners will have a unique fact pattern to evaluate. While the Maloofs sold majority interest to a Seattle group headed by Chris Hansen, who filed relocation documents early last week, the league's other owners have to approve all sales and all relocations.

True, the league doesn't want any part of a potential antitrust lawsuit. But also true, Commissioner David Stern not-so-quietly mentioned that the guidelines governing relocations and sales are mandated by the NBA's constitution. They include: the extent and duration of support of the existing fan base; television, radio and sponsorship support and opportunities in the current market; the degree of business support in the competing market; comparisons in demographic figures such as population and income levels; and the presence or absence of other sports franchises (competition) within the markets.

But the overriding issue, of course, pertains to the condition of the arena. Sleep Train Arena is the worst. Seattle's KeyArena is almost as bad. The interested parties to any future Kings deal – the Hansen group, the potential Burkle/Mastrov group – recognize the need for new buildings in their respective cities. So who wins the race?

"We need to continue showing the NBA that our fans are still engaged, and that our market is viable," said James Ham, a founding member of the HereWeStay grass-roots effort. "This was a critical game for us because it was the first game since the (Hansen purchase) announcement. We need to continue showing the NBA that our fans are still engaged and that our market is still viable."

The chanting, the cheering, the camera shots of K.J. seated courtside, fighting back. Last night offered a reminder: There aren't many places like Sacramento. Nineteen sellout seasons in 27 years. The only game in town.

The only team to rip out hearts not just once – that Lakers loss in 2002 – but twice. A mere 12 months ago, remember, a tentative deal for a new arena was announced, then torn to shreds. The Maloofs talked about renovation, vowed never to sell and then proceeded to negotiate with the Seattle group instead of pursuing potential buyers in Sacramento.

Heartache. Alienation. Anger. Betrayal. Fear of another broken heart.

Saturday night all was forgotten. The place rocked, the crowd roared.

It takes a village to ruin a terrific franchise (broke ownership, bad personnel moves, Chris Webber's shredded knee, etc.) and it will take a village and a few billionaires to bring it back. But if the Burkle/Mastrov group shows the owners the money?

Hell, yes, it's a competition.

Bring it on.

© 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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