HOUSTON - With the high and mighty of the NBA taking over downtown Houston for the start of All-Star weekend, Mayor Kevin Johnson arrived early today to make his case for keeping the Kings in Sacramento.
While the Kings sent just one player to Houston - guard Isaiah Thomas, who's playing in tonight's Rising Stars Challenge - the team's unsteady future is becoming a frequent topic of conversation.
Commissioner David Stern has been badgered by reporters about whether the Kings will remain in place or move to Seattle, where an investor group has struck a deal to buy the Maloof family's controlling interest.
Stern has repeatedly said the NBA Board of Governors, which will rule on the Seattle deal in April, will have a tough choice if Johnson can assemble a concrete counter offer from investors who want to keep the team in Sacramento.
Walking through the official NBA headquarters at the Four Seasons Hotel, Stern even weighed in today on the possibility that the Kings' limited partners have a right to match the Seattle offer to the Maloofs. A bankruptcy trustee in Sacramento, overseeing the sale of a 7 percent share of the team, has said the limited partners may have the right to match - a potential stumbling block for the Seattle purchase.
"These are the kinds of issues that usually get resolved - they do or they don't," Stern said.
Team owners and other celebrities descended on the city. Stern's wife Diane was hugged at the Four Seasons by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, while Miami Heat executive Pat Riley chatted briefly with Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Asked whether the Board of Governors would approve or reject the Seattle deal for the Kings, Sterling said: "I wish everyone the best."
Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett, chairman of the powerful relocation committee, said, "The process will present itself" but declined to say which way owners were leaning.
Stern has merged the relocation committee with the financial advisory committee, which is vetting the Seattle investors and would similarly scrutinize the purchase offer submitted by Sacramento.
"The new combined committee is engaged," Bennett said.
The Sacramento offer is being assembled by Southern California billionaire Ron Burkle and Bay Area health-club mogul Mark Mastrov.
Their partnership hasn't been officially announced yet, but Johnson said he believes he can make headway lobbying for Sacramento this weekend.
The mayor wasn't immediately available for comment today but said earlier this week in Sacramento: "All-Star weekend is the only time other than the NBA Finals where every team, every owner, players, management, people from around the world all convene and converge on one city to talk about the NBA.
"We will let people know that we will counter with a fair and competitive offer."