HOUSTON Relocation is a terrible word. It's the phrase that fans dread and cities fear, and that has stared down David Stern since he was named NBA commissioner in February of 1984.
The Clippers were the first to leave. Then came the Kings. Then it was the Grizzlies, Hornets, Sonics, Nets and very possibly the Kings again.
Who knows about these Kings? Do the whales surface in time to force a legitimate duel with Seattle? Can the community remain united and committed to retaining the only major-league sports franchise in town? Has Mayor Kevin Johnson effectively lobbied the owners during his whirlwind tour of All-Star Weekend events, in essence reminding them about the damage franchise hopping inflicts upon this league and its image?
This Kingsto-Seattle deal is far from resolved. There have been no ditch-digging arena developments amid the festivities here none that have been unearthed, anyway. But let's get back to the beginning, back to Stern and his 30-year stewardship, back to Stern and his affinity for Sacramento, back to Stern and the fact that, in the end, in his final months as commissioner, he is refusing to abandon the market.
But he is challenging the mayor and the community and declining to schedule a Sacramento-Seattle wrestling match "because we don't have the predicate for that tough decision yet."
During his news conference in the the Toyota Center on Saturday evening, Stern said exactly what I said to my boyfriend on Valentine's Day: Show me the money!
Just kidding, of course. The commissioner's famous sarcasm inspires wisecracks from many of us. But he wasn't kidding about the money. In no uncertain terms, the most powerful man in the NBA at least until next Feb. 1, when he will be succeeded by Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged that Sacramento is facing a formidable bid of about $340 million from a group attempting to move the Kings to Seattle, where they will build a new arena.
Asked whether Seattle bidders needed to take further action to strengthen their position, Stern replied, "Not that I'm aware of."
In a lively, at times entertaining media session that was dominated by questions about Sacramento and Seattle, the longtime commissioner praised Seattle and spoke favorably of the Chris Hansen-led ownership bid. He also struck a few ominous chords when he allowed that, "I don't see any scenario where both cities are happy," and suggested his owners want to "assess" the impact of the new collective bargaining agreement before considering expansion.
And then he paused and gave Sacramento room to breathe. He said it was "plausible" that new ownership could keep the Kings in town and described his board of governors as having "a very open mind."
In other words, he hasn't forgotten. He hasn't forgotten. He remembers referring to the Kings as a fixture, to the team as a model franchise, to the days when Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, Doug Christie, among others, transformed the club into an international icon further expanding the NBA's expansive global reach.
He recalls those 19 sellout seasons in 27 years, those record-setting home-sellout streaks, the building that rocked before it creaked, the love affair that traces back to the days when he was a young commissioner and the team was usually terrible, including the 1987-88 squad coached by Hall of Famer Bill Russell.
Russell, a conspicuous, towering presence during the media session, shook his head and then surprised when asked which team he favored.
"I hope they get to keep the Kings," said the one-time Sonics coach and current Seattle resident. "The way that city has supported that team? A move is not right."
Relocations tend to divide and conquer, pit city against city, fan base against fan base, and sometimes owner against owner. The mayor was here to retell the Kings' story, to remind Russell and his NBA brethren how a much-traveled franchise found new life and a terrific home in Sacramento.
But this ordeal is all about new owners and a new building. Stern made that very, very clear. He will roll up his sleeves one more time, will get down and dirty if need be, but only if the mayor comes up with the equity partners and Sacramento does the rest. Then he'll talk about that wrestling match.