Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Johnson refuses to give up on Kings

Published: Friday, Mar. 1, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Friday, Mar. 15, 2013 - 11:03 am

Kevin Johnson might not be able to pull this off. This arena ordeal is a real doozy. Forget about Seattle for the moment. There have been plenty of sleepless nights this past decade right here in Sacramento.

But the mayor doesn't give up easily. He doesn't give up, period. Maybe it's something in his roots or in the water. Maybe it's something in the air, or perhaps even something he remembered about getting torched by Michael "Air" Jordan in the 1993 NBA Finals; two nights later, he responded with one of the more memorable comeback performances in recent championship series history.

That was back when the mayor was known simply as KJ, long after the Kings stepped onto the court in the initial Arco Arena, the one-time funhouse that begat Arco II and became the place that confounds commissioners, owners, businessmen, politicians. It's the same arena that more recently houses players who don't know whether to rent or buy, where uncertainty hovers over coaches like a meat cleaver.

The end is always near. Las Vegas. San Jose. St. Louis. Anaheim. Virginia Beach. Now Seattle.

Don't talk about moving vans and fatal blows to Kevin Johnson, though. He keeps surprising. Like these "whales" he keeps talking about, he just keeps surfacing.

In the latest twist in the Kings' fascinating, at times infuriating, drama, with his self-imposed March 1 deadline only hours away to produce a major equity group to bid on the Maloofs' majority interest and contribute heavily to a private/public partnership for a downtown arena, the mayor on Thursday very effectively improvised, informed, entertained and equivocated.

He was a preacher, a salesman, an actor, a leader, a star. Is he also a miracle worker? Anyone seen the paperwork yet? Maybe soon. Or maybe never. Momentum is a crazy, unpredictable, at times inexplicable force.

With high-ranking NBA executives monitoring events closely from their suburban New York homes – one suspects, almost as closely as folks in Seattle – the mayor outlined the most current state of the Kings' affairs as follows: Mark Mastrov, the founder of 24 Hour Fitness, is the point man for an ownership group that will submit a proposal countering the $341 million offer the Maloofs have accepted from Seattle-based moguls Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer; Ron Burkle, the supermarket tycoon, will lead efforts to build an arena; the plans include replacing the Downtown Plaza with a sports and entertainment complex.

There were few specifics but several other interesting offerings of note. Johnson said the list of local investors committing at least $1 million includes former Kings star Mitch Richmond. He revealed that WNBA officials have been approached about bringing back the Monarchs. Later, he seemed to leave an opening for inclusion of John Kehriotis and the Kings' other limited partners.

"Who are we?" the mayor asked the pro-Kings, pro-downtown crowd. "What defines us as a city?"

The event could have been produced by NBA Entertainment, the department that choreographs All-Star Games and the NBA Finals and is extensively involved in extending the league's brand around the world.

Television trucks began encircling the Memorial Auditorium in the early afternoon. Sacramento musician Jackie Greene walked on stage about an hour before his scheduled 5:30 p.m. appearance and practiced an acoustic rendition of the national anthem. Local businessmen and interested parties crowded into a VIP-only room located down the hall to share appetizers and a preview visit by the mayor.

At 6:02 p.m., Johnson strolled toward the podium amid loud applause.

"I feel like a rock star, a performer," he said, peering into the audience.

That wasn't much of a stretch. Before he was a politician, his game was dynamic, inclusive, explosive, fluid. He could run, he could shoot, he could pass, he could create. The attempt to create and complete his vision for Sacramento continues in a civic realm, with an emphasis on green technology, on education, on the Kings.

"This situation before us is a defining moment," he added. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will shape who are we. So with all due respect to Seattle, and I absolutely do wish them well. And I do hope they get a team someday. But let me perfectly clearly. Let me be perfectly, crystal clear. It is NOT going to be this team."

© 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.

Email: avoisin@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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