OAKLAND David Stern strolled into the overflowing interview room, rolled up his sleeves and, in 30 seconds or less, put the brakes on Sacramento's race to the finish against Seattle. The NBA commissioner always the most influential player in these arena ordeals turned Friday's visit with the Golden State Warriors into fright night for Kings fans.
The shudder traveled between cities in record time. Stern's comments were succinct and sobering, perhaps even alarming. The underdog is still the underdog: The Mastrov/Burkle bid to purchase the Maloofs' majority interest in the Kings "needs to be increased." The Mastrov/Burkle proposal "is not quite there." The offer by Mastrov/Burkle is "not comparable" with the $341 million agreement the Maloofs signed with the Seattle-based Hansen/Ballmer group.
Not exactly what folks in Sacramento wanted to hear.
The Kings are staying. The "whales" are devouring the competition. That's what folks wanted to hear from the commissioner, who remains one of their most impassioned, persistent and influential allies. Stern talks and the league listens. In recent days, in fact, momentum appeared to have swung toward the Kings and Northern California, nationally and locally, in high places and on the airwaves.
On the afternoon sports talk show "Pardon the Interruption," ESPN co-host Michael Wilbon sold his theoretical "stock" in Seattle and bought into Sacramento. Former SuperSonics coach George Karl spoke fondly of Seattle but pledged allegiance to keeping the Kings in Sacramento. League executives, coaches and players continued to voice support for Mayor Kevin Johnson and his efforts to facilitate an agreement that secures the team and funds a sports and entertainment complex; that NBA blood runs thick.
So how to interpret Stern's latest missives? During a 21-minute media session dominated by questions concerning the Kings and the arena saga, the commissioner was consistent and insistent. There was no need to read his lips or decipher any codes.
The money isn't there yet.
The deal isn't close yet.
The Mastrov/Burkle group hasn't stepped up yet.
"There's a substantial variance," he said, "but I have an expectation, a hope, that the variance will be eliminated by the time the owners get to consider it (April 3). I think I said at some earlier time, 'Life is a negotiation.' I'm living that dream."
Stern's mood wasn't all doom and gloom. On several occasions, he tempered his remarks with encouraging words for Sacramento and at one point praised the mayor and city leaders for their "Herculean efforts."
He greeted Sacramento-based reporters by name, often with a grin, and playfully revealed that Mastrov would be attending the Warriors game.
"I will say hello to him," the commissioner added.
At halftime, Stern and Mastrov, founder of 24 Hour Fitness, engaged in an amiable, animated and very conspicuous conversation near Mastrov's courtside seat. After Stern was led away by a Warriors publicist, Mastrov continued to accommodate reporters who approached, graciously answering questions and accepting introductions but offering few particulars.
A few other relevant tidbits from the evening:
Stern acknowledged the complexities of a situation involving two ownership groups and two cities competing for one team. "Unprecedented," he said. Stern cited April 3 as the next critical date, when board of governors committee members will convene in New York and begin evaluating the offers and arena proposals.
Sources close to the situation indicate the gap between the bids is substantial and well into eight figures.
Stern recently spoke with Kings minority owner John Kehriotis, who is trying to assemble another ownership group, but indicated there were no developments.
The commissioner quickly doused the notion of granting an expansion franchise to San Jose if the Kings move.
In an obvious jab at the Maloofs, Stern referred to the Mastrov/Burkle proposal as an "expression of intent" and "a somewhat labored process set up by the Maloofs as to how we would get to an agreement with the Sacramento purchase group." He reiterated that the league's owners make the ultimate decision on sales and relocations.
So on it goes
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.