Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Sacramento has money, plan, momentum

Published: Thursday, Mar. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Monday, Sep. 23, 2013 - 8:09 am

Within the past five days – perhaps the most important five days in the history of the Kings – Sacramento thrust itself back into the game. After years of arena uncertainty, economic woes, fan alienation and, most recently, a growing sense that Sacramento could not compete with Seattle, Mayor Kevin Johnson made the play of plays.

He formed a billionaire boys' club, tossing bucks into this Sacramento vs. Seattle equation. Ron Burkle. Mark Mastrov. Vivek Ranadive. Steve Jacobs. If not quite as sexy as the Miami Heat signing, say, LeBron James, who cares? Sacramento is competing for survival, not a title. The immediate goal is to keep breathing, not sweat all over a championship trophy.

"We did our part," the elated mayor said after the City Council approved a public contribution to a proposed $448 million downtown facility. "It's in (the NBA owners') hands now."

In a brick-by-brick process, NBA Commissioner David Stern and his board of governors have been given plenty of reason to slam on the brakes. While Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer have signed an agreement to purchase the Maloofs' majority interest in the Kings and are pressing forward with plans for an arena in Seattle, the dramatic developments in Sacramento strengthened an already compelling argument to keep the Kings where they are – albeit, in a modern downtown sports and entertainment complex.

First came word that four major investors had joined forces. Then came the 7-2 vote by the City Council. Then came Johnson's announcement that he has received $50 million in corporate sponsorships from an estimated 25 local companies.

Not to be outdone – and the games will play on – Ballmer bid $15 million for Bob Cook's 7 percent ownership shares in the Kings that are in bankruptcy. The Kings' other minority owners have 15 days to match the offer, though as of late Wednesday their intentions were unclear.

But what is clear is this: The scouting report on the Kings and their future in Sacramento no longer consists of short soundbites and one skinny chapter for night-time reading.

The league's other owners, who are empowered by NBA bylaws to approve or refuse franchise sales and relocations, have some serious studying, evaluating and reviewing ahead.

"The NBA has never, ever, in the history of the NBA – it would be unprecedented to rip a team out of a city that has done everything that was expected of them," Johnson said. "They need to know that you cannot take our team away from us. Our market and our fans speak for themselves."

That said, momentum is an unfailingly fickle beast. It defies definition and predictability and sometimes even logic, which Johnson, as a former NBA All-Star point guard, appreciates more than most. Hence, his reasons for plotting another dynamic presentation Wednesday in New York, when the Seattle and Sacramento groups address members of the league's finance/relocation committee. Burkle, Mastrov, Ranadive and Jacobs are expected to attend.

And what will be the pitch? The prospective owners are visitors to the capital city, but Johnson is a Sacramento native who knows the real deal. Nineteen sellout seasons in 27 years. Two of the league's longest home-court winning streaks. The only major-league sports franchise in town. The 20th-largest television market in the country. An improving economy. A shift in political will (evidenced by the 7-2 approval on a public contribution). The presence of the four major investors. The NBA's reluctance to abandon established markets.

And again and again and again … the four major investors … the four major investors … the four major investors.

"Burkle was very optimistic about our chances of keeping the Kings here," council member Steve Cohn said Wednesday. "He gave me lot of confidence."

Who knows how this all ends? But it seems safe to say this Sacramento/Seattle rivalry is encroaching on Kings/Lakers. In the ensuing weeks, elbows will be thrown, taunting will be prevalent, strategy sessions will continue into the wee hours. It will become heated, maybe nasty. Stern might be forced to send his best crew out west to officiate.

"We have an ownership group in place that is playing to win," Johnson said Tuesday. "They do not want to come in second place."

The risks are considerable, the stakes enormous. Second place for Sacramento means losing a team, with virtually no shot at a rematch.

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.

© 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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