Dueling teams of billionaires and mayors are heading to New York for a pivotal Wednesday showdown over the future of the Sacramento Kings.
Before an elite committee of NBA owners, delegations from Sacramento and Seattle will present their arguments on the issue that's been making headlines for weeks: Should the Kings stay put or be allowed to move to the Pacific Northwest?
The meeting, to be held at a Manhattan hotel, comes a week after the Sacramento City Council approved a non-binding term sheet for a new $448 million arena at Downtown Plaza - a crucial piece in the city's attempt to keep the team.
The committee is likely to make a recommendation sometime this month. A final decision is expected April 18 or 19, when the league's Board of Governors, consisting of all the team owners, convenes in New York.
NBA Commissioner David Stern has said deciding between Sacramento and Seattle will be tough. Seattle offers a larger and wealthier population, but Sacramento has had a strong track record of supporting the league. Both cities are offering to build new arenas.
Still unknown is whether Sacramento's investors have matched the $341 million offer the Maloofs have already accepted from Seattle's group for their 65 percent controlling interest in the Kings. Stern said three weeks ago that Sacramento's initial bid was too low, although he wouldn't go into detail.
The investors haven't said how they'd respond to Stern's statement, but Mayor Kevin Johnson has said he's sure Sacramento's investors would remedy any shortfall.
One of his advisers, political strategist Chris Lehane, expressed confidence Monday in "the quality of the bid" Sacramento will present this week.
"I feel pretty good about where we are," said Lehane, who will be part of Johnson's entourage in New York.
Johnson is also expected to be accompanied by three of the investors who are bidding for the Kings on Sacramento's behalf - Vivek Ranadive, Mark Mastrov and Ron Burkle. Lobbyist Darius Anderson, who was instrumental in pulling the group together, also will attend.
Seattle's group, led by Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine, is sure to include the two investors hoping to move the Kings and rebrand them as the SuperSonics: hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Steve Ballmer.
Kings co-owner George Maloof will represent the team in New York, according to a source close to the Kings. The Maloofs have all but disappeared from public view since January, when they struck their deal with Hansen and Ballmer.
Fans in both cities made last-minute public relations pushes. Sacramento's "Here We Buy" grassroots organization Monday announced it had surpassed its goal of gathering 10,000 pledges for season-ticket purchases. The pledges are non-binding.
Radio personality "Carmichael" Dave Weiglein, who's been traveling NBA cities the past two weeks in a purple recreational vehicle, called the 10,000 pledges a further sign of Sacramento's support.
"Let is be known far and wide, the city, the owners and the FANS have now all done their part," he tweeted Monday. "Herculean indeed. Now we just wait and win." Weiglein plans to be in New York for the NBA meeting.
In Seattle, Hansen wrapped up his own ticket-pledge drive Monday afternoon, but results weren't immediately available.
Johnson's prior trips to New York on Kings business have met with mixed results.
In April 2011 he succeeded in derailing the Maloofs' attempt to move the team to Anaheim by convincing team owners of the worthiness of Sacramento as an NBA market.
Last year, though, he came up empty in an 11th-hour attempt to salvage a crumbling deal with the Maloofs on a new Kings arena at the downtown railyard. After meeting with the mayor for several hours in New York, the Maloofs scuttled the agreement.
Call The Bee's Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.