Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Bid for Kings reaches crucial stage

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2013 - 6:15 am

The rallies in the park, the chants in the building, the gatherings outside the old arena. Then there is the campaign for corporate sponsorships, the inclusion of local owners, and the pledge for 2013-14 Kings season tickets, all motivated by the community's enduring passion for the region's only major professional sports franchise.

Today's NBA committee meetings in New York will be fascinating, perhaps fateful, and probably offer hints about the Kings' future. Obstacles for the Kings remaining in Sacramento, of course, are numerous and formidable. Let's not forget: The Maloofs want to sell, Seattle wants a team, the NBA wants resolution.

Yet there is something compelling about comeback stories and Hoosiers-esque dramas and a city's stubborn, frenzied attempt to save its team and financially and physically reshape its urban center.

And now the head of the California Senate – native Sacramentan and political power player Darrell Steinberg – joins Mayor Kevin Johnson's efforts to convince members of the league's finance and relocation committee that Sacramento deserves its Kings and is capable and committed to partnering on a downtown sports and entertainment complex.

Impressive. Influential. Important.

But is it enough?

Seattle, the city that months ago was regarded as the good neighbor up the coast, is an intimating opponent. Steve Ballmer is one of America's wealthiest citizens, with no known holes in his deep pockets.

His city trumps Sacramento in population and TV market size. His presentation figures to be powerful and persuasive, and not without an emotional component; the SuperSonics were sold and moved to Oklahoma City only after their owners and city officials failed to reach agreement on their existing KeyArena lease and/or funding a new facility.

With time healing most political wounds and Ballmer and Chris Hansen emerging as suitors for a Kings team that would be relocated and reintroduced as the Sonics, the NBA is understandably intrigued with the prospect of Seattle returning to the fold.

But at what price? At the expense of abandoning Sacramento, a region that packed the building for 19 of 27 seasons? That NBA Commissioner David Stern labeled a "model" franchise before the economy collapsed, the organization was decimated by misguided business and basketball decisions, and the Maloofs' absence and actions alienated a famously loyal fan base?

After all these years and all those failed arena attempts – Natomas, railyard, Cal Expo, Downtown Plaza – it's down to the final days, with a vote of the NBA board of governors expected April 19.

While Seattle is perceived as a somewhat shaky favorite, it's worth noting that California's capital has few peers when it comes to arm-twisting and backroom brawling.

If the Ron Burkle/Mark Mastrov/Vivek Ranadive/Jacobs offer competes favorably with Hansen/Ballmer's $341 million bid for majority interest?

Eight votes block a sale.

Those are the numbers.

There is a chance.

Amid minimal opposition that includes the threat of a lawsuit, Sacramento has contributed mightily to the cause, with the City Council last week approving $258 million in public contribution. And for the first time in the region's tortured arena history, the group addressing the committee members today is loaded with heavy hitters.

Burkle is a billionaire developer and owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Jacobs family owns the wireless software company Qualcomm. Mastrov, listed as a millionaire, founded 24 Hour Fitness. Ranadive is the No. 3 owner in the Golden State Warriors' hierarchy and founder of TIBCO, another leader in the wireless industry.

For the sake of argument, let's say the committee members are wildly impressed by the Sacramento group, that they recommend that their fellow owners block the purchase/relocation during the April 18-19 meetings, that they persuade the Maloofs to accept the bid that keeps the team in town.

Seattle would have to come away with something, either the promise of securing the next troubled, existing team that seeks relocation or the guarantee of an expansion franchise, the league's current anti-expansion sentiment notwithstanding.

But that's about tomorrow. Today is about making the case for Sacramento, about keeping the only team in town, and mostly, about those billionaires. How big are their britches, really?

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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