Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Fight over Kings intensifies

Published: Thursday, Apr. 4, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Monday, Sep. 23, 2013 - 8:09 am

League executives didn't quite expect this. No, they didn't. Instead of gaining some clarity in this two-city tango for one team – and that team would be your Kings – NBA Commissioner David Stern and several of his owners went off to dinner Wednesday with an even bigger mess on their hands.

Sacramento completely mucked this up. Completely and effectively mucked this up.

The local contingent of potential Kings owners and political heavyweights transformed a once neat and tidy process into that mud-wrestling match, that arm-twisting duel, that backroom brawl. They did exactly what they needed to do. By refusing to submit meekly to the Maloofs and to Seattle after 27-plus seasons in Northern California, they kick-started an exhausting arena ordeal into an intense, fascinating street fight.

There is no winner. Yet.

This scrum isn't over. Yet.

After representatives of the two groups addressed Stern and members of the league's finance and relocation committee – one pitching to keep the team in Sacramento, the other pressing for a sale and relocation to Seattle – Stern announced that the expected April 19 resolution date might be tabled because of the unprecedented nature and complexity of the issues.

Committee members want more information, more analysis, more time. As Stern noted after Wednesday's meeting, his league has never been confronted with two established, deserving cities vying for one team.

"The seriousness of purpose, to me, is really incredible," he said, "because (the owners) know that there's a lot at stake here for two communities and the NBA."

After a decades-old arena uncertainty and incessant chatter about possible relocation, Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer threw $341 million at the Maloofs and threatened the very existence of the Kings. For the past few months, it was presumed that the Kings were goners, to be born again in Seattle as the SuperSonics.

But then, in a major development that has surprised many longtime industry observers, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson answered back with a promise and a plan, and a power play that dramatically altered the dynamics. The investment group he hurriedly assembled has deep, deep, deep pockets, and includes billionaire developer Ron Burkle; 24-Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov; the Jacobs family, founder of the wireless software company Qualcomm; and Vivek Ranadive, founder of wireless giant TIBCO and potentially the first Indian-born controlling owner in the NBA.

How does the NBA turn away from Sacramento now? After famously loyal fan support despite an economic collapse and the Maloofs' erratic actions and absences? After, finally, demonstrating the political will and the ownership capabilities to buy the team and build that much-needed new arena. Let's not overlook Stern's extensive personal involvement in several of the failed arena attempts, including last year's aborted deal in the downtown railyard.

That was then. This is now. But while league officials want a franchise in Seattle, they continue to wince at the mere mention of relocation. They do not – do not – want to kill off the Kings and abandon the 20th-largest television market in the country. And both the Kings and league officials have allies in high places.

"I have been involved in every chapter of this arena situation since 1997," state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said from his cellphone in New York, "and I'll be damned if we're not going to do everything in our power to have the final chapter come out with our community as winners. This doesn't guarantee we're going to win, but I felt we got a very positive reception."

Confusion thus reigns and the Kings remain. For now. The owners ultimately have to justify moving a viable, enduring franchise, one that has presented an ownership and arena plan, or in the alternative come up with a solution that satisfies two deserving cities.

Meantime, the Sacramento group, somehow, has to close the deal.

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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