This Sacramento-Seattle tango is a delicate dance, a West Coast feud, a basketball theme park and a Barnum & Bailey circus, all available for one late-season ticket package. This is one-stop shopping, with billion-dollar concepts thrown around like crayons in a kindergarten classroom.
What's next? Fans in the respective cities tossing darts at one another? Overwhelm the NBA board of governors with a barrage of unwanted and unsolicited cellphone calls? How about a bribe? Anyone out there have enough dough to shut everyone up and resolve this arena/relocation situation that is nearing out-of-control status?
It's time. Enough of the tears and the bruises and the swinging egos. Commissioner David Stern needs to pick up the crayons, restore some sanity to his league, and convince his owners there is only one way to keep two terrific cities from tearing each other apart: expansion.
See? Not so difficult to spell or pronounce. Make an exception for Seattle. Ex pan sion.
Confronted with an unprecedented situation two quality ownership groups fighting for one team the league should assess a hefty expansion fee, grant Seattle a franchise to name and to nurture, and let the Maloofs gather their funds and skateboard off to their next venture.
Circumstances change, economies recover, prayers are answered. Sometimes we forget. For the first time in what seems forever, the stars above Sacramento are aligned with a deep-pockets potential ownership group, a mayor who is staking his political career on the outcome, a high-ranking local and state power broker (Darrell Steinberg) who envisions an urban masterpiece and is seizing the day, and a community that wants the Maloofs to leave and leave the team behind.
So, again, why not expansion? Two months ago, of course, adding a 31st franchise was an afterthought, not even a remote possibility. With the new collective bargaining agreement increasing the revenue sharing pool for small and mid-market franchises, the prevailing sentiment was to limit the pie slices.
"There's a large group of owners who believe that expansion is an economic matter," Stern said during All-Star Weekend in February. "At least the way we've done it to date, you get a lot of money (in expansion fees), and in return for that, you cut the new team in for a large and growing source of revenue from national TV, national licensing, and all things international and digital. So it has to be parsed and analyzed (and) I think right now the sentiment is to let it all settle and assess how we are doing and what the projections are for how we'll do."
That was two months ago, when Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson was still scrambling to assemble an ownership group capable of countering Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer's $341 million deal for the Kings' majority ownership. In the ensuing weeks, however, the mayor enlisted or solidified commitments from Silicon Valley software tycoon Vivek Ranadive, 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, prominent Sacramento developer Mark Friedman, former Facebook senior executive Chris Kelly, and San Diego's Jacobs family, founder of Qualcomm.
Ranadive's presence offers particular appeal; the India native furthers the NBA's attempts to internationalize the game and diversify its ownership oft-stated passions of Stern, who during his three-decades plus as commissioner consistently embraced his league's reputation as the most progressive and culture-driving sport in the industry.
His superstars become celebrities. His arenas have been gutted and turned into world stages for games, concerts and NCAA Tournaments, often transforming city centers in the process. The NBA also introduced female referees and African American coaches and owners, and financially backed a women's professional league (WNBA) that has outlasted the skeptics and started turning a profit.
While the Kings' fate ultimately rests with the league's 29 other owners, very possibly Friday, never underestimate the clout of the commissioner, who retires next February. This week, he will preside over meetings and frame the debate, acknowledging Seattle's advantage in population and television market, as well as the ease of a tidy billionaire ownership (Hansen and Ballmer).
But Stern knows and appreciates Sacramento. This is not business as usual. Within the past decade almost one-third of his time as the highest-ranking executive he has rolled up his sleeves and sketched out numerous arena incarnations. He has hired experts, witnessed the damage inflicted by the Maloofs' economic collapse and lack of interest, and acknowledged the famously loyal fan base.
Perhaps even more significantly, he remains mindful of the television market size (20th), the region's upward economic projections, and the fact the competing professional franchises (49ers, Raiders, Giants, A's) are located 90 or so miles away the other end of the world if one factors in drive time and gridlock.
So, yes, it's time. Time to add that 31st franchise, time for Stern to call in his chits and press the flesh one more time. Expansion in this instance doesn't refer to suburban sprawl, crowded freeways, dirtier air. It means preserving the Kings and reinventing the SuperSonics, while strengthening the league's overall ownership and putting an end to an unseemly, unnecessary spitting contest between West Coast cities.
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.