Even after a committee of NBA owners voted unanimously today against the Sacramento Kings' proposed move to Seattle, a cautious Mayor Kevin Johnson told a crowd of cheering supporters in a downtown bar "there is still work to be done."
Speaking at the Firestone Public House, the mayor described today's announcement as a major step in the city's work to keep its lone major league franchise. But he said pivotal work remains, most notably convincing the Maloof family to sell the team to a group seeking to keep the franchise here.
"It is not over yet," the mayor said. "I feel like we have won a round in the playoffs. ... There is still work to be done. We do not want to dance in the end zone."
Johnson said the Sacramento group - led by Silicon Valley software executive Vivek Ranadive - would speak with NBA officials in the coming days, but that he was unclear how the process of negotiating a deal with the Maloofs would play out.
A source close to the Ranadive-led deal said the Sacramento group intends to put 50 percent of its proposed $341 million purchase price in an escrow account by Friday.
The NBA announced that its relocation committee, composed of seven owners, voted unanimously to recommend against the proposal by a group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle.
Soon after, Ranadive took to Twitter to express his excitement.
"I'm speechless. Thanks to all of the amazing people who supported this great effort. We still have work to do but - #HereWeStay," he tweeted.
The Maloof family had no immediate comment. One of the Sacramento bidders, San Francisco tech executive Andy Miller, said on Twitter, "Here we stay! Kings and Sacramento's future is very bright."
A Hansen spokesman had no immediate comment.
Ballmer, however, told Seattle radio talk show host Mitch Levy that he is "horribly, horribly disappointed." Ballmer told Levy he and his group are continuing their communications with NBA Commissioner David Stern, and plan to put their heads together to see if there is a reasonable next step.
The full Board of Governors isn't expected to vote on the Kings until around May 13, but the committee's recommendation will surely be influential. The Hansen-Ballmer group needs 23 of 30 owners' votes to get control of the team.
Today's vote followed a two-hour conference call by committee members - and came after months of unprecedented arm wrestling over the lowly Kings. The Maloofs agreed in January to sell their 65 percent share to the Hansen group for $341 million. Hansen upped the offer to $357 million earlier this month.
A group of eight investors recruited by Mayor Kevin Johnson and led by Ranadive submitted a proposal to keep the team in town. The deal matched Hansen's original offer of $341 million, according to a letter the Maloofs sent earlier this month to the NBA.
A source said the Jacobs family - founders of communications giant Qualcomm - would serve as vice chairs of the Kings if the local bid is successful.
Both cities pitched multimillion-dollar subsidies for new arenas, with the Sacramento City Council tentatively approving a $258 million subsidy, to be paid mainly by borrowing against future parking revenues. Seattle, which lost its SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in 2008, offered the larger and richer market. But Sacramento touted its long record of loyalty to the NBA and its status as a one-team town.
"What Sacramento did was beat the odds," said Michael McCann, legal analyst at NBA TV.
McCann said it was remarkable for the NBA to reject the proposal from Hansen and Ballmer, a pair of owners "that had no question marks." The last time the NBA killed a sale and relocation, involving the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1994, the potential buyers in New Orleans had shaky financing.
With the Sacramento Kings, the process dragged out weeks longer than usual, and McCann said that was no coincidence. "They wanted the unanimous vote," he said.