Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Battle for the Kings takes an ugly turn

Published: Sunday, May. 12, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Friday, Aug. 16, 2013 - 10:30 pm

Don't you just hate bullies? People who hide behind their portfolios and their publicists? Billionaires who sneak around corners and sucker-punch with their financial data? Wannabe NBA owners who throw temper tantrums – in this case by tossing more cash into the coffer – days after the league's relocation committee recommends keeping the Kings in Sacramento by a unanimous vote?

Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer seem to assume everyone can be bought.

Well? Are they right?

Before the Seattle-based investors Friday added another $75 million in their bid to purchase the Kings, increasing the franchise valuation to $625 million, the league's owners were preparing to endorse the Kings' long-term future in Sacramento and somehow persuade the Maloofs to sell controlling interest to a group headed by software tycoon Vivek Ranadive.

That could still happen. It could still snow tomorrow, too.

The Hansen/Ballmer strategy – coupled with reports that the Maloofs have a backup deal with the Seattle investors that would enable them to retain control of the team if the league formally votes against relocation – effectively accomplished the following: It dumped another extravagant mess on the laps of NBA Commissioner David Stern, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver and 30 ownership groups; forced the scheduling of a hastily convened teleconference Monday with members of the finance and relocation committee; and jeopardized a potential Kings ownership group headed by Ranadive, whose presence would be immensely beneficial to the NBA given the league's stated desire to expand its global brand to India.

But these latest shenanigans? The extra dough tossed onto the table Friday by Hansen/Ballmer and the threats by the Maloofs on Saturday? The absolutely insane notion of Joe and Gavin seated courtside at Sleep Train Arena while the building rots, the fans stay away and the attorneys exchange legal documents? Unless they're secretly contemplating a deal with Ranadive?

This was the middle finger to Sacramento. This was scummy and dirty, was over the top and down in the gutter, and frankly was a classic example of why so many folks are turned off by professional sports.

What do you tell the kids? Seriously. What do you tell loyal fans in other NBA markets? Particularly small and mid-sized markets? If the Kings are not preserved and their partnership with the league protected, you tell them the NBA screwed up, that's what you tell them, because Sacramento deserves better.

Nineteen sellout seasons in 28 years. Rallies in the park. Tears in the arena. Saving the Kings became a civic cause and, surprisingly for a political capital city, spawned a collaboration that reached across the aisle.

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg assured league officials that environmental issues at the proposed Downtown Plaza could be overcome. New owners bought out Westfield and bought into the arena project. Business leaders and sponsors pledged millions in emotional and economic support. Local radio personality Dave Weiglein, a.k.a. Carmichael Dave, literally took his "Here We Stay" grassroots campaign to the NBA's doorsteps in Manhattan.

Most importantly, Mayor Kevin Johnson assembled an impressive potential ownership group that includes prominent developer Mark Friedman, former Facebook executive Chris Kelly, 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, the San Diego-based Jacobs family that founded Qualcomm and, of course, Ranadive.

Ranadive is the key. The league has zero concerns about his commitment or the depth of his pockets, the Maloofs' utterances notwithstanding. This is the man who digitized Wall Street and ranks third in the Warriors' ownership hierarchy. But the fact he also happens to be Indian is immensely significant to a league intent on expanding its influence into the world's second-most-populated country. (Check out the eight-page spread in the current issue of Sports Illustrated.)

"Monday is going to be crazy," one high-ranking source said late Saturday. "There should be substantial movement by the end of the day."

Meantime, beware of bullies. And hide the piggy banks.

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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