Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin: NBA must stand for integrity in duel for Kings

Published: Tuesday, May. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, May. 14, 2013 - 7:36 am

Several of the key figures in this Kings ordeal have been characterized as cartoon characters, extortionists, bullies (by me), greedheads and, occasionally, just typical, astute businessmen in pursuit of the American dream.

You make the call; you know the deal.

The Maloofs went broke; went backdoor and agreed to sell to Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer; filed for relocation to Seattle; and, for some inexplicable reason, expected NBA Commissioner David Stern, members of the relocation committee and the folks in Sacramento to screw up worse than the refs in Game 6.

But surprise, surprise. This isn't 2002. This isn't the same team or the same community. This time, the Kings didn't swallow the whistle when presented a hard-earned and well-deserved home-court advantage in Game 7. Sacramentans didn't choke, which is one of the main reasons the NBA needs to remain firm and adhere to the relocation committee's unanimous recommendation against moving the Kings.

The league is not a one-stop shop. The NBA has 30 teams and plenty of rules and bylaws, including very specific criteria governing sales and relocations. And on the latter point, taking on the league could be a costly, litigious and prolonged undertaking.

Sacramento is neither as wealthy nor as large as Seattle. But this is the 20th-largest television market, a region with an improving economy, zero competition from other major professional sports leagues and a history of almost fanatical fan support. In essence, it's a proven and established market.

If the board of governors buckles Wednesday and buys into Hansen/Ballmer's continued attempts to sweeten the deal or wilt under the perverse threats of a backup plan and the Maloofs' continued ownership in Sacramento? Then the logical conclusion is that team sales indeed are bidding wars and that partnering with the league for 28 mostly terrific seasons is as irrelevant as the NBA constitution.

Many of the bylaws were designed to preclude all-out sports anarchy and sometimes even to protect the people. Confronting the most serious threat to the future of the franchise, this community again rose up, followed the rules and rode the wave.

The mayor is a native son and former NBA All-Star. The head of the state Senate is a diehard Kings fan and an even more impassioned champion of vibrant and transformative urban centers. With assurances that Sacramento would be given the chance to produce a competing bid and a viable arena proposal – a monumental challenge given the time constraints – the local leaders quickened the pace and digitized the entire process.

The group led by Vivek Ranadive, which already featured 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, added prominent Sacramento developer Mark Friedman and former Facebook executive Chris Kelly, and then threw in the power punch, bringing in the San Diego-based Jacobs family, the founders of Qualcomm. And the former owners of the Downtown Plaza sold to a company that envisions a sports and entertainment complex as the answer to the downtrodden property.

So here's what we have: a counteroffer to the $341 million agreement the Maloofs signed with Hansen/Ballmer; an arena proposal that members of the relocation committee endorsed; politicians who are setting aside their differences for a common civic goal; and a potential ownership group headed by a software tycoon with deep pockets, American dreams and a potentially enormous global reach.

The Indian-born Ranadive, a minority owner of the Warriors who would become the managing general partner of the Kings, already has his peers envisioning an explosion of basketball courts and licensing/television deals in the world's second-most populated country.

The board of governors' decision Wednesday will be a referendum on Sacramento and, in some respects, on the future of professional sports. Billionaires are certainly entitled to make a buck. But free enterprise is not without its price. At what point does it become acceptable for billionaires to crush viable small- and mid-sized-market franchises, taking all the fun out of sports?

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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