Ailene Voisin, sports columnist
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Ailene Voisin: New Kings president has a passion for Sacramento area

Published: Sunday, Jul. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 16, 2013 - 7:02 pm

It sounds improbable, and even a little crazy: High-ranking NBA executive Chris Granger, a rising star in the league office and among a handful of David Stern and Adam Silver's most trusted advisers, resigns and migrates west to oversee the brick-by-brick rebuilding of the Kings.

Then again, maybe not so improbable, or so crazy.

Granger, who last week was named president of the organization, has been a closet Kings fan for more than a decade. He started slipping in and out of town in 2004, dispatched to offer marketing advice that was often ignored by the previous regime. But the real rescue mission – that massive undertaking to breathe life into a gasping franchise – began when the Maloofs grudgingly agreed not to relocate the team to Anaheim in April 2011.

For four straight months, Granger was here. Accompanied by the league's 40-member emergency response marketing team, he supervised season-ticket sales, coaxed alienated business leaders into purchasing sponsorships, and overhauled a depleted and demoralized Kings sales staff.

A year later, when the Maloofs backed out of an arena deal in the downtown railyard, he was back and forth again, the ongoing uncertainty regarding the team's future striking a nettlesome chord.

"I don't have to tell you my bias toward Sacramento," Granger said from his cellphone. "I spent so much time there these past two years, occasionally I would bring my wife and daughters out to visit me. I don't know of a more tightknit community. When this opportunity came along, the chance to work for an owner like Vivek (Ranadive), it seemed like such an interesting change, we went for it."

Fixing a franchise. Pouring a new foundation. Finishing the touches on a downtown sports and entertainment complex. Assisting an aggressive majority owner who has his hands on every tool. This is a tough day job and a tough night job, is the equivalent of working double shifts and perhaps even wearing a cape.

While Granger, 41, hardly resembles a superhero – he resembles many of Stern's employees who go gray or go bald prematurely because of the travel and exhaustive pace – his expansive portfolio includes everything from being a suit to a mascot.

A native of Highland, Ind., Granger longed to be a Hoosiers basketball star but switched to tennis during high school. After obtaining his Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell, he moved to Orlando, Fla., expecting to walk into a job at Disney World. When that didn't materialize, when he couldn't talk his way into a Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck costume, he landed a carnival barker gig at Universal Studios. Not long afterward, he quit for a job as a costume character on the breakfast circuit of a local hotel.

"In the morning, I dressed up as Garfield the cat at the Embassy Suites," Granger said, chuckling, "and in the afternoon, I taught tennis. That was my 'embarrassing moment' story."

After eventually getting hired by Disney and spending five years in its management program, he attended the London School of Economics and earned his Master of Business Administration degree at Yale. One evening when Stern guest lectured about the business of sports, Granger outlasted the crowd and introduced himself to the commissioner.

"At the end of the lecture, I said, 'Anybody who wants to join the NBA, leave your résumé with my assistant,' " Stern related. "Chris sent in his résumé, and the dean quickly called and told me he was exceptional. We hired him, and he was with us for 14 years."

Granger moved swiftly up the ranks, serving as a business consultant to the NBA, the WNBA and the Development League before earning his final promotion as the head of team marketing and business operations in 2008. Additionally, and significantly in light of the unique challenges in Sacramento, he was extensively involved with the Charlotte Hornets' relocation to New Orleans, the team's temporary move to Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina and, most recently, the New Jersey Nets' departure to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Colleagues throughout the NBA regard the outgoing vice president as smart, detail-oriented and knowledgeable in all facets of league business. He is extremely well-liked and respected, is seen as more of a quietly effective, collaborative leader than someone who dictates policy or dominates a room. His work habits are legendary; Granger is known for routinely leaving his Manhattan office after midnight.

"Chris sends emails at very strange hours," Stern noted, wryly, "and given the culture of the NBA, they get returned immediately."

As for Ranadive's successful wooing of Granger, who, it is widely believed, would have had an even bigger role when Silver succeeds Stern next February?

"Grand theft," the commissioner added, laughing, "but in a good way. Chris enjoys the region, thinks it's a good place to raise a family, and he has long been engaged with the fans and the community."

Granger arrives without illusions, but because he has been a witness to the near-demise of a proud franchise, he starts with an advantage and, as he says, with an obvious bias. This is more of a calling than a job, he suggests.

"One of the things that so impressed me about Sacramento was the resilience of the community," he said. "It's a credit to those who have stayed with the team during this tough period. On any level, this is a special opportunity."

While his wife, Jennifer, and daughters Zoe (7) and Megan (5) have begun exploring neighborhoods, the new team president has been immersed in the ongoing restructuring of the business department and organizing his first few weeks. The immediate goal is to maintain the brisk pace of season-ticket and sponsorship sales, and to continue tightening the frayed bond between the Kings and the community.

"I don't think we need anything big or bold," Granger continued. "We want to make sure our fans know we're back and start to figure out how we turn our arena – current and future – into a home-court advantage. I will always remember watching the Kings on television when they were stacked, every game sold out. Kings fans were the first to wear the same color T-shirts for playoff games. And the purple glow sticks during introduction. That was the coolest intro I had ever seen. Clearly, I have to get out there and get it going."

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.

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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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