Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Kings minority owner vows to refute skeptics

Published: Wednesday, Jul. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jul. 17, 2013 - 5:11 pm

John Kehriotis isn't a very convincing villain. On most game nights these past two decades, the Kings minority owner could be found sprawled in his courtside seat, chatting with fans and chirping at referees, and noshing on some assortment of chips and dips.

He is as familiar as the color purple, part owner, part fan, part coach, and always close to the action.

These days, though, Kehriotis, who owns 12.2 percent of the franchise, is sort of the odd man out. His team lost. His competing bid to purchase the Kings and renovate Sleep Train Arena didn't exactly endear him to the new downtown-centric regime.

But Kehriotis isn't selling and he isn't leaving. He hopes to overpower his skeptics and outlast whatever resentment persists. His most immediate plan, he says, is to convince Vivek Ranadive that he's one of the good guys, one of those who stuck around.

Inside the arena, Kehriotis is impossible to miss. Front row. Big guy. Glasses. Hawaiian shirts. Lots of food in his hand, plenty of smiles on his face.

"Actually, I'm totally stoked about what's happening," said Kehriotis, a developer based in Santa Clara. "There are hurdles to overcome with the arena, but this is going to be tremendous for the community. And I'm very impressed with Vivek. He came into a situation that was in crisis management, and he has been very aggressive, very passionate, made great hires. I just wish I knew him better, more than a hello here and there. There is value in history, mostly in what not to do."

One could argue that Kehriotis clung to his Kings/Natomas arena concept (Plan B) too long, that he should have faded into the background when Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson assembled the high-powered ownership group that thwarted Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer's attempt to purchase the Kings for $525 million and relocate the team to Seattle.

But Kehriotis still views the situation differently. Even NBA Commissioner David Stern, he says, urged him to stand by in case the Ranadive-led group faltered.

"I just wanted to keep the team in Sacramento," he said. "I backed off (in late March) because I didn't want to muddy the waters. If I had been able to come up with the investors I needed – and we fell short – at some point that wasn't in the best interests of Sacramento."

Kehriotis, who was beaming during the NBA draft festivities, hopes bygones can be bygones and any lingering tension will dissipate. And he likes to remind folks that he didn't just drop into town for a cup of coffee. He bought into the Kings, bought a home in Granite Bay, and remained a near-constant presence long after the Maloofs became invisible men.

Kehriotis, 59, is a combination of Old Sac meets New West. He says he loves hearing Ranadive talk about arriving in America with a handful of dollars, then laughs and relates tidbits of his own story: He used a credit card to start buying real estate while still at San Jose State.

JKM Investments controls apartments, retail and commercial properties and the jewel of his empire: the 242-room Embassy Suites tucked into the southeast corner of the Tower Bridge.

The place is pure Kehriotis. His imprint is on every doorknob, every light fixture, every entree on the menu. He chose the color of the rooms, selected the furniture, hired a local artist to decorate the lobby.

Clearly, this is someone who likes to build things and experiment with the ingredients. While discussing the Kings on his cellphone, for instance, Kehriotis shopped for vegetables at a local supermarket.

"Do you know how to make soup?" he interrupted. "I want to surprise my wife. I have onions, tomatoes. What about asparagus?"

When his attention returned to the Kings, he was unbowed and surprisingly candid. While reiterating that renovating the aging Natomas facility was a far cheaper option, he has long preferred an urban setting, and not merely because of his own projected financial gain.

"Do you know how hard it was to get that hotel built on the river?" said Kehriotis, sounding awed by his accomplishment. "I knew it would be successful, but not this successful. From the minute we opened, we've run at 80 percent occupancy. And you haven't seen anything yet. This arena is going to be a catalyst for jobs downtown."

Pausing, he added, "We're building something special here. I hope that when things settle down, Vivek embraces me. We've (the three limited partners) been here a long time and done some good things."

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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