Ailene Voisin: Thanks to teamwork, arena deal reached

02/28/2012 12:00 AM

12/18/2012 12:09 AM

After all these years, all the failed arena attempts, all the angst of that wrenching night last April – with the Lakers of all teams visiting for what appeared to be the Kings' Sacramento finale – this is the earth moving, the ground shaking.

This is really happening. The Kings are staying, winning that seventh game. David Stern called the plays, Kevin Johnson hit the free throws, and Joe and Gavin Maloof were clutch when they absolutely needed to be, as they swore they would be.

An tentative arena deal.

A legitimate partnership.

A workable, viable, believable plan to present next to the City Council.

The Kings – and the community – are on the verge of writing one of the most improbable, memorable and sappiest stories in modern professional sports. Seriously, look around the NBA. These threatened relocation sagas rarely end happily for the home team. Once the dynamic sours among the fans, owners, business leaders and politicians, recovery usually requires flight to a more welcoming market and, in these intensely competitive times, into a sparkling state-of-the-art facility.

But, hey, too bad for Anaheim. Sincere condolences to Seattle. Go steal a team from a city that doesn't care. This is Sacramento. These are the Kings.

"For a major city, it is so unique to have only one team," longtime Kings executive Jerry Reynolds said. "That's what makes it so special. Our fans – not so much corporations – buy the tickets. They invest in the team. It would have been crushing to thousands of people to lose this franchise."

Almost 30 years ago, former Bee columnist Joe Hamelin insisted an NBA team was coming to Sacramento. As an NBA beat writer in San Diego at the time, I said he was crazy. I couldn't imagine a team up here. Now, as a 15-year resident – as someone who has experienced this small-market phenomenon known as the Kings – I couldn't imagine Sacramento without the Kings.

And count me among those who have witnessed the transformative impact of sports and entertainment complexes on downtown corridors throughout the country. Charlotte. Phoenix. Kansas City. Houston. Indianapolis. Denver.

Let's not forget Orlando, certainly not the estimated $80 million to $100 million in revenue from last weekend's All-Star festivities or the ability to attract major touring acts, NCAA tournaments, political conventions, etc., to the downtown Amway Center.

Six years ago, the Magic almost disappeared, another victim of lousy arena realities and threats from afar. Instead, a partnership was forged that led to construction of an impressive new arena.

"Our company has always felt that if the Kings go away, that would hurt the growth, the jobs, and quite frankly, our business would be hurt over time with less of a quality of life," said Matt Graham, marketing director of the area's 25 Jiffy Lubes and a longtime Kings corporate sponsor. "Over time, we would all get hurt."

But it's never all about the money; it's also about the heart. When Graham heard the parties had reached a tentative agreement, he screamed, "Yes," and slammed his fist on the desk. Then he rented five billboards, with one prominently displayed on Interstate 5 near the proposed arena location in the railyard, with these alternating messages, draped in the Kings' familiar purple background: "Love Has Found A Way" and "Here We Stayed."

The Kings are staying – assuming major obstacles have been overcome and the City Council approves the deal – largely because when the Maloofs appeared intent on moving to Anaheim, Stern suggested a one-year reprieve and fans and sponsors like Jiffy Lube responded. But also because Joe and Gavin Maloof remembered what it was like to be wanted by an entire community.

In a sense, they wanted their own one-year reprieve, their chance to re-engage and emotionally reinvest in Sacramento.

And they did. They called customers and sold tickets. They were visible in the community. They answered hard questions and were approachable and accommodating during games.

That scene at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Orlando on Monday afternoon should end all doubts about their intentions. George was still grumpy, but willing. Joe was stunned, exhausted, visibly elated. Gavin broke down and was rescued by his older brother, Joe, who last April was the Maloof who rescued the Kings.

And then there's the mayor. He grew up here. He went away and became an NBA All-Star, then came back and committed to keeping the Kings. And then he did.

Are you kidding me?

Is this really happening?

Monday, Feb. 27, 2012. Mark it down. It was a historic day for Sacramento.

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