'In for a million?' All ears perk up

02/10/2013 12:00 AM

02/10/2013 1:39 PM

"I'm in for a million dollars."

Whether those words are uttered in the high-stakes poker room of an opulent Las Vegas casino or a quiet boardroom of a dedicated philanthropic organization, heads snap around.

And so it was on Jan. 22, when 20 prominent Sacramentans agreed to invest $1 million apiece for a minority stake in the Sacramento Kings basketball team.

Those standing up with Mayor Kevin Johnson that day in hopes of keeping the Kings in Sacramento included some very familiar names in the regional business community.

And some not-so-familiar names.

While the in-for-a-million team included such well-known business people as Sleep Train Mattress Centers founder Dale Carlsen and mega-developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, the list also included a former policeman, a dentist, a surgeon and a video gaming mogul.

That video game entrepreneur is 39-year-old Mark Otero, CEO and co-founder of KlickNation, born into poverty in South Korea.

Four years ago, he was a debt-ridden MBA student with a string of product failures. Life changed with the creation of "Superhero City," launched on Facebook with fellow Sacramentan Ken Walton. It was wildly successful and ultimately sent KlickNation soaring.

Otero says his $1 million commitment to the Kings "is an investment in the Sacramento region. I understand the power of culture and entertainment. It's good for everyone in the community.

"It's just that simple."

Otero said he has closely followed the daily, up-and-down news regarding the Kings' future and remains "very hopeful" of seeing the team stay in Sacramento.

"I continue to be encouraged and optimistic. I'm rooting for the Kings to stay here," Otero said.

The same goes for Brad Jenkins, another Kings-committed million-dollar man and the 42-year-old president and CEO of El Dorado Hills-based O1 Communications, a provider of data telecommunications services to Internet service providers.

"It's a bit of a quiet time right now, but that's probably a decent sign and has to be expected. We're thinking this through as a community, not just basketball," he said.

As a 22-year-old, Jenkins was assembling the tools that would become JPSnet, the Sacramento firm that evolved into the largest privately held Internet service provider in California. It was later purchased and merged into OneMain.com.

During the JPSnet years, Jenkins recalled, he enjoyed the party atmosphere of Sacramento Kings games from a company suite in the arena.

Jenkins co-founded O1 Communications in 1998, and now says he enjoys Kings games at Sleep Train Arena for an entirely different reason – as a family man with a wife and two young children, ages 5 and 2.

"Now, the Kings are all about the kids for us," he said. "And when the (Kings' possible move to Seattle) came up, it really had an impact, the thought that there's not going to be any top professional sports in town whatsoever."

Jenkins said he and his wife talked and were somewhat intimidated by the multimillion-dollar offers being tossed about by the major suitors for the Kings: "But we kept asking ourselves, 'What can we do to contribute?' "

Jenkins acknowledged that $1 million is a large chunk of change in anybody's life, "but we wanted to be involved in something we're so passionate about."

Steve Ayers, CEO of Rio Linda-based Armour Steel Co. and principal of Elks Tower and Rail Bridge Cellars Winery in Sacramento, confessed that he's "not really a big basketball fan, but I'm a big fan of our community."

Ayers says keeping the Kings in Sacramento is key to the metro area's reputation and its future as a business and jobs magnet.

"I'd first say that the Sacramento Kings are an important asset to our community, and if we lose them, it will have an adverse impact on our region. There's no question about that. ...

"Having pro sports and entertainment in a community is important to new businesses and new startups thinking about coming to the area. If we lose the Kings, I believe we will lose those new businesses and have a loss of jobs."

During the Jan. 22 press conference where Sacramento's mayor was joined by most of the $1 million investors, Johnson acknowledged that he was playing catch-up with the Seattle group determined to move the Kings to that city. (On Wednesday, the Maloof family ownership formally filed for NBA permission to relocate to Seattle.)

But the mayor also emphasized that when he went looking for $1 million investors, he expected perhaps three to five to step up.

Instead, he got 20, whom Johnson called "folks who realize that the Kings are a civic asset for our community."

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