NEW YORK – Describing the Sacramento Kings saga as too complicated to settle in a day, NBA Commissioner David Stern said Wednesday that the league needs "a lot more data and information" before it can decide whether the team moves to Seattle or stays put.
Following a long day of closed-door presentations in a Manhattan hotel, where contingents from Sacramento and Seattle separately pitched their cases for ownership of the Kings franchise, NBA officials offered no timeline for deciding the fate of the franchise.
Stern called both presentations "extraordinary," but said the league still has many questions that need to be answered.
Members of Sacramento's delegation, led by Mayor Kevin Johnson, were brimming with confidence after their two-hour presentation to a committee of influential NBA owners and executives. But Stern said the league wants more details on publicly subsidized arena plans in both cities and how each side plans to deal with obstacles, including potential legal challenges. The NBA is also looking for more information on how the competing bids to buy the team are structured.
As a result, the league's final decision on whether to allow the Maloof family to consummate its deal to sell the team to a Seattle group – and if not, whether a deal based in Sacramento is approved – may not come until after the league's annual board of governors meeting April 18-19 at the same hotel where Wednesday's pitches were made.
"We've never had a situation like this," said Stern, who appeared visibly fatigued by what he repeatedly called a complex situation.
The commissioner noted Sacramento's long history of supporting the NBA, including its latest plan for a downtown arena, but added there's "no question Seattle is a thriving, vibrant market."
Both cities have made nonbinding commitments to build $400 million-plus arenas to replace their outdated facilities, but legal issues could interfere. Seattle's plan faces two lawsuits, one over the proposed public subsidy. A mysterious Sacramento group this week filed a "notice of intent" to sue the city over environmental issues and the proposed $258 million city subsidy.
The prospective Sacramento ownership group wouldn't directly say if it has matched the offer made by Seattle to buy the Kings. However, after saying last month that the initial Sacramento bid was too low, Stern said Wednesday that the offering price "is not one of the issues" holding up the decision.
The Maloofs agreed to sell their controlling interest to Seattle investors in January for $341 million. Johnson said he's been told the Maloofs are now willing to entertain backup offers from a Sacramento group if the Seattle deal is vetoed.
Members of Sacramento's contingent beamed as they addressed reporters after their presentation Wednesday. Johnson, who has spent the better part of his young political career trying to secure the Kings' future in his hometown, clapped his hands as he entered the interview room at the St. Regis Hotel.
Johnson said the city's team spoke of a dynamic proposal to revitalize downtown with a new arena, of Sacramento's rabid fan base and of a plan to transform a downtrodden franchise into a global brand.
"We got a chance to tell our story, which I think is very compelling," the former NBA star said. "We left it all on the floor."
Johnson was joined by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who flew across the country and through the night to join the presentation. Steinberg has watched multiple attempts to build an arena in his city fail, both as an elected official and as an attorney representing the Maloofs in negotiations for a new facility in 2006.
"We made the case that there's only one fair and right way for this to conclude," he said, "and that is with victory for Sacramento and for California and I feel very good about the case we made."
Steinberg said the committee of owners asked pointed questions about California's environmental laws and whether they could interfere with a proposed new arena at Downtown Plaza. He said the state is prepared "to do whatever it takes to avoid unnecessary delay."
Silicon Valley software tycoon Vivek Ranadive – the man who is leading Sacramento's bid to purchase the Kings and who would be the first India-born majority owner in the NBA – talked about his desire to turn the Kings into a technology force and described "sport as an agent of change."
Ranadive, a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors, has partnered with 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, Southern California billionaire Ron Burkle and members of San Diego's Jacobs family – the founders of technology giant Qualcomm – in his bid.
"We've assembled a team of Who's Who from all parts of the state to support a bigger cause than any one person – to keep the Kings in Sacramento," Ranadive said.
Burkle was also part of Sacramento's presentation but did not address the media afterward. He is the driving force behind a $190 million private investment in an arena at the site of the Downtown Plaza, a plan that includes a $258 million subsidy from the city that was tentatively approved by the City Council last week.
Finally, the man who orchestrated the pending Kings sale to the Seattle group – team co-owner George Maloof – observed part of the Sacramento presentation. The mayor said Maloof's presence in the meeting was welcomed and that before entering the room, the two exchanged pleasantries. "We hugged," said the mayor, who publicly feuded with Maloof last year when a deal to finance an arena collapsed. "We laughed a little bit."
Maloof and two of his brothers – Joe and Gavin – also sat in on Seattle's presentation earlier in the day.
Chris Hansen, a hedge fund manager who energized the Pacific Northwest last year when he announced plans to build an arena and bring the NBA back to Seattle, led that presentation. By his side were Steve Ballmer, the chief executive of Microsoft and the lead money man behind the deal to buy the Kings; members of the Nordstrom family, who also have a hand in the transaction; Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn; and Dow Constantine, the King County executive. According to McGinn, George Maloof told the NBA committee he wanted to move forward with the Seattle proposal. Members of the Maloof family declined comment to The Bee.
Hansen, who has ducked the spotlight since orchestrating the agreement to purchase the Kings in January, emerged before the media following his bid. He was cautious and, walking into a room packed with reporters, remarked, "There's a lot of you."
A Seattle native, Hansen spoke wistfully of returning the NBA to the Emerald City. The Sonics departed for Oklahoma City in 2008 after 41 seasons, and Hansen said he had devoted the last 2 1/2 years of his life to this cause.
"Sometimes you have to lose something precious to realize its value to you," he said.
If the Kings move, it would end a 28-year run in Sacramento – the longest the franchise has spent in any city. The team's previous homes were Rochester, N.Y., Cincinnati and Kansas City.
Call The Bee's Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059. Follow him on Twitter @tonybizjak.