When Sacramento officials launched their desperate campaign over the winter to keep the Sacramento Kings from relocating to Seattle, a key ally was lobbyist, power broker and developer Darius Anderson.
Anderson brought Southern California billionaire Ron Burkle into the picture, giving Sacramento a credible ownership alternative to the buyers from Seattle. Anderson himself was a silent partner in Downtown Plaza, site of the proposed new NBA arena.
But Burkle pulled out of the team’s ownership. The Kings and Downtown Plaza were purchased by a group led by software tycoon Vivek Ranadive, and Anderson was left without a piece of the team.
Now the long-time Democratic fundraiser, upset with his lack of a role in the Kings’ new era, has reportedly hired high-powered Bay Area lawyer Joseph Cotchett to represent him as he gears up for a potential fight with the new owners.
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Cotchett, known for taking on huge corporate defendants like Toyota and JPMorgan, told the San Francisco Chronicle he thinks Anderson and the Kings can reach a settlement.
“We believe it will all be worked out,” Cotchett told the Chronicle over the weekend. Efforts to reach Anderson for comment were unsuccessful.
Ranadive, leader of the group that bought the team in late May, said Monday he wasn’t aware that Anderson was upset. Asked about the matter after a press conference at Sleep Train Arena’s practice facility to announce center DeMarcus Cousins’ contract extension, Ranadive referred a reporter to Kings minority owner Mark Mastrov, who has known Anderson for years.
Mastrov said he, too, didn’t know of any issues between Anderson and the new ownership group.
“Darius is my friend,” Mastrov said, adding that the two talk frequently. “I don’t know what he could be ticked off about.”
As far as Anderson’s absence in team ownership, Mastrov said: “He’s a Burkle guy, he’s not a Vivek guy, and Burkle didn’t get the team.”
Burkle and Anderson initially tried to buy the Kings in 2011, when the former owners, the Maloofs, were threatening to move the team to Anaheim. Anderson and Mayor Kevin Johnson swept into a meeting of the NBA board of governors in New York, telling league executives that new ownership led by Burkle could revive the struggling franchise in Sacramento.
The Maloofs rebuffed the offer, and Burkle and Anderson backed off. But they resurfaced after the Maloofs made a deal in January to sell the Kings to investors who planned to move the team to Seattle.
Anderson and Burkle led the initial charge, along with Mastrov, to buy the team and build a badly needed new arena at Downtown Plaza – a critical piece of Sacramento’s counteroffensive against Seattle. Anderson was revealed as being part of the investment group, led by San Francisco’s JMA Ventures, that bought the decaying shopping mall in 2012. Burkle flew to New York to lobby NBA Commissioner David Stern on the virtues of the site.
When the Sacramento City Council voted in late March to tentatively approve a $258 million public subsidy for the arena, it was Anderson who addressed the council on the owners’ behalf. A few days later, he and Burkle were part of the Sacramento entourage that made a formal presentation to the NBA’s relocation committee in New York.
But a week later, Burkle withdrew from the ownership team. His explanation was a conflict of interest: He’s also an investor in a sports-management firm that represents NBA players. By that point, Ranadive had already been installed as leader of the Sacramento ownership group.
In May, shortly after the NBA vetoed the Seattle deal, Ranadive’s group announced it had bought Downtown Plaza from JMA Ventures for an undisclosed sum. JMA was named “master developer” to overhaul the rest of Downtown Plaza, and city officials have said Burkle could play a role in that ancillary work. Possible projects include a hotel, retail and other amenities.