In the opening hours of the NBA All-Star Weekend, Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive met with Bee sports columnist Ailene Voisin for a conversation that touched on a variety of topics. Seated in the lobby restaurant of a hotel, Ranadive, dressed casually in jeans and a dark zippered warmup jacket, offered his thoughts about the season, coach Michael Malone, the proposed downtown arena and his plans to brand the Kings as a global team. He was particularly animated when talking about Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and their differences on the role of social media and technology in the in-game experience.
Let’s start with an assessment of your first nine months of ownership. Is this what you expected? More difficult? Any obvious mistakes?
First and foremost, it’s been the most humbling experience of my life. The love and outpouring of support I get from the people of Sacramento is beyond my wildest expectations. I have just fallen in love with the place.
The reason for the warm reception, of course, is that fans credit you with keeping the Kings from moving to Seattle. A Vivek Ranadive had to emerge or the Kings would have become the SuperSonics.
Yes, I get that, but still, when I see people bringing their kids, the people who work for the Kings, they make me feel so loved. There is a family feeling and a warmth and genuineness that is uniquely Sacramento.
Are you still planning to buy a condo or a farm in the area?
I’m still interested in a farm. Vegetables, maybe almonds. My dad always owned a farm, and that’s been in my heritage. And the whole farm-to-fork movement, Sacramento is the capital of. So somewhere in me, I’ve always had that desire.
How much did the community’s passion for the franchise factor into the design of the new arena? If capacity remains the same (approximately 17,500), it will be the smallest facility in the league.
We wanted to be intimate, to keep that communal fireplace feeling. We looked at all the arenas, and I think what we ended up with the most intimate arena in the country.
I was forewarned that you did not want to go into details about the ongoing arena process, but can you offer a few general observations? A preliminary ruling is expected this week on whether the public contribution goes on the ballot in June.
Just kind of stepping back, when I took over, we started from scratch. There is no other word for it than a turnaround. We just paid $535 million for something that had no revenue, no ticket sales, an arena that is falling apart, that had chaos in the locker room, leadership that was falling apart, and so I had to just quickly stabilize everything. And kind of keeping with my philosophy of surrounding myself with people smarter than me, I think I’ve done that. (Team president) Chris Granger is one of the top guys in the NBA.
But have the politics of the arena situation been discouraging or disillusioning?
No, I just feel that I kind of understand that people have different views. This is a situation where we bought the team, we bought the Downtown Plaza and I’m a very optimistic person.
So back to the team. You were forced to move quickly because the NBA draft was only three weeks after the sale was finalized May 31. Was hiring a rookie head coach a wise decision? Are you satisfied with the team’s progress under Michael Malone? The sentiment within the community and around the league is that the Kings should have more than 18 wins.
I think Michael Malone is going to be a great coach. He was thrown into a situation where there was a lot of dysfunction, and we said the first year is not going to be measured on wins and losses. Do we have a culture? Do we have a system? Are we developing our players? I believe we’re moving in the right direction.
So you’re satisfied? The fans are becoming increasingly restless.
Believe me, we’re not satisfied. There is nobody who wants to win more. Every loss is a dagger to my heart. But when I got into this, I said we didn’t want a quick fix. We wanted to build a foundation, so we weren’t going to take shortcuts.
What about the philosophical differences between your coach and your front office?
Look, I know people talk about that my coach is always focusing on defense, while guys like Mullie (Chris Mullin, adviser) and Petey (D’Alessandro, general manager) are offense-oriented. And that we have offensive players. It’s no secret the game has become an offensive game, with three-point shots, layups, the rule changes. We all see it. So we have to reconcile that. And I think it’s good. If I had everyone who agreed, why would I want them?
What about your personnel moves? Greivis Vasquez didn’t work out, but you were able to shed several contracts in the trade for Rudy Gay. And re-signing DeMarcus Cousins to an extension was another major commitment. Those are two major talents. Are you getting a return on the investment?
I’m very pleased with those decisions. When I bought the team, everybody told me the first thing you should do is get rid of DeMarcus, including the previous management. But I just kept an open mind, and I interacted with the young man. And what I saw was a young man who wanted to win and had experienced nothing but chaos during his time with the Kings. Throughout the season he has proven that he wants to win, and he is maturing. I can’t fault him because he wants to win so much.
Do you talk to him very often?
Sure, and I text him when I see something.
How specific? Do you tell him to run the floor or leave the referees alone?
No, no. I just challenge him to be better, but I do that with everybody, including myself. I wake up every day and ask, “How can I be better?” I do have a million ideas, and every now then the coach will look at me and say, “See? See?” (Laugh) Everyone knows about the “V Play.”
Speaking of a million ideas, you were a featured panelist for a discussion about “advanced stats” at the annual tech summit here, along with Mark Cuban, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson and CEOs from Yahoo and other nonsports companies. While the summit was off-record, you and Cuban consistently disagree on the merits of mobile devices and digital media during games. Mark wants fans watching the game, not looking down at iPhones and iPads, while you advocate a broader multi-device experience. This has the makings of a deliciously competitive rivalry, by the way.
Obviously Mark is a brilliant guy, and he’s won a championship. But we’re trying to do something completely different. We’re trying to build a global brand. His views on mobile – when he said in the Business Week article “When I first came in the league, I agreed with Vivek,” I was going to say, “Dude, when you came in the league that was the year 2000. That was a good seven years before my friend Steve (Jobs) created the iPhone. (Laugh). So I don’t know how you had an iPhone because there weren’t any. (Laugh) And do you want me to show you a picture of you texting at a game?” – which I did.
Can you summarize your vision?
Your kids are going to look at their phone 400 times a day whether you like it or not, and if a fan comes and pays the price of admission, drives all the way, battles traffic, they should have at least the same information they can get at home. And they should be able to order food without leaving their seats. To knock mobile is a Luddite view of the world. It’s not one or the other. You can watch the game, high-five your friend, or interact with other fans. We want to be the showcase for the three vectors: globalization, technology, and sport as an agent to contribute to the local community.
I want fans to have content like they never had before. How many channels do you have on your television at home?
So we live in a world where everybody has 700 channels. And the web is infinitely diverse and big, and yet everyone’s bored. I think it’s the difference between Silicon Valley – and I don’t know what world Cuban lives in, but it’s an older view of the world. (Laugh). And again, he has been great to me. I have a lot of respect for Mark.
Both David Stern and his successor, Adam Silver, targeted India for the next phase of the league’s global expansion. Given the lack of facilities and infrastructure, realistically, how long until the NBA schedules preseason games in your hometown, Mumbai? And how, specifically, will you benefit in India from your Kings ownership? Merchandise sales? Corporate sponsorships?
Right now, we’re just saying we’ll build out the fan base. When you approach these things, you take a long-term view. You don’t ask, “How am I going to make money right now?”
Are you going to lose money this season?
Yes. But we’re not that concerned.
Did the fact the new collective bargaining agreement is favorable to small- and mid-market franchises influence your decision to buy the Kings?
It was a factor when I asked some smart money people to join me. I did explain to them we were at an important point in the evolution of the business. And, yes, in the past, most teams lost money. But with the new TV contract and all the things that were happening, this (NBA) was going to become more like the NFL.
Any clash of egos among your very large ownership group?
No, no. We speak with one voice. We want to be like the Spurs, but exciting. It is entertainment. I want the greatest show on earth.
Well, no team with DeMarcus Cousins will ever be boring.
Fans, they love a bad ass! (laugh).
So one final question. Do you read books and newspapers or are you strictly digital?
We’re entering an era where our kids will never read a newspaper or go to a bookstore. That’s why we believe in mobility, why I want to give our fans a ticketless, cashless experience. It’s a generational thing. I buy books and I read newspapers.