The owners of the Sacramento Kings announced Monday the team will stay put for at least one more season – giving the region and the National Basketball Association time for one final push to build a new arena.
NBA officials quickly announced a commitment to make one last effort over the next 10 months to pave the way to replace Power Balance Pavilion. The league is sending nine people to Sacramento Tuesday to provide expert support in the regional effort to construct a new arena and to help the Kings’ owners, the Maloofs, lead the team to a successful next season, NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a teleconference Monday afternoon.
Kings fans, elected officials and business leaders reveled in the news after such an outcome seemed impossible roughly two weeks earlier, when Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson appeared before National Basketball Association team owners to argue the case for keeping the Kings here. At that time, the team’s move to Anaheim seemed certain.
On Monday morning, more than 125 people turned out for a celebratory press conference outside City Hall.
"This is one of the proudest moments in my life because the community believed when no one else did," Johnson said. "This was our playoffs. And Anaheim: We won!"
Video by Brandon Darnell.
An outpouring of support for the team from Johnson, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, regional elected officials, the business community and Kings fans convinced the NBA and the Maloofs to give the region until March 1, 2012, to make a substantial effort to provide a new home for the Kings, Stern said.
"We came away with a strong sense that this was worth the additional year because it seemed to us to be so important that the leaders of Sacramento … would not allow the opportunity to pass without getting it done," said Stern, who had talked personally with Johnson and Steinberg about the current level of support for a new arena. "We are feeling pretty good about the prospects here."
Sacramento officials will need to present solid information about design, funding and timelines by then. However, if regional support for arena construction can’t be galvanized and a plan isn’t finalized by next spring, that will be the league’s last effort to get an arena built here.
NBA officials, including members of the league’s Relocation Committee, told the Maloofs the league would then support their decision to move "wherever they choose to go" in 2012/13, he said.
The Maloofs had a deadline to file a request to move the team by 5 p.m. Eastern time Monday.
In an announcement emailed shortly after 9 a.m. Monday, the Maloofs said fan support and Johnson’s push to get a new arena built were instrumental in their decision not to ask the league for permission to move.
"The fans’ spirit and energy, specifically our season ticket holders, has been remarkable and we are truly thankful for their loyalty," they said in the prepared statement. "We also are greatly appreciative of the support from our corporate sponsors as well as other local businesses that have come forward in recent weeks."
The Maloofs weren’t available to respond to questions following the announcement, a Kings spokesman said.
Local business leaders committed more than $10.2 million in financial support for the Kings if the team stayed another year.
The NBA didn’t have to do any "arm-twisting" to get the Maloofs to stay one more year. Relocation Committee members suggested to the Maloofs that they’d support a move in a year if they agreed to stay but the effort proved unsuccessful, Stern said.
The decision to keep the team in the state capital came after an NBA fact-finding visit here in the last two weeks. Billionaire Henry Samueli, whose company Anaheim Arena Management manages Anaheim’s Honda Center, upped the ante in his bid to lure the team to Anaheim.
He offered to provide a personal loan of at least $75 million to the Maloofs and personally invest more than $70 million for improvements at the Honda Center.
Officials with the city of Anaheim and Anaheim Arena Management, owned by Samueli, are disappointed by the decision. But they will continue their effort to bring the NBA there soon, they said in emailed statements.
“The bottom line is this: The final chapter has not been written," Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said. "Anaheim will continue to move forward and we remain optimistic to one day welcoming professional basketball to Anaheim.”
Anaheim Arena Management Chairman Michael Schulman added, "We are continuing our pursuit of an NBA team for our venue…. We look forward to securing a franchise for area fans in the very near future.”
Billionaire Ron Burkle’s interest in buying the Kings to keep the team in Sacramento – or buying another team if they left – helped keep the region in the game in the eyes of the NBA, Johnson said.
Burkle and the Burkle Group are still interested in being part owners of the Kings. No discussion has been set up with the Maloofs since the decision to remain in Sacramento was announced, but the family knows how to get in touch with the group, San Francisco investor Darius Anderson said following the press conference.
"We would love to be here as part of the ownership group," said Anderson, who took part in the press conference.
In one year, the Maloofs will want to see a "critical path" laid to build a new arena. But ground doesn’t need to be broken by then, Johnson said.
Building a new arena for Kings games, big concerts and other events would be catalytic for development downtown, especially in the railyards, Westfield Downtown Plaza and K Street Mall, said Johnson, describing the issue as “bigger than basketball."
"If we go forward and build a sports and entertainment complex, it’s going to prove to all of us that we can find a way to make big things happen," he said. "We always felt like this could be a turning point for our community and our region working together.”
Johnson wasn’t the only person who appeared to be all smiles at the press conference. Developer David Taylor, who is working on an arena feasibility study for the city, Assistant City Manager John Dangberg and Sacramento Metro Chamber President Matt Mahood also beamed.
Johnson described Steinberg, also at the press conference, as a “scrappy fighter” who worked “in the trenches with us all along the way.” The two leaders communicated constantly throughout the weekend.
Sacramento City Council members are ready to start meeting to determine how to build an arena, Councilman Rob Fong said at the press conference.
The Maloofs called Johnson early Monday morning to tell him about their decision and say they’re committed to working with the city for the next year. The mayor will meet with the Maloofs this week to talk about how to move forward.
The arena feasibility study is expected to be completed by the end of May. Officials will then present options for public/private financing of the arena to the community so an arena can be built and the Kings never leave, Johnson said.
Chris Granger, executive vice president of the NBA’s Team Marketing and Business Operations, senior NBA communications advisor Brian McIntyre and seven others from the NBA will arrive in Sacramento by Tuesday. No meetings have been finalized with the mayor’s office, Johnson’s staff said.
They will provide all the support they can to the Maloofs. They will work in “all aspects” of team operations, including marketing, finance, ticket sales and corporate sponsorship. They’ll also work with politicians, planners and others during a campaign to build a new arena, Stern said.
Stern said he considers it a failure for the NBA to lose any market, especially one as supportive as Sacramento.
It would be fair if the Maloofs and anyone else who’s watched the team’s efforts to build a new arena over the last 10 years are skeptical that it can get done this time. Still, NBA officials and staff will provide all the support they can to see if this “shared vision” can become reality, he said.
"If not, then it will be our shared failure,” Stern said.
Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @SuzanneHurt.