Stern hopeful, skeptical about Sacramento arena

NBA Commissioner David Stern sees the energy of Sacramento's mayor and business community, and it gives him hope of a future there for the Kings.

He also sees years of failure on a plan for a new arena, so there's just as much skepticism.

"I would expect, given the number of failed arena opportunities that exist here, or that have occurred, I think it would be fair for many of the people on this call to be skeptical about whether or not there will finally be a successful path and a critical one to an arena," Stern said Monday during a conference call.

"But this may be that special moment where forces join together for this opportunity, realize what the needs are for a sports and entertainment complex for greater Sacramento."

The Maloof family's decision not to file for relocation to Anaheim before Monday's deadline gives Sacramento another year to come up with a plan for the new building that the Kings and the league believe is necessary for the team to survive there.

So Sacramento gets another try — and in Stern's eyes, there won't be another.

"If this becomes yet the fifth or sixth or seventh (failure), it'll be the last, as far as we're concerned, effort with respect to an arena," Stern said.

The NBA has become so dubious of a new building for California's state capital that Stern recently said talk of it was usually an "eye-roller" among league officials. Yet he saw a renewed reason for optimism after a presentation by Mayor Kevin Johnson last month.

Stern said he is sending a team of nine league officials to Sacramento this week to assist with marketing, tickets and the arena. But the league has long been assisting the Maloofs in their quest to find financing for a replacement for the former Arco Arena, and Stern has the same view as co-owner Joe Maloof, who said earlier Monday that his family doesn't "have the answer."

The hope is that Johnson does. The former NBA All-Star impressed league owners with his pitch to them the day after the season ended, and by leading the drive to arrange $10 million in sponsorship pledges from the corporate community in just weeks.

And he vowed that Sacramento will have a new sports and entertainment complex, whether the Kings stay or not.

Stern contrasted the efforts of Johnson and other Sacramento leaders with those of Seattle in the final hours of the SuperSonics. Stern personally had traveled to Washington state in efforts to help arrange funding for a renovation or replacement for Key Arena, but left believing some politicians weren't interested in saving the team, which eventually moved to Oklahoma City.

"I guess what I would say is in Seattle, there was a hostility by the mayor, who was interested in doing nothing, as opposed to what Mayor Johnson has, the way Mayor Johnson has put himself out on this for the people of Sacramento," Stern said.

"The Speaker of the House was hostile to the NBA and its players and was not the least bit interested in moving any legislation even that just authorized the county, King County, to do that which it might have done to help support an arena. Whereas here, we have Senator (Darrell) Steinberg calling to say, you know, 'Any way in which I can be helpful.' You know, to call it night and day, it's absolutely an incredible difference. And it is night and day. It's 180 degrees difference."

Stern said losing the Sacramento market would be a "grave failure" given its history of being a supportive fan base. He said the Maloofs haven't expressed any concerns to him about the size of the Sacramento market, but he shares their worries about whether an arena will ever be built.

"With respect to the issue of an arena, I think anyone who's watched this over the last decade or so has the right to say, 'We'll see.' That's all," Stern said.