Sacramento shows NBA the money, awaits decision

The NBA left town Tuesday.

There's no guarantee it will be back.

Mayor Kevin Johnson, business leaders and fans have done all they could in the past few months to prevent the Sacramento Kings from relocating to Anaheim.

The final and perhaps most critical step came Tuesday, when the corporate community handed NBA representatives deposits on more than $10 million in sponsorship pledges for the Kings to stay at least another year.

"Today is another historic day in Sacramento," Johnson said. "The NBA had said to Sacramento, 'Show me the money.' And today, we're doing just that. We're making a down payment on the future of the Sacramento Kings and this being their permanent home."

Now the decision is out of the city's control.

The NBA relocation committee headed by Clay Bennett — who moved the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City three years ago as owner — will issue a final report to Commissioner David Stern later this week. Then Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof will finally decide the franchise's fate.

The Maloofs have until Monday to file a relocation request to the league, which fellow owners would have to approve by a majority vote. The Maloofs remain undecided.

Sacramento has used the two extensions from the original March 1 deadline to rally the business community and convince owners that Sacramento remains a viable NBA city. Johnson, a former NBA All-Star, has been at the center of that effort.

He promised additional revenue for the Kings from area businesses in a desperate pitch to NBA owners earlier this month in New York. The league first sent Bennett and league counsel Harvey Benjamin to Sacramento on a fact-finding mission last week, and the two dispatched additional representatives to verify the mayor's claims.

Chris Granger, the NBA's executive vice president who heads the Team Marketing & Business Operations division, was among those from the league who met with Johnson and some 30 business leaders at Golden 1 Credit Union in Sacramento.

Among the businesses represented were local branches of McDonald's, AT&T, Anheuser-Busch, Jiffy Lube and Wells Fargo. All of those in attendance said the NBA representatives left impressed.

"Three weeks ago many of us were thinking that there's not a chance that we're going to keep the Sacramento Kings here in Sacramento. They're going to move to Anaheim," said Matt Mahood, president of the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce. "But there was just this little crack, this little opening that the mayor saw to take advantage of.

"And he called us to rally the business community to demonstrate the kind of corporate support that we have here that it takes to keep the NBA franchise. And we put the call out to the business community, and they answered the call loud and clear. They have put their money where their mouth is."

There are still major details that remain unsettled.

The primary reason the Maloofs have explored relocation — several failed efforts to build a new arena in Sacramento — won't be answered by the deadline. A feasibility study for a new arena in Sacramento isn't scheduled to be completed until the end of May, and there has always been a divide between Kings fans and the broader public on how to finance a facility.

There were already a half-dozen protesters standing a few feet away while Johnson and business leaders met at the credit union, expressing their concern over public time — and dollars — spent on a private sports team. They held signs that read "We need education not recreation" and "If we don't work, they don't play."

"Politicians have more serious things to worry about. We need to invest the kind of time and energy on more important things like education and jobs," said Keon Johnson, one of those on hand to protest.

Four California lawmakers, including the leader of the state Senate, sent a letter to Stern on Tuesday pledging to work with local leaders over the next year to try to build a sports and performing arts complex to replace the Kings' arena.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, said he would use his clout to make sure his district gets its share of state bond money that could go to build the complex.

Johnson's efforts have been concentrated on keeping the Kings for at least another year to allow for the time to approve a plan to build a new facility. For now, he waits, only hoping to have another opportunity to approve a plan for a new Kings arena.

"The moment we get word," the mayor said, "if we're lucky enough — and this is not to be presumptuous — but if we're lucky enough to be given another year in Sacramento, then we have to immediately start our new campaign for an entertainment and sports complex."


Associated Press writer Don Thompson contributed to this report.