When NBA teams try to move to another city, they generally get their way.
But not always.
As Mayor Kevin Johnson tries to keep the Sacramento Kings from moving to Seattle, he can take heart from the story of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The NBA prohibited the team from moving to New Orleans in 1994. It's believed to be the last time the NBA rejected a formal relocation request.
The NBA even sued the Timberwolves to make sure they stayed put. The team eventually sold to local owners.
"The NBA told them, 'Look for other buyers,' and they did," said attorney Elliott Kaplan, who represented the NBA in the case.
Sacramento's circumstance is different. But as was the case in Minnesota, Johnson's strategy relies on persuading the NBA to take the unusual step of vetoing a team's relocation petition.
Johnson plans to present the NBA with a local purchase offer to compete against the reported $525 million offered to the Kings' owners, the Maloofs, by a group from Seattle.
He appears to have the support of NBA Commissioner David Stern. Stern gave him permission to speak this spring to the NBA's board of governors, a group made up of the league's 30 team owners. Stern also got entertainment conglomerate AEG which would have run the arena proposed for downtown Sacramento last year if the Maloofs hadn't abandoned the plan to declare that it remains committed to the project if the team stays in town.
Still, there's no predicting which city will win.
Former NBA executive Andy Dolich said the owners will weigh Sacramento's past success and loyalty to the NBA against Seattle's ample wealth. The board of governors will insist on seeing revenue projections for the team in its proposed new home.
"You have to be pretty specific," said Dolich, who was president of the Vancouver Grizzlies when they moved to Memphis in 2001. "The building, demographics of the marketplace, broadcasting."
Dolich said NBA owners want the Kings located in whatever market enhances the overall prosperity of the league and their own franchises.
"The blood of this is green it's money," he said.
The Maloofs have bumped into relocation resistance before. They were on the verge of applying to move to Anaheim in 2011. Then Johnson, a former NBA star, breezed into New York's St. Regis Hotel and persuaded the board of governors to give Sacramento one more chance. The Maloofs backed away from Anaheim without petitioning for relocation.
Dolich said the NBA doesn't take relocation lightly "stability is important."
But the league is also wary of picking a fight with one of its owners, especially if it could spill into the courts.
When the Maloofs went to the board of governors last year to explain why they were abandoning an arena project for downtown Sacramento, they brought with them a lawyer specializing in antitrust cases.
Attorney Barry McNeil never mentioned antitrust, the law of anti-competitive behavior. But his credentials were duly noted by Stern at a press conference later, and the issue makes sports leagues jumpy.
The NFL lost a famous antitrust suit to the Oakland Raiders' Al Davis in 1982 when the league tried to block his move to Los Angeles.
Legal experts said it's not clear if the Maloofs would have a case, especially if a Sacramento bidder offers as much for the team as Seattle. Still, it might make the NBA think twice about blocking a relocation.
"Leagues certainly have to consider the possibility of an antitrust claim by a person who's denied the right to buy a club and move it," said Matt Mitten, a sports-law expert at Marquette University. "I don't think leagues are terrified
but it's something they've got to consider."