DALLAS Sacramento, nearly beaten five months ago, is keeping its Kings after all.
Meeting behind closed doors in the sprawling Hilton Anatole hotel, the NBA board of governors on Wednesday finally resolved the most vexing question the league has yet faced over a team's future and did so in resounding fashion.
By a 22-8 vote, following hours of debate and last-minute pitches, the league's 30 owners killed a 5-month-old deal between the Maloof family and wealthy Seattle suitors to buy the team and move it to the Pacific Northwest.
The board ruled that Sacramento's last-minute push to put together a buyer's group, draw up an arena financing plan and win City Council approval was more than enough for the city to keep the team it has called its own the last 28 years.
The decision, announced by Commissioner David Stern at a packed news conference in the Hilton, represents a huge victory for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who led the city's come-from-behind effort that seemed a few months ago to have little or no chance against a well-financed Seattle deal to buy the team.
Johnson recruited an ever-evolving group of deep-pocketed private investors he called them "whales" who hastily put together a counter-offer for the Kings. The mayor also rushed a $448 million arena deal, with a city subsidy of at least $258 million, through the City Council.
Stern said the battle between the two cities came down to a simple fact. "It was advantage incumbent," he said. "This wasn't an anti-Seattle vote, this was a pro-Sacramento vote."
A major issue remains unresolved, however. The Maloof family, owners of the Kings since 1999, have not yet agreed to sign a backup offer from the Sacramento investor group, and team co-owner George Maloof insisted after the vote Wednesday that "there's no pressure on us" to sell the team.
Stern said he will personally push for a deal to be signed by the end of this week. Maloof and Vivek Ranadive, the Silicon Valley tech executive who heads the Sacramento buyers group, both acknowledged their attorneys have been talking quietly about a deal for several weeks.
One person close to the talks revealed late in the day that attorneys between the two sides had been talking "seriously" throughout the day, even before the NBA board of governors voted. Those talks included exchanging deal documents, the source said.
Speaking to The Bee late Wednesday, Ranadive, a current Golden State Warriors co-owner, affirmed his confidence.
"I have no doubt we'll get something done," he said.
At a press briefing in Dallas after the vote, a pleased but notably subdued Mayor Johnson expressed gratitude across the board, to the NBA, to Ranadive, to Sacramento's fans and to the business community. He also lauded the Maloofs, whom he called a proud family that deserves credit for keeping a critical door open for Sacramento by allowing the the city to make a backup offer to Seattle's bid.
"I got a chance to see George Maloof, Gavin and Joe afterwards," Johnson said. "We shook hands. They said congratulations."
Johnson said he expects the two sides to negotiate around the clock in the coming days to pull a deal together. The mayor later was seen talking with George Maloof at the hotel restaurant.
The mayor reiterated his belief that the planned arena in Downtown Plaza represents a major turning point for downtown Sacramento.
"We've said this time and time again, building a building downtown is bigger than basketball," he said. "It's transformative. You're going to see a situation where Sacramento will be changed forever for the good because of what's transpired in the last couple days."
A 'piece of history'
Several Sacramento business and political leaders chimed in Wednesday.
State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Sacramento "wants its Kings ... they want that downtown investment," and Roger Niello, president of the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, called the vote "great news for the region's overall economic health.
"From restaurateurs to retailers, from hoteliers to mom-and-pop businesses, this news couldn't be better from an economic development standpoint."
Todd Chapman of JMA Ventures, owner of Downtown Plaza, said his company is looking forward to working with the city to turn the plaza into a centerpiece.
Kings fans, who have experienced emotional ups and downs for two years, let loose pent-up joy Wednesday on Twitter posts, at downtown restaurant gatherings, and in the lobby of the Dallas hotel.
Curtis Corona, 30, an Elk Grove schoolteacher and film student who's working on a sequel to the Kings documentary "Small Market, Big Heart," took two days off from work to be in Dallas for the announcement.
"This was a piece of history," he said. "It's awesome. What a day!"
Seattle fans in turn took to the Twittersphere to complain about Stern's handling of a competition they said they believe their city should have won.
Wednesday contained a handful of smaller surprises in what continues to be a fluid situation.
Ranadive announced at the post-vote news conference that his ownership group has added yet another major partner, Raj Bhathal, owner of RAJ Manufacturing, a swimwear company, who was an unsuccessful bidder for the New Orleans Hornets basketball team in 2012.
Like Ranadive, Bhathal was born in India. He came to the United States in the 1960s, and lives in Southern California.
Sources close to the deal said the Ranadive group improved its chances of swaying the Maloofs at the penultimate moment by agreeing to put 100 percent of the money it would owe the Maloofs into an escrow account. Ranadive said that was done on Tuesday.
Stern said the Ranadive group secured $240 million for their offer. That amount includes roughly $200 million to buy the franchise from the Maloofs that has been placed in an escrow account, plus a cushion of $40 million to operate the franchise.
That offer is based on a franchise valuation of $525 million.
Under that valuation, the Maloofs' controlling interest in the team would be worth $341 million. However, Ranadive has agreed to absorb a line of credit the Maloofs have with the NBA, as well as assume the payments of a $64 million loan owed to the city of Sacramento by the Kings franchise related to Sleep Train Arena, a source close to the deal said. The value of those debts was removed from the amount that would be given to the Maloofs.
Chris Hansen, the leader of the Seattle group that had offered what would have been an NBA record price for the team, expressed disappointment on his website, but thanked the NBA and hinted that he still would like to be a limited partner with the Maloofs.
"While we are obviously extremely disappointed with today's relocation vote and truly believe we put forth both a significantly better offer and arena plan, we do thank the league and the owners for their time and consideration and look forward to hearing back on our agreement to join the Maloofs as limited partners in the Kings," he wrote.
He seemed, in another sentence, however, to acknowledge his opportunity to buy the Kings had passed. "Our day will come," he wrote, "and when it does it will just be that much sweeter for the struggle."
Hansen and the Maloofs signed a backup plan last week in which the Maloofs would sell him 20 percent of the team, with options to buy more later.
George Maloof did not address that agreement when he spoke briefly with reporters afterward. Ranadive brushed aside the question of whether he would consider taking Hansen on as part owner. "I really haven't considered that."
Adam Silver, the NBA executive who will become commissioner next year when Stern retires, suggested Seattle may have a better shot now at an expansion team than previously thought.
"We have never wavered in our desire to return to the Seattle market at some point," he said. "Expansion was discussed (today), at least as a possibility down the road we fully expect to return (to Seattle) one day."
NBA officials say the pressure is now on to get a deal signed on new team ownership, saying the Kings are already months behind on putting together a ticket sales program for next season.
Opposition in Sacramento to the city's arena financing effort continued Wednesday.
A group called Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork (STOP) formally notified the City Clerk's Office that it would begin collecting signatures to place an initiative on the ballot to require public votes on sports arena subsidies.
Julian Camacho, the group's chairman, said the City Council's decision to approve a subsidy for the arena is "putting the city at risk by mortgaging our future in a time of fiscal crisis."
On Tuesday, Camacho and two others filed a suit against the city, alleging the city has purposefully hidden the total amount of the subsidy it has offered as part of an arena financing deal it signed with the Ranadive group two months ago. City officials put the subsidy at $258 million. Camacho's group contends it may be as high as $338 million.
Call The Bee's Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.