DALLAS – The Kings are staying in Sacramento. Can we say that again? The Kings are staying in Sacramento.
In what would have been considered a major upset only four months ago, the NBA board of governors looked hard at Seattle but did a double-take when evaluating Sacramento. Come again?
The league's owners remembered almost three decades of good times – of sellout streaks and international appeal and impassioned crowds even when the team was terrible. They listened to members of the relocation committee and, yes, to their stubborn, respected, retiring commissioner. And, ultimately, they envisioned a revived franchise with impressive new owners, a state-of-the-art arena and an invigorated fan base.
"This was not an anti-Seattle vote," Commissioner David Stern said Wednesday. "This was a pro-Sacramento vote."
It's true. It happened. Lightning struck, thunder rolled in, and tornado warnings were issued throughout the city known as Big D. But all that happened later in the evening. In the afternoon, while rain pelted the hotel where the owners convened to determine the Kings' future, the Sacramento entourage pitched a near-perfect storm of a presentation.
Mayor Kevin Johnson spoke about jobs and economic development and the community's commitment to his hometown's only major professional sports franchise. Vivek Ranadive put 100 percent of the counteroffer into escrow and, in another interesting turn of events, announced that one of the nation's largest swimwear manufacturers had joined his potential ownership group. Prominent local developer Mark Friedman, who later emotionally likened the Kings' journey to the book "The Little Engine That Could," convincingly addressed the issues involved with demolishing Downtown Plaza and constructing a sports and entertainment complex by 2016.
"This is just an incredible day for Sacramento," said Mike Tavares, one of the dozen Kings fans who flew here and hung out in the hotel lobby while awaiting the outcome. "Nobody thought we could do it. With the community coming together, the politicians and the business leaders, and KJ pulling everybody in, it's a Hollywood story."
And about that ending?
And about what happens next?
In yet another extremely interesting development in this once-in-a-lifetime event, the once-feuding Sacramento parties shook hands, revealed plans to engage in intense negotiations during the ensuing 24 to 48 hours, and appeared to be inching toward a potential sale.
"It is expected that we will be able to make a deal with the Maloofs and the Ranadive group to transfer the sale of the team," Stern revealed, adding that attorneys for both the current and prospective Kings owners quietly had been negotiating the backup offer for several weeks.
George Maloof wouldn't take matters quite that far. When pushed into a corner – literally pressed against the wall near the front desk by a crush of reporters – Joe and Gavin's younger brother left his other options open. He reminded everyone that the family still maintains controlling interest. With a straight face, he said the possibility of forming a partnership agreement with Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer – in Sacramento – was not out of the question. He smiled often and occasionally laughed, said he was disappointed with the outcome, and graciously and without any hint of defiance endured the grilling.
But this was most significant: George Maloof also referred to the process as "fair;" said legal action was a nonstarter; praised the commissioner and the committee for extensive work on the matter; confirmed the family's attorneys had been negotiating with Ranadive; and said that long before agreeing on a $341 million deal (with a $525 million franchise valuation) with the Hansen/Ballmer group in Seattle, unsuccessful attempts had been made to sell to investors intent on keeping the team in Sacramento.
Later, when asked why he never went public about a desire to sell to a local group, he said, "That's not the way I do business."
And almost relocating to Anaheim two years ago? And withdrawing from the railyard deal last year? And Virginia Beach and Seattle and the continual rumors about Las Vegas? And the fact that what George wants isn't necessarily what Joe and Gavin want? Indeed, matriarch Colleen Maloof is said to be the family member most resistant to overtures from other cities, including Seattle.
But that's all history. What matters is that, finally, there seems to be a graceful exit strategy for all concerned. Get the deal done. Compromise and figure out something that works.
The league already secured one of its proven, established franchises and, by the way, has discussed an expansion team for Seattle. The Maloofs clearly want to get out of their current Kings obligations and off to other ventures. The Ranadive group has satisfied the other owners about the depth of its pockets.
So who needs a Hollywood ending? A few more handshakes and a Sacramento flourish would be just fine.
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.