David Stern offered a bottom-line (flat-line?) statement on the future of the Kings in Sacramento during his annual preseason conference call with the media Friday, saying his hopes for a new arena there have “faded completely.” It just wasn’t an original statement.
Stern sent the exact same message when the league said it would no longer have an active role in the negotiations going nowhere fast. That was about a month ago, and that was the moment the relationship between the team and the city went on life support, not Friday.
Why did some so wrongly portray this as a watershed moment? Maybe because Stern’s words sounded so ominous. Or maybe because there were Stern words attached to it at all. But it was more re-stating the obvious than sending a message to a city.
The city had already gotten that message, no matter what some may think from afar. Brian Robinson, for one, wrote on SonicsCentral.com that “We’d been asleep at the wheel during the negotiation time,” apparently referring to fans in Seattle, and that the Stern comment signaled how Sacramento just lost its team even though “I doubt they know it yet.” Wrong. Among the many who may be saddened by developments, it’s impossible to imagine anyone shocked after what has been an exhaustive process there.
Robinson had been among the most visible Sonics fans during the packing-up days and his passion is exemplary, but to compare Seattle and Sacramento is connecting two situations that have no connection. Same league, around the same time, but that’s it. The Sonics were one of many prominent businesses in a region with an international corporate reach, the Kings are the only major-league team in a town that regards them as part of the identity. The Kings were not sold to an ownership group from a place trying to land a pro franchise, as was the case with Clay Bennett and his hometown of Oklahoma City. There is zero chance the Sacramento arena issue gets any play at the state level, unlike the Sonics and Washington. With the Kings, it’s a local issue and nothing more.
Whatever happened in Seattle, and it’s easy to find fans there still seething about being double-crossed, there have not been misleading statements from the league regarding the future of the Kings in Sacramento. In truth, they’ve been there this long only because of Stern – if the commissioner had told the Maloof family to move years ago, the team would have moved. Pulling out of the negotiations and appearing Friday to napalm remaining hope came only after countless failed arena proposals and years of mismanagement by the city and the team. When he thought there was hope, he said so. Now that he doesn’t think there is hope, he said so.
Is it a done deal the Kings are leaving? No. If some new plan unexpectedly poofs into a realistic option, the Maloofs will listen and the NBA will surely listen. Stern does not want to leave a market that has been a proven success for more economic uncertainty elsewhere. But are the Kings leaving? Probably. And that was the case before Friday.
The greatest hope to re-igniting the former love affair of team and city, strangely, has nothing to do with how either side looks at the other. Leaving is one thing but ending up somewhere is something else, and the Kings simply do not have an option that guarantees a better future. Seattle and Las Vegas have major arena headaches of their own and there are doubts whether Kansas City, with a building in place, can sustain an NBA franchise.
One member of the Board of Governors was asked about the dilemma: Are there any sound options for relocation, for the Kings or anyone?
“I would say none,” came the answer.
That is the last best hope for the Kings to stay – that everywhere else has problems too. It’s not much, but it’s something. Actually, it’s all Sacramento has right now.