LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.– The fourth-quarter rally led by LeBron James in the 61st NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night was impressive, but not quite enough.
On Monday afternoon, Mayor Kevin Johnson, a three-time former All-Star himself, showed how to close the deal in announcing a handshake deal with the Maloof family that will build a new downtown arena and keep the Kings in Sacramento.
“I really want to jump up and down right now, because I’m so excited,” said a smiling Johnson, standing in a hallway of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where the sides had been meeting for the past two days.
“It’s a new day for Sacramento. We’ve all been working around the clock to get to this point and it’s going to be a defining moment for our community. We have the framework of an agreement going forward.”
According to Joe Maloof, his family will make an upfront contribution of $73-million to the $387-million arena project. George Maloof said that the family will contribute roughly another $75-million over the life of the agreement. The additional money will be funded by a surcharge on tickets for arena events.
“Our family is just so excited,” said Joe Maloof. “We have a framework for a deal. We always said we wanted to stay in Sacramento and now here’s our opportunity.”
That opportunity hardly seemed likely less than a year ago when talks between the Maloofs and the city were not fruitful and the family began to entertain offers to relocate the team to Anaheim, Calif.
The sides were working under a March 1 deadline set by the NBA in order for the details of a deal to be reached or the league would have cleared a path for relocation.
“(The Maloofs) have been a part of the glory years of Sacramento,” Johnson said. “They’ve been part of the ups and downs and they said that they always wanted to be in Sacramento,” Johnson said. “They are the ones that decided not to file for relocation last May. Had they filed, we wouldn’t be in this position. But they said they were going to give us a year.”
When the Sacramento city council votes, as expected, to approve the deal on March 6, it will likely dash the hopes of not only Anaheim, but Seattle as well. NBA commissioner David Stern had said over the weekend that a new ownership group for the New Orleans Hornets is expected to be approved soon, eliminating them for potential relocation, and the league has no plans for expansion beyond its current 30 teams.
“I think when we left Sacramento and came to Orlando, you guys asked me how close were we,” Johnson said. “I thought it was a free throw and you need to make two free throws. I think the city made the first free throw and the Maloof family made the second free throw. It’s game-over, so our community should be really, really excited.”
Both sides said Stern was a driving force in the bringing the deal to a successful conclusion in the final days and the commissioner said that was the mandate given to him by the league’s owners.
“From an NBA perspective, the owners … authorized me to be as supportive as we can possibly be in this process so that we could cement the future of the NBA in Sacramento. I’ve had the great pleasure, tuxedo and all, of opening up two arenas and I’m looking forward to opening up a third in Sacramento.
“That was my hope last April when it came to a head. That’s what we’ve spent a year doing. There have been some who suggested it was a fool’s errand, but I don’t think any of us felt the least bit foolish. We think this was a worthy cause, a worthy goal and if you bang your head against the wall enough, you get good results.”
Johnson said his confidence grew during the day-long negotiations on Sunday.
“They’ve said all along that they wanted to be in Sacramento and we just had to put a deal together that made sense to them,” he said. “When I heard them say that yesterday, that just gave me the certainty that there was a sincere effort on everyone’s part to be in Sacramento.”
Johnson characterized the deal as “something bigger than basketball,” a spur to the renewal of downtown Sacramento.
Stern said the agreement would lead to Sacramento having an NBA celebration like the one that just concluded in Orlando.
“We’re talking about hotel stock right now and we’re working on it,” he said. “We’ll turn downtown into a festival of All-Star Weekend eventually.”
Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof literally shed tears of joy at the announcement, taking nearly a minute to compose himself before TV cameras.
“I think it’s great for our community,” he said. “I’m glad that it’s finally coming to an end after 13 years.”