Kevin Johnson’s Looming Challenge

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – There is no indication around the league that Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson has started to rally support among the NBA power brokers who could become his last line of defense to keep the Kings in Northern California, a backing that would be critical as part of a potential showdown vote.

He has obviously been in contact with the league office, including commissioner David Stern. But sources confirm Johnson has yet to reach out to many, if any, members of the Board of Governors who would decide whether to approve a sale if a deal is closed with the Chris HansenSteve Ballmer group that would move the team to Seattle.

If the Maloof family does sell to Hansen-Ballmer, as is a possibility, Johnson will be down to his final hope: The Board of Governors, one representative from each team, either an owner or high-ranking executive as proxy, refusing to approve.

Such an outcome would be very rare, and maybe even unprecedented, for the reasons Johnson would be pressing. The former All-Star point guard would be telling the BOGs to vote for Sacramento by voting against Seattle. He would, in essence, be urging owners to deny the bid of a group that by every indication has the financial resources and wants to CPR new life into a floundering franchise by moving it to a city with major corporate backing and a tradition of supporting sports.

That would require Johnson to build a coalition of very sympathetic and strong members of the Board of Governors.

Proposed ownership changes around the league that fell apart in the past were usually because the bank account wasn’t as impressive as the prospective buyer(s) had indicated. It is reasonable to think in this case that Stern would not have allowed the Seattle bid to get this far without being confident that at least the biggest names, Hansen and Ballmer, could pass the requisite financial and personal background checks. Plus, the city for the proposed relocation has everything a major-league market should have, including a new arena in the works.

If it comes down to the BOG, Johnson would be asking owners to ignore all that to believe Sacramento can match the past of 10 years ago, when the California capital was an example of what the NBA wanted in excitement and fan support. He would be asking them to turn down a city most everyone would want back in the NBA on the speculation of what might happen in a city that at the moment cannot say who will own the team, where it will play and where the money will come from if Johnson does get a group to make a credible bid for the Kings.

If the Seattle deal falls through and the Maloofs end up selling to owners who want to keep the team in Sacramento, Johnson’s BOG problem goes away. If not, though, KJ needs to have done some serious lobbying with the owners.

On the bright side for the passionate Sacramento faithful, Johnson has a very good start. His work the last few years on the task has won a lot of praise around the league from powerful people who mostly knew him only as a point guard for the Suns.

Johnson had the support of Stern from the beginning. It was Stern who believed enough in a first-term mayor with no previous political experience to dissuade the Maloofs from seeking to relocate long enough to allow Johnson to put a plan into action. Stern’s confidence was rewarded last February, when the team, the city and the NBA reached agreement on a downtown arena, only to have the Maloofs later back out after privately and publicly supporting the deal.


  1. D says:

    Also, I live in Salt Lake and have been a lifelong Jazz fan… The smallest of pro sports markets and yet one of the most consistent and stable of all pro sports organizations. Larry H. Miller bought the team and brought it to Utah with his own money and later built the Arena with his own money, on land that he bought …with his own money!

    …Since 1991 the Miller family has been reaping the financial rewards of arena ownership almost every night with various events instead of paying a lease to play somewhere or putting a tax burden on their community. Although, the city has stepped up and developed the sorrounding area quite a bit since 1991 also. It was a revolutionary idea in 1991 and somehow it still is… if you build it, they will stay.

  2. D says:

    I would like to see the NBA and the other owners as a group have some way to keep scumbags like the Maloofs from flip-flopping and toying around with this team and city and the fans for so long. I’m sure they never meant to get themselves into such a mess, but they have and now that they have shown they obviously can’t handle the mess… and also owe NBA lendors and the city of Sac town something like $100M total in unpaid loans… take the team away and sell it to whichever group would be the better NBA owner, supposedly there are qualified, interested buyers that want to keep the team in Sacremento still. It seems like either way the Seattle plan has more to offer and it will most likely happen.

  3. WILKSY08 says:

    To be honest, I could see this coming a mile away after last years arena dispute in Sac. Dspite a loyal fan base, at the end of the day the NBA is a business, and you have to take your business to where the money is

  4. Johnathan Bailey says:

    The kings happen to be in a poor market, bring them to a city that can have a healthy fan base.

  5. prix says:

    Seattle is the best playground…the roots will always prevail…Nirvana,Pearl Jam, Soundgarden plus the Dramatic crowd of the Sonics…life could be perfect…

  6. DM says:

    Good article. However it failed to note the opposition and lawsuit to the location of the proposed arena that the ILWU has filed. The lawsuit may have an affect on Hansen’s ability to guarantee an arena until it is resolved.

    • Jason says:

      ILWU lawsuit will go nowhere. Teams should not be moved around like a really slow game of chess. The NBA should support thier fans! It would be great to get a NBA team back in Seattle, but not at the cost of other fans and cities.

  7. Kings fan says:

    I’ve grown up in the Sacramento area & I’ve always been a fan of the Kings, & watched them my whole life. Everything from the glory days of the early 2000’s to the recent relocation drama. Kings fans are special. We may not have the big city appeal that other cities have, like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, or even all star caliber players, but yet when our team was one of the best years ago we sold out EVERY game. Kings fans are loyal. We have supported the team during the good & the bad, so to see our team leave because of greedy, selfish owners, it’d be devastating to the people of Sacramento. Sacramento doesn’t have any other professional sports teams, so the people who live there are extremely loyal to their Kings. I hope the Maloofs don’t rob Sacramento of their team.