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 Hansen-Steve 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.