Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson took the first tangible steps Tuesday in a stand to keep the Kings, announcing that 19 local businesses or people had committed $1 million each to become minority owners and saying he hopes to have a majority investor, the key piece to the late-game rally, lined up by the end of the week.
A 20th person at $1 million was later added.
The news conference was more pep rally than anything, complete with fans cheering on Johnson’s comments, some wearing Kings gear and holding pro-Sacramento signs while standing behind the mayor on camera. Left unsaid was the fact that the group will be trying to buy a team that has already been sold.
The Sacramento plan still being formed will become a factor only if the Board of Governors votes down the purchase by a Seattle group that plans to move the Kings to Washington before the start of next season. The Seattle interests, headed by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer, had closed its deal by the time Johnson had revealed a small fraction of the money that will be required if Sacramento does get a chance.
There is, Johnson said, “a sense of urgency in this community and the time is ticking. I think all of you know that. I was supposed to be in Washington for the inauguration. I cancelled my trip. We have been here working our tail off, and everybody here in some shape or form is doing everything that we possibly can to keep our team here.”
Comissioner David Stern has told Johnson the mayor will have a chance to address the Board of Governors in April before a vote. But if the Board – one representative from every team, usually an owner – approves the Hansen-Ballmer offer, Sacramento’s hopes will have ended without an official bid to the Maloof family.
While Johnson has a lot of credibility around the league as a mayor, not as a former All-Star point guard with the Suns, the chances of Hansen-Ballmer being denied are considered slim at best. Most any other city on the other side of the vote and Sacramento has a chance. But the Seattle proposal, with everything from deep-pocket owners to a region with a history of supporting sports to a new arena being planned to corporate backing at an international level, is a daunting opponent.
“(The proposed majority owner) will be revealed soon,” Johnson said at the City Hall announcement. “I will say this. This was a first step, because we wanted our community to be the one leading the way, and that’s what we did. We only found out this news (that the Maloofs were close to selling) a week ago. For us to rally at the speed that we did says an awful lot.”
He said the city is making “great progress” on someone who will bring the real financial backing to the deal.