Sacramento’s comeback attempt to keep the Kings reached an important stage Thursday as mayor Kevin Johnson announced business magnate Ron Burkle, the owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Mark Mastrov, founder of 24 Hour Fitness, will have leading roles in the push to convince the Board of Governors to deny the Seattle bid and keep the team in Northern California.
The Mastrov-Burkle pairing had been expected, just not in the specific roles Johnson outlined in his State of the City address. Instead of both buying into the Kings if Sacramento’s dream outcome turns into reality – the team stays but the current owners, the Maloof family, is gone – Mastrov was revealed as the majority investor while Burkle will take the lead on a new downtown arena. Given that the two deals are so closely related, though, Burkle, the wealthier of the two, could be part of the purchase of the club. Those specifics were not disclosed.
What is clear is that the plot just thickened. Not only does Sacramento now have a long-awaited counter-strike to go with the promise from commissioner David Stern that Johnson would pitch the Board of Governors, but another Maloof enemy is officially in the mix. The family may not have the same distaste for Burkle as for Johnson, but Burkle is pretty high up the list.
Johnson announced that Mastrov, who made a serious run at buying the Warriors before Joe Lacob and Peter Guber won the bidding, would submit his bid to the league office on Friday. The Board of Governors will meet April 18-19 in New York to decide the future of the franchise. If the sale to the Seattle group led by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer is approved, the Sacramento efforts are moot.
“We never give up, we never give in, we never say never,” Johnson told the crowd at his address. “That is who we are. So, with all due respect to Seattle, and I absolutely do wish them well, and I do hope they get a team some day… let me be perfectly clear. I said let me perfectly crystal clear. It is not going to be this team. Not our team. No way.”
The audience erupted in cheers and a chant of “Sac-ra-men-to!”
“We have done and will continue to do whatever it takes to keep our team in Sacramento,” the mayor said.
When Johnson announced Jan. 22 he had 19 investors at $1 million each, with another to follow, the former All-Star point guard said he hoped to reveal the big-money backing within about two weeks. The delay then turned into more than a month, with the additional update Thursday that former Kings star Mitch Richmond was one of the 20.
Putting himself on the clock was a tactical error that should have been easy to avoid, but KJ incurred no actual damage. Seattle had a strong deal — and pending litigation the NBA doesn’t consider much of a threat — and Sacramento needed to send a message to owners around the league that it was organized and could be counted on to deliver.
But once All-Star weekend came and went without an official response to the Seattle purchase agreement with the Maloofs, the missed opportunities started to count. Johnson was in Houston to press Sacramento’s case — lobbying the Board of Governors to vote against the attractive Seattle package has always been the biggest challenge for the mayor – except that he didn’t have anything to press with.
Minus an accompanying plan in hand, Johnson was basically telling league power brokers that Sacramento and the NBA have been good for each other. Everyone already knew that. KJ is a charismatic salesman with credibility in front of the Board of Governors. Everyone already knew that too.
League executives and owners left All-Star weekend unmoved by anything Johnson had to say, insiders report, or anywhere close to gauging Sacramento’s chances of an upset because they had not seen a proposal. That will change in the wake of Thursday’s announcement by the mayor and the expectation that the official notice will be delivered Friday.