Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Johnson’

Seattle-Sacramento Tug O’War Gets 3 More Weeks Of Rope

 

NEW YORK – Calling it a “wrenching” decision, NBA commissioner David Stern told reporters Friday that the thorny issue of the Sacramento Kings’ proposed sale and relocation would be resolved within the next three weeks.

Which way it goes – the Kings staying and playing right where they are or shifting north as the second coming of the Seattle SuperSonics – remains unclear. And, as Stern told it after the latest NBA Board of Governors meeting, it even has him guessing.

“It’s the only time in the last 37 – 47 years – that I haven’t known the answer,” Stern said, playful with his own timeline in response to a reporter’s question, then turning serious about the process. “No, but this is one that’s just been quite difficult and confusing for the owners as well. And we’ve been working very hard to give it a structure at their direction.”

Whether you believe that assessment might hinge on your view of Stern. Did the most powerful (and some would say controversial) commissioner in sports get that way by behaving like Lady Justice, blindfolded and scales all even-steven? Or is he still the delicatessen owner’s son from Teaneck, N.J., adept at resting a thumb ever-so-slightly on the scale?

Advocates on both sides of the Maloof family‘s possible sale and transfer of the franchise to Seattle interests headed by investors Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer are skeptical that Stern isn’t shading or influencing the process in some way. If both sides are worried that it’s tilting against them, that at least is worth something.

The bottom line out of the BOG sessions held Thursday and Friday, after diligent work by the relocation and finance committees, was that any tilting would matter after the week of May 6-10. That’s when a FINAL final vote will be taken and the Kings’ fate decided.

Why the wait? Those committees will meet again next week to sort through remaining questions about arena construction and financing and about the particulars of each group’s offer. The report they issue will be sent to the entire Board of Governors, which must have at least seven business days to review it. Also, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson told NBA.com Friday that he thought his group would be permitted to make a final pitch on that city’s behalf.

All of that pushes the BOG vote out three weeks. A league spokesman said it could be held face-to-face again or via conference call. Any meeting might be back in New York or could be held in one of the active playoff cities. Then and only then would folks watching the NBA Draft Lottery know whether the team card in the big envelope said Sacramento or Seattle.

Said Stern: “What makes this particularly difficult … is the Seattle group has done a lot of work. It’s well funded. It’s got spectacular businessmen who support the community behind it, and the Sacramento group has a very strong base of economic support as well.”

The Hansen-Ballmer group recently upped its offer to $357.5 million for a 65 percent controlling interest in the Kings, which pushed the team’s valuation to $550 million. The Sacramento group led by Johnson and investors Vivek Ranadive and Mark Mastrov also have made a bid that, Stern said Friday, is being treated as a signed agreement. Both offers are “in the ballpark,” Stern said when asked about significant differences.

Both have the same negative, too: Neither the Kings’ current home or an NBA return to Seattle’s KeyArena offers the long-term solution.

“We’ve got two temporary facilities that we’re going to be playing in,” Stern said, “whichever way the board goes, and the quality of those facilities and there’s so many other issues and the critical path based upon environmental reviews, potential lawsuits and the like.”

It’s a hot mess, an either/or dilemma that is likely to leave one of the markets – the capital of California or the former Pacific Northwest home of one of the league’s showcase teams – on the outside looking in.

When asked about expansion to Seattle as a compromise solution, Stern said: “I haven’t heard that in any shape or form, particularly when we don’t know at this time what the next television network contract would be.” Remember, beyond dilution of talent and scheduling and alignment concerns, divvying up the hundreds of millions of dollars a 31st NBA franchise would pay for entry would mean cutting another slice from the broadcast revenues in the future.

Then there is Stern’s legacy, which will be sealed next Feb. 1 when he resigns after 30 years. Deputy commissioner Adam Silver has been tabbed as his successor.

Said Stern: “We have expended not only enormous man‑hours but enormous sums of money for outside consultants. This will be by far our most extensive review of anything like this in the league’s history.”

Among other items on the BOG agenda Thursday and Friday:

– Reports on revenue-sharing and the impact of the collective bargaining agreement were heard. “Very upbeat in terms of improving team operations and the competitiveness of the league,” Sterm said.

Jeannie Buss was approved as controlling governor of the Los Angeles Lakers, as the family continues its succession of late owner Jerry Buss. Also, Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert and partners purchased additional interest in the Cavaliers franchise.

– The governors “had fun” with a report on officiating, while formally welcoming former NBA player and league exec Mike Bantom as the new head of officiating.

– A report from the competition committee was educational for the owners in highlighting the trends of increased 3-point reliance – from no teams that averaged 20 or more attempts from the arc in 2001 to a dozen that did so this season, Stern said. That, in turn, has opened up the game to the bosses’ satisfaction.

– Security matters also were discussed, especially in the wake of the events this week in Boston. The bombings at the Boston Marathon led to the cancellation of Tuesday’s Pacers-Celtics game in that city. The NBA will be making a “significant contribution,” the commissioner said, to the One Fund established to aid victims of that terrorist attack.

– Stern said he remains optimistic that human-growth hormones will be added to the NBA’s anti-drug testing program but that addition involves cooperation of the National Basketball Players Association, which is busy finding a replacement for executive director Billy Hunter.

 

Sacramento Mayor Johnson Sightsees While Awaiting Kings’ Fate

NEW YORK – Ran into Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson just before noon on the sidewalk here Friday. He was looking awfully casual for a civic leader whose NBA franchise and claim as a major-league sports market was being bandied about at that moment.

The NBA Board of Governors meeting — the place where the Sacramento King’s future was being discussed and eventually will be determined — was being held in a midtown Manhattan hotel. But Johnson was dressed in athletic gear, heading out for an afternoon almost like a tourist. Turns out he cleared his schedule and purchased airline tickets for the cross-country trek, based on early reports that the franchise’s fate — Sacramento? Seattle? — would be decided this week.

It won’t. Johnson’s trip had turned ceremonial, informal and a show of earnestness for anyone wondering about his city’s commitment. The mayor said his information is that the league will continue to address the Kings’ sale and possible relocation next week, with a BOG vote at some point after that.

“There were no presentations for today,” said Johnson, the former Phoenix Suns All-Star guard. “I’ve been told that we’ll be able to address the board again before a vote.”

So how was Johnson going to spend Friday afternoon? “We’re getting a tour of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn,” he said. “And I’m ‘on call’ if I’m needed over at the [Governors] meeting.”

With discussion but not determination of the Kings, the main agenda items Friday include reports on revenue sharing and the collective bargaining agreement, an anti-drug program report and updates from the international and competition committees.

The Business Of Buying An NBA Team

HANG TIME WEST – Now the group trying to buy the Kings and move them to Seattle has increased its offer in what is either the latest smart strategy move to put disorganized Sacramento on the clock with another problem (the Seattle viewpoint), or the desperate act of an operation that knows a big lead is about turn into defeat and is resorting to Hail Mary passes (the Sacramento viewpoint).

The $25-million bump by the always-proactive enterprise from Washington state would push the sale price for the Maloof family’s 65 percent of the team to $357.5 million – and put the total valuation of the Kings at $550 million. The Sacramento Kings. The Sacramento Kings annually residing in the lottery. The Sacramento Kings rated by Forbes in 2012 as the 23rd-most valuable franchise in the league, with an estimated worth of $300 million.

Those Sacramento Kings.

Except, in what has become the factor too often overlooked, no one is trying to buy a basketball team. That goes for both sides, the Chris Hansen-Steve Ballmer group aiming for the reincarnation of the SuperSonics and the Sacramento counter-strike led by mayor Kevin Johnson and Vivek Ranadive and Mark Mastrov as majority investors trying to keep a civic institution in town. Neither party is paying a record amount for an NBA franchise, the prorated equivalent of $100 million more than what the Warriors sold for in 2010, for the chance to decide what to do about DeMarcus Cousins.

They are trying to buy a piece. As much as they are sports fans with the chance for the ultimate toy, the Kings are the catalyst for a much larger plan. The Washington Generals would be worth $550 million.

Both cities have arena plans. Seattle’s projected building is close to the stadiums of the Mariners and Seahawks. In Sacramento, though, the bigger picture is the revitalization of an entire downtown area. No NBA team, no arena. No arena, no economic injection from construction. (Or at least no arena of this scale – Johnson has said his city will need a new entertainment complex with or without professional sports as an anchor tenant.)

Also, Ron Burkle, once part of the Sacramento bid for the arena and team before a conflict of interest forced him to drop out, has committed to being part of development around the arena. Burkle invested in your city is a very good thing.

In financial terms alone, apart from the emotional value of the only major-league team in town, losing the Kings would have a dramatic effect. The team is a marketing tool that helps Sacramento stay on the national map, and some local leaders through the years have expressed worry that convention business would suffer without the loud presence of the NBA.

How much is having the league back in Seattle worth to Hansen-Ballmer? According to Chris Daniels of King 5, the NBC affiliate there, the group has alreaady spent $100 million just to put itself in position for the honor of setting the value of a 28-53 team at a record level. This is, of course, about much more than the 28-53 team that could be playing its final game in Sacramento when the Kings face the Clippers on Wednesday night at Sleep Train Arena. The Seattle group envisions $40 million a year from local television alone, Daniels reports.

The original plan was to have Sacramento-Seattle resolved when the Board of Governors meets Thursday and Friday in New York. When both cities made presentations to a group of owners and league officials April 3, commissioner David Stern raised the possibility of the answer not coming within days of the end of the regular season. Tuesday, it became official: no vote this week, and no new date set.

The Sacramento Deadline That Isn’t

 

HANG TIME WEST – In the latest twist that wasn’t, the Sacramento Bee reported Wednesday that the Maloof family, owners of the Kings, has given Sacramento leaders until 5 p.m. Friday to submit a written backup offer to buy the team in the event the NBA turns down Seattle. What the Bee does not report is what happens if mayor Kevin Johnson and potential owners Mark Mastrov, Vivek Ranadive et al miss the deadline.

Nothing.

Love the chess move by the Maloofs, presumably in coordination, or at least in consultation, with the Seattle group. Put another item on Sacramento’s plate to deal with while playing catch up, sometimes awkwardly, in the final days before a possible vote by the Board of Governors. It is also the latest clear sign the Maloofs are digging in and willing to show their teeth. But there’s no there there.

The people of Sacramento have a lot to worry about in keeping the Kings, but this so-called deadline is not one of them. Johnson probably knows it, too.

All the scenario does is underline what was reported here before: The city and the current owners may again have to deal with each other. Anyone who thinks the league can force an immediate sale to a Sacramento group if the Seattle deal is voted down, the popular perception in some circles, is living a lie.

If the Board of Governors denies Seattle – if – the Kings stay in Sacramento, no matter who is owner. The vote on Seattle relocation is essentially a vote on whether the league believes in a future in the California capital. The Maloofs can keep the team, the Maloofs can sell to someone who isn’t plotting a midnight run out of town, but Johnson gets the result he wanted. It might not be with the owners he wants, but Sacramento still has the NBA under that scenario, and that is the bottom-line monster victory.

The deadline itself, though, is a negotiating tactic. If it is missed, it will not signify a permanent end to negotiations. It might not even signify an end for the month if the governors turn down Seattle. (If Seattle is approved, of course, everything else becomes moot.)

It is no shock that the Maloofs are re-asserting control of the ownership situation in the event the team stays. My previous reports stand: If Seattle is voted down, they remain the owners. The league cannot dictate a sale to the group currently in place and waiting for a chance. The Maloofs could easily wait a month or so to see what other billionaire wants to offer up, and then decide on a sale. They could go into next season, as uncomfortable as that would be with 3,000 people in the stands. The latter is unlikely, but far from impossible.

The unavoidable truth is that the Maloofs and Sacramento will still need each if Seattle is denied. If the Maloofs want to get the prorated equivalent of the biggest sale in NBA history for their shares, deadlines have to be dropped or negotations have to be started with new parties. If Sacramento wants someone else to own the team, they have to go through the Maloofs. As always.

It is no coincidence that Johnson has become much more complimentary toward the Maloofs over time. KJ told me he is simply trying to give the family due credit for the many positives they brought to the city, a reminder that was long overdue but unpopular to note in town, but it looks an awful lot like a schmooze job. The Maloofs are emotional, which has been one of their best attributes and also a problem area, and making nice could go a long way.

Johnson had a telling response when asked about the story about the deadline, about why the Maloofs would give such an ultimatum. He could have belittled the strategy or laughed at how little it means, and he might have in the past. This time, the mayor wisely took a pass.

“You would have to ask them,” he said.

It is worth noting some family members have also said nice things about how Johnson has led the comeback. The sides will be able to at least talk if it comes to that, whether about moving forward together or finalizing a sale to new owners. Just as importantly, they will be able to talk even if no offer is submitted by Friday at 5 p.m.

KJ: Maloofs ‘Probably Prefer’ Kings In Sacramento

HANG TIME WEST – The Maloof family, disliked beyond measure in Sacramento for the way they have run the Kings on and off the court and ultimately for putting the city on the brink of losing the team to Seattle, have received support from the most unlikely of sources: mayor Kevin Johnson.

Johnson has recently gone out of his way to be complementary toward the Maloofs, notably at his State of the City address and most recently at Tuesday’s city council meeting that included approving the non-binding agreement with private investors to build a downtown arena. It was impossible to miss because Johnson could have easily avoided mentioning the Kings’ owners both times without coming off as unusual. It was especially impossible to miss because the Maloofs’ disgust for Johnson is a major reason, and perhaps the No. 1 reason, they never told Sacramento officials the team was for sale.

But, Johnson told NBA.com, he has remained in contact with the family, there are no hard feelings, and Kumbaya. Group hugs all around.

Oh, and the Maloofs want the Kings to stay in Sacramento.

(You just can’t make this stuff up.)

The recent obvious change of tone toward the Maloofs – including announcing Ron Burkle, likewise not on the family’s Christmas card list, as heading the arena project rather than part of the proposed ownership group – smacks of Johnson trying to mend fences, just in case. The Board of Governors will vote on the sale and relocation to Seattle as part of the April 18-19 meeting in New York, Sacramento has put together a strong counter-offer and wants to be in position if the BOG turns down Seattle in favor of the California capital.

If Sacramento beats Seattle, all the Sacramento group has done is stopped the move. It still has to buy the team and the Maloofs can turn the screws and inflate the price tag. The Maloofs can even keep the team. There is essentially no chance that happens, but consider the number of developments that have already occurred no one saw coming. At the very least, the Maloofs could drag negotiations into summer and still get out Monopoly-money rich before having to hide out another season.

Sacramento may still need to make nice with the family. There is the recent evidence that Johnson has, after the mayor and his top aides wrongly let earlier arena negotiations get personal when they should have understood the Maloofs are very emotional. But the mayor said that is not the case.

“No,” Johnson told NBA.com. “We’re just talking about the facts, and the facts are this: They have been a huge part of this community, they gave a significant amount of philanthropy back to this community, they kept the team here for 10-plus years, which is great. It didn’t end the ideal way. I’ve talked to and communicated with them since then. There are no hard feelings. We wish them the best. They wish us the best as a community.

“We think at the end of the day, if the price that they were going to get is similar to Sacramento, they would probably prefer to have the team in Sacramento. They certainly can’t say that. But I know they have an affinity for Sacramento and I believe very strongly that this is the way the story is supposed to end at the end of the day. They’ve been good to our community. We’re just thankful for that.”

No hard feelings? Seriously?

“They didn’t have to put in their deal that they can accept the backup offer,” Johnson said. “If there was no backup offer, we wouldn’t be able to do anything. There’s a backup offer because ultimately the NBA approves or disapproves a deal. By them being able to accept a backup offer, it keeps a community like Sacramento in play. If not, I have no idea what we’d be able to do. A silver lining in everything.”

Johnson is right to note the Maloofs’ positive impact around the region, a fact now quickly overlooked. No matter how much heat the family has taken, and will forever take, they poured big bucks into the market as well.

But to suggest the Maloofs want the Kings to end up in Sacramento, not Seattle, is the purest sign of all that KJ is schmoozing. If the Maloofs really wanted that, they could have made it happen. At the very least, they could have alerted Sacramento that the team was for sale, allowing a clean start rather than forcing the city to play catch-up to an excellent bid. The Maloofs did not do that because they wanted to jab a finger in the chests of Johnson and top aides who crossed the line by dealing with the family like dealing with North Korea. The mayor is trying to do something about that mistake now.

Sacramento Approves Arena Deal

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The comeback bid to keep the Kings cleared another benchmark Tuesday as the city council approved a deal with private investors to build a downtown arena as a centerpiece of hopes to convince NBA owners to vote down the sale and relocation of the only major-league franchise in town.

The outcome, by a 7-2 margin at a City Hall meeting with several hundred people in attendance in the council chamber and an overflow area, had been expected. Once the predictable became official, Sacramento had the final major piece to present to the league at an April 3 meeting in New York: a deep-pocket ownership group and agreement on a $448-million dollar arena.

A group from Seattle has a purchase agreement with the current Kings owners, the Maloof family, with the intention of moving the team to Washington state next season, probably as the second coming of the SuperSonics. Sacramento, trying to close the deficit on the proactive and organized Seattle effort ever since being caught flat-footed with news the Maloofs were close to selling, has put together a package that local leaders believe shows the city will continue to support the NBA at a high level. The choice between two attractive bids will be made when the Board of Governors gathers April 18-19 in New York.

“We’ve done our part,” an energized Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson said afterward. “What we did today by making a 7-2 vote, our audience was the Sacramento community, A, because we protected the tax payer and stayed true to our core tenant. Our other audience were NBA owners. They ultimately are the ones who make the decision. We didn’t want a 5-4 vote. We didn’t want a 6-3 vote. We wanted a minimum 7-2 vote because that would send a very strong message that this community is going to do whatever it takes, elected and otherwise, to build a brand new arena downtown. That’s our competitive advantage. That’s certainty. It is in their hands right now …

“The NBA has never, ever in the history of the NBA – it would be unprecedented to rip a team out from a city who’ve done everything that was expected of them. We’ve done everything possible. They need to know that you cannot take our team away from us. We did our part and we did it in a responsible way, and I’m really proud of our community.”

This is the second time in as many seasons the Sacramento city council has approved a non-binding arena deal. The nine-member body voted in favor in 2012, shortly after league executives brokered a compromise between Johnson and the Maloofs at All-Star weekend in Orlando, only to have the owners back out in a shocking development. The proposed arena in the 2013 plan is in a different location than before, though very close to the 2012 agreement.

Johnson said he e-mailed commissioner David Stern from the dais immediately after the 7-2 vote.

Deal Reached On Sacramento Arena

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The city of Sacramento moved a step closer to a showdown with Seattle by reaching agreement Saturday with private investors to build a downtown arena, mayor Kevin Johnson announced, an important part of the bid to keep the Kings.

The deal with Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov, the original lead investors of the comeback bid, and now joined by Vivek Ranadive, a Warriors minority owner, had long been expected. Putting a group together that will attempt to buy the team if NBA owners deny the Seattle bid had been expected. And, today’s deal is expected to be approved by the Sacramento city council on Tuesday. These have all been predictable layers to a process of key unpredictable moments.

The news of Saturday and the near-certain upcoming news on Tuesday set the stage for the real developments next month. On April 3, officials from both cities and each group trying to buy the Kings from the Maloof family will be in New York for presentations to owners in advance of the Board of Governors meeting. It is at the Board of Governors gathering April 18-19, after the final certain game in Sacramento on April 17, that a vote will be taken on the agreement the Maloofs reached with the Seattle interest led by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer.

If the board – one representative from each team, usually an owner – approves the sale to Hansen-Ballmer, the Kings will be in Seattle next season, likely as the SuperSonics, and the efforts in Sacramento will be moot. But if the work of Johnson and the Ranadive-Mastrov-Burkle bid convinces the board to turn down Seattle, Sacramento would have a plan in place to buy the team and build an arena.

The deal announced Saturday  is for a $448-million downtown arena close to where the city planned to build when it reached an agreement with the Maloofs about a year ago, only to have the family back out of the non-binding agreement after approval by the city council. The vote Tuesday is also non-binding, but with no indication the package would fall apart down the line after the new investors have been involved in negotiations.

Stern’s Take Double Good News For Seattle Backers

 

HANG TIME WEST – That was some reality check commissioner David Stern delivered to Sacramento on Friday night when he said the counter-strike to keep the Kings is so far behind the Seattle package that it won’t even receive serious consideration unless the deal in the California capital gets better.

That would have been encouraging enough for the attractive bid out of Washington state. The real uplifting news for the group trying to revive the SuperSonics, the real take-away from Stern’s blunt analysis before Rockets-Warriors in Oakland, is the new awareness of how much the league is holding Sacramento’s hand during a very challenging process.

In short: Not as much as it seemed before.

Stern has always wanted the Kings to stay. They would have been gone years ago if not for Stern guiding the Maloof family, the owners who almost always followed the commissioner’s lead on any league matter. He previously believed in Kevin Johnson as a first-term mayor and newbie politician at any level. More recently, either Stern or top aides have been in regular contact with Sacramento after leaders there were caught flat-footed by the Seattle group led by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer that was more proactive and more organized.

But for the Sacramento proposal to be so lacking that Stern said the offer is “not comparable” to the one from Seattle is very interesting insight. Either the league is not holding Sacramento’s hand to the point of telling Johnson specifically what the bid needs to look like, as it once seemed, or Mayor KJ, Mark Mastrov and Ron Burkle as lead private investors didn’t listen. Either way, Stern has drawn a line between encouraging the Sacramento efforts and privately leading them.

This is not close to game over. Mastrov, a Bay Area resident who attended Warriors-Rockets, downplayed Stern’s comments by telling The Associated Press that “It’s all part of the process.” He’s right. But he’s also spinning: Johnson waited so long, beyond his own original timeline, to deliver a sparkling offer on the purchase of the team and the construction of an arena, and now it should be painfully clear to the Sacramento backers that the city did not. This is not the process they wanted.

Johnson missed the chance to truly lobby owners and other influential NBA leaders at All-Star weekend when he showed up in Houston without a Sacramento bid to spotlight and now he has missed the chance to push back hard at Seattle. Sacramento needs to regroup again, and now it is clear Stern will only hold their hand so far.

Lead Investors Revealed In Kings Bid

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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.

Kings’ Fate Dominates Stern’s Final All-Star Presser

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HOUSTON – The final All-Star press conference of NBA commissioner David Stern‘s 30-year tenure played out like so many of the others, with Stern working the room with a mix of charm, seriousness, humor, pride, lawyerly word-parsing and snark.

The most notable difference from past performances was increasing play-by-play with deputy commissioner Adam Silver, his presumptive successor when Stern officially steps down Feb. 1, 2014, weeks before next year’s All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. Silver, at that point, will be the one fielding the familiar questions about expansion, drug testing, international growth, the D-League, etc.

For example, when asked about dueling bids from New York and Brooklyn to host the 2015 All-Star Game, Stern said: “This is terrific. There are two applications in, one from Brooklyn and one from the [Madison Square] Garden. And I really think that commissioner Silver is going to have a great time with those applications, I really do. And I asked him to send me a postcard to tell me how they go.”

There was less banter on the subject that dominated the Q&A period of the half-hour-plus news conference: the possible franchise relocation of the Sacramento Kings to Seattle, pending a sale to investor Chris Hansen‘s group, its transfer application and approval by the league’s Board of Governors. The procedure is well-established, the subject has been (and will be) covered extensively on NBA.com – here, here and here, among other pieces – and, as Stern said, “I don’t see any scenario where both cities are happy.”

Asked to what degree the final verdict – keeping the Kings in Sacramento or re-branding them as the new SuperSonics – will hinge on economics vs. emotions, the commissioner said: “I don’t believe it’s going to come down to economics because it’s not about, ‘OK, I say 525 [million dollars].’ ‘All right, I say 526.’ To me, that would be economics. I think the owners are going to have a tough issue to decide. But I don’t want to get to it because we don’t have the predicate for that tough decision yet.”

Stern said that, unlike last year in Orlando, Sacramento’s mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star, did not meet with league executives in any attempt to broker a deal. Johnson, who did meet with interested media after Stern’s news conference, still is working up a counter-offer to keep the Kings.

“And then the owners are going to have to deal with it,” Stern said. “This is a good time to be a commissioner and not an owner.”

A glimpse of Stern’s famous protectiveness of all things NBA flashed in a later question about Seattle’s possible return as a league market, given the Sonics’ sale and move to Oklahoma City in 2008.

Asked if he regretted the way the NBA left Seattle, he said: “But I seem to remember, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, that there was a $300 million‑plus subsidy for the Mariners, and a $300 million‑plus subsidy for the Seahawks. … There was a legislation which precluded that for the Sonics, and [Washington Speaker of the State House Frank] Chopp said that we should take the money from our players.  Is there anything that I’m missing there?”

Zing.

As usual, beside the occasional Borscht Belt routines, Stern and Silver addressed a gamut of topics:

  • The league had no comment on the National Basketball Players Association vote Saturday to terminate executive director Billy Hunter after 17 years of service. “We await notification from the union as to who we should be dealing with,” Stern said.
  • Proud of the NBA’s drug-testing program, Stern repeated his remarks from last week in Minneapolis that human-growth hormone (HGH) would be added to the list of banned substances before the start of next season, subject to an agreement on testing protocol. He said of NBA players, “They want to be perceived as playing in a drug‑free sport.”
  • The NBA’s vision for the D-League, Silver reiterated, remains a 30-team league with 1-to-1 affiliations with parent clubs. “We think it’s the second-best basketball in the world after the NBA,” Silver said. D-League teams may be used to extend the NBA brand through promotional games internationally, he added.
  • Stern and Silver both talked of further growth opportunities globally, particularly in India, Africa and China. Stern will be traveling to Mumbai and Silver said a basketball academy might be opened in India similar to one the league created in China.
  • Stern’s favorite All-Star memory? No surprise here: Awarding Magic Johnson the MVP trophy after the 1992 game in Orlando. Johnson had abruptly retired before that season after being diagnosed with the HIV virus. “Giving sweaty Magic Johnson a big hug right after he hit the last 3, and still being able to hug him – because he’s alive – every time I see him,” the commissioner said. “That is at the top of the list.”
  • Second-best? Staging the “50 Greatest” players event at the 1997 All-Star Weekend in Cleveland, with 47 attending and only Hall-of-Famer Pete Maravich deceased at that point (Jerry West and Shaquille O’Neal missed the weekend.)
  • As for future All-Star Games – the 2014 game is set for New Orleans – Silver said that Cleveland also has applied to host the 2015 game, in addition to the Knicks and the Nets. Other ideas have been floated from time to time. “We’ve discussed playing internationally,” Silver said. “I’m not sure if it will work, logistically, but it’s something we’ll continue to study. We’ve looked at other neutral cities [like Las Vegas in 2007]. We’ve looked at refreshing All‑Star Saturday Night and other innovative events for the weekend and I think we’ll continue to do that, the same way we have under David’s leadership.”

Let the passing of the torch continue.