April 26, 2012; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings owners Phil Maloof, George Maloof, and Gavin Maloof sit court side during the second quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Power Balance Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE
Reading one of seemingly two dozen press releases on the progress in Seattle to build a new basketball arena the other day, I came to a crushing realization about the state that Sacramento finds itself in with regards to fixing its own facility situation. That realization is that we might be better off in terms of building a new arena if the Kings were not currently based in Sacramento.
Consider that the two hurdles preventing the city and AEG from building a new arena downtown without a commitment from the Kings are that doing so could let the Maloofs escape from their loan (a $70 million credit the city cannot afford to erase) and that so long as Power Balance Pavilion is operable, the competition would not allow a new downtown arena to be lucrative enough to pencil out.
If the Kings were not in Sacramento, the city might find a way to build a new arena to lure a team, much as Kansas City did. An arena as a downtown entertainment centerpiece might still be controversial, but it would be possible -- something it's not right now. Is that an odd perversion of how the system is supposed to work? A city with a team (Sacramento) can't build a new gym to ensure it's pro sports future, while a city without a team (Seattle) can put together a turn-key project ready to accept a team as soon as one is up for sale and relocation?
But because the Maloofs railroaded the city on the Railyards project, Sacramento is stuck. Other than praying that the Maloofs are forced to sell, there is nothing that the city can do. Further complicating the matter is that the city desperately needs to develop the Railyards -- that was never an exaggeration, and it's a shame that the Maloofs' hired gun economists didn't point out how important the site was to the city's economic future. Mayor Kevin Johnson talking about building a pro baseball stadium downtown was an unfortunate bit of desperation, but he doesn't have many other options for a major landmark project. Downtown is underused and underdeveloped as an entertainment district. The theater cluster is fantastic, but a basketball arena would have brought a mostly new crowd to different area of downtown. Few other projects have the same prospects. KJ is grasping for one of those at a critical time for the Railyards site.
The Maloofs didn't just light a deal on fire, spit in the face of the city and league and lie to their team's most serious fans. They froze Sacramento in place and prevented the city from ensuring its pro sports future. They've not only pulled the institutional blackmail piece that requires cities of this size to heavily fund arenas and stadiums or watch their teams leave. They pulled that until they actually had to commit to Sacramento long-term, then canceled it all, leaving Sacramento in the most precarious of states. All under the guise of protecting Sacramento, they did the least principled thing in the end.
I still don't know how it plays out. The city will not fund a PBP renovation. The Maloofs cannot afford a PBP renovation. We have heard for more than a decade that PBP is not suitable. Something tells me -- like, you know, the actual state of the arena, which has clearly been neglected over the past five years -- that the Maloofs will not be funding incremental improvements to make PBP more attractive a draw for entertainers and events like the NCAA Tournament. The only way that this can turn out well for Sacramento is for the Maloofs to hole up in Natomas, see every relocation bid rejected, and give up. When they sell, maybe -- just maybe -- there will still be the opportunity and political will to put a new arena in the Railyards. But as seen by KJ's rushed attempt to build support for a ballpark, the timeline for downtown is more hurried than the Maloofs' self-inflicted doom schedule.
The key in all of this, as it always was, is in supporting those who have the same goals and making sure that the people who control those relocation bids -- the NBA and its Board of Governors -- know that we will not give up our team without a fight.