Sacramento Kings fans want to keep their team.
Seattle fans want to regain their team.
Sacramento fans love their team.
Seattle fans loved their team.
The NBA loves Sacramento.
The NBA... Wait!... What?
Yup! Just like they were ringing cowbells right there with us. The NBA may like the idea of a team back in Seattle, but not because they have soured on Sacramento.
In the ongoing "will they stay/will they move" drama, we Kings fans see a lot of questioning Seattle fans hanging added hopes on a word-here-by-Stern, a phrase-here-by-KJ, a short-tweet-here-by-a-reporter. Because of this, a lot of Seattle fans (and lazy national pundits) are perpetuating some misinformation. (To be fair, plenty of Kings fans are hanging hopes as well, but that is beyond the scope of this article.)
When the Sonics left Seattle a strong group of fans created a film entitled "Sonicsgate" in which they tried to bring together in one place a bunch of facts to help folks see, as they understood it, how the process unfolded. It was created after the process was done in Seattle when a lot of previously unknown issues came to light. Perhaps folks think the same types of things that happened in that situation must be happening in the current Kings situation with the result being that Seattle fans seem to have a nearly unanimous feeling that "the deal is done" and Sacramento fans might as well just accept the inevitable. "Sacramento is not important to the NBA," they exclaim, nodding knowingly.
Well, there are a few things that seem different this time around. Hopefully this may clear up a few misperceptions of how important keeping a team in Sacramento has been, and continues to be, to the league offices.
1) The Seattle effort was hampered by a legislature which had previously helped teams construct new arenas, but had more recently soured on public subsidies for Arena construction. Venom could be seen dribbling from the corner of Stern's mouth in his latest press conference when he recalled how Washington State House Speaker Chopp killed any hope of a new arena for the Sonics. Sacramento, on the other hand, is the seat of political power in California which in 2011 was the eighth largest economy in the world if the states were compared with other countries. The advantages of being in (and disadvantage of pissing off) the seat of a political powerhouse is not lost on the NBA brass. Unlike the political atmosphere up north in which the legislature wont support the NBA and the citizens have expressly voted to deny public subsidies, at least one head in California's legislature, Steinburg, is doing everything he can to keep an NBA team in the state capitol and there is no active public or political action ongoing to limit the arena public/private partnership subsidies which the NBA considers essential to its business model. Even if the Seattle group were able and willing to fully fund an arena themselves without any public money it would not be as desirable (and might even be distasteful) to the other league owners who wish no precedence be set that arenas don't need public help in their funding.
2) It was so desirable to the NBA to stay in Sacramento that the league took over all new arena based negotiation duties when it became clear even back in 2006 that the Maloofs were completely inept at being able to get anything done. The league sent nine officials to Sacramento including Chris Granger, the NBA's Vice President of Team Marketing and Business Operations and Brian McIntyre, Senior Communications Adviser to the Commissioner. The league spent many, many of it's own dollars and promised more in order to assure that a new arena agreement could be reached. That arena deal WAS reached, which was deemed a fair deal between AEG, the Maloofs, the City of Sacramento and the NBA League Offices. The league was overjoyed along with the fans. The Maloofs then flip-flopped and again ruined everything that had been accomplished. To this day that deal is still considered a workable deal between the City of Sacramento, AEG and the NBA with no legal issues at this time. It has been reported that this deal would also be able to remain essentially the same if the location was moved to Downtown Sacramento, and a positive vote on the new location is known to be a foregone conclusion when it goes before the Sacramento City Council. Sacramento is not at square one. Even in his latest press conferences, Stern has reiterated that there is NO arena deal yet in Seattle, a lot of work to be done on that subject, and there are multiple lawsuits pending against an arena deal.
3) Back to the money the league was willing to spend to keep a team in Sacramento. The league not only spent money on creating the arena deal, promising more toward infrastructure and the like, but the league had advanced a $67 million loan from its league credit facility to the Maloofs and had authorized another $7 million on top of that to get the project going in its initial stages. It has been reported that the Maloofs now owe the league $125 million that the NBA has allowed them to borrow in order to keep them flush so they won't completely ruin the team in Sacramento. This money is NOT primarily from losses in team operations (though the way the Maloofs have despicably treated the fan base and run the team at a bare minimum in expenditures have certainly caused a drop in attendance grosses,) but because the Maloofs lost a fortune in real estate outside the NBA. The league realized that Sacramento was a completely viable and desirable market and in order keep the team in the Sacramento area was willing to loan money to and create a new profitable arena deal for the Maloofs who were trying to run the team into the ground spending nothing on the team in order to fix their other money problems. The league fully realizes, after sending their own executives to spend time closely with the Maloof family these last few years, that the departure of the Maloofs is the key, not the need for the team to relocate. It is not the hull of the Titanic that is to blame, but the Captain who ran it into an iceberg.
4) Kevin Johnson is a favorite son of both Sacramento and the NBA. He is in constant communication with Commissioner Stern as friends. He is part of an exclusive group of former NBA players who have gone on to politics (Bill Bradley, Dave Bing, Tom McMillen are a few.) He has shown an uncanny ability to rally for his opinion and raise political capital. Again, as Stern wiped the venom from his lip from speaking about Chopp and the Seattle legislature he was probably thinking about how KJ is on the fast track to higher political office and recognizing the desirable nature of having former players in political positions. It helps the NBA's future business model to have as many friends in politics as possible, and KJ, whose love for Sacramento is unparalleled and recognized by the NBA, is one of his best.
These are just a few things off the top of my head but I am sure there are many more that other Kings fans can relate.
Dave Lack was the longtime webmaster of the Bleacher Mob and Kingsfanclub websites way back when before real life became too hectic.
You can follow him on Twitter at @davelack
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