Nobody said that this was going to be easy. Nobody said this was going to go according to plan and nobody said that the Kings were going to stay in Sacramento simply because that’s where the arena is located. Nobody said any of that but here we are. We’re less than three weeks away from having some sort of closure to this menacing hurricane of drama that has taken place over the last handful of years.
If you don’t remember how we got here, here’s a little overview of what has happened and what is left of this marathon of a journey.
First we were told that the Kings needed a new arena at least a decade ago. We were told that the arena had become a relic and wasn't worthy of holding major events and barely worthy of the events that it continued to hold. Anyone from Lady Gaga to the NCAA said no and that until the facilities were updated less and less people were going to come to Sacramento and perform. Nothing changed. We went along with our day with the same laissiez-fair attitude a college student uses when an essay isn't due for a few months. “We’ll worry about that when it gets here.”
Then, people thought it was a good idea to put it to a public vote. They wanted to know whether or not the city should be the one paying for a new arena in measures Q and R. This idea ended terribly. Not only did it get voted down in a vicious manner but people were outraged at all of the incentives that the Maloofs tried to sneak in. How dare they ask for gold plated toilets and front doors made from actual blood diamonds? Who in their right mind would give the Maloofs their own personal Panda bear as a security system while also building them a moat to guard against potential naysayers? I exaggerate for effect but the deal had its fair share of flaws.
Now, with the public vote squashed and the team making great strides towards horrendous lows, word started to spread that the team may be on its way out. It wasn’t anything that was being officially reported but the chatter was enough that the locals understood that it was a possibility. Still no change.
Then, after being told over and over again that the arena was bad and threatening the possibility of relocation the Maloofs finally decided “To hell with Sacramento,” and decided to take their team south to Anaheim. Now the collective dragging of feet and dismissive arrogance about the building became a communal rallying cry that had one sole purpose: Keep the team in Sacramento, no matter what.
Great, but how do we go about doing this? After all, anybody can talk about keeping a team. I can stand on the top of my roof with a cape and yell until I’m blue in the face but it takes someone with a very special set of skills to pull something like this off. You have local bureaucrats who love nothing more than to throw monkey wrenches into anything they can as well as the constant pressure from the NBA to get something done. If not, they’ll take the team away the same way they did to Seattle. (We’ll get into that later.)
You needed someone who possesses three particular skills if there was any shot of making this happen.
1) You needed someone with enough clout that the NBA took them seriously.
2) You’ve got to have someone with strong ties to Sacramento.
3) You need someone with respectable political standing.
So who in their right mind would take on something that seems this screwed up from the start? The answer: Kevin Johnson. Yes, the same Kevin Johnson who, along with Charles Barkley, led the Phoenix Suns to the NBA Finals in 1993. The same guy that was born and raised in Sacramento and the same guy that helped as a campaigner for President Obama. That right there is steps one, two and three wrapped up in a nice little bow. It’s almost too perfect, especially when he was elected as Mayor of Sacramento and increasing his political clout. He’s perfect and he decided to put on the armor and take on the three headed fire breathing dragon known as the Maloof brothers.
Congratulations, you finally have someone who can do something. The problem is, as qualified as he may be, the team still looked like it was leaving. How are you going to change something that already seemed like a 99% reality? Simple, take that one percent and have the confidence that you can stretch that in your favor. That’s exactly what he did.
The date is April 14, 2011. The Board of Governors met in New York to discuss the potential relocation of the Kings to Anaheim. It became something that most people believed was the final tune in a heartbreaking melody a decade in the making. The fans believed it, the team believed it and even the two announcers who had been with the team year after year (Grant Napear and Gary Gerould) believed it was over as they tried their best to hold back the tears on potentially the final game in the building formerly known as Arco Arena.
Yet somehow, as if his life depended on it, Johnson was able to stop the move to Anaheim. He was able to come up with over 9 million dollars worth of new advertising, ticket purchases and other financial support from regional businesses. It was nothing short of a three quarters shot at the buzzer that sends a game into overtime. It didn’t mean it was all over but it did mean that the once furious bonfire of sorrow had turned into an ember of encouragement that was enough to give the people hope.
Now, with hope blooming more and more every day the city wanted to get an agreement done. It didn’t matter where it was, just as long as it was in or close enough to the city of Sacramento. Ideas such as renovations to the current arena, Cal Expo, the downtown Sacramento Railyard and K street mall were all talked about as potential locations for the new arena. Finally, after a lot of negotiations and a lot of man hours it looked like it was finally over. It looked like the Sacramento Railyard was agreed upon and the team would play there as soon the new arena was finished. The mayor liked it, the fans liked it, the Maloofs liked it and even the city council like it. (7-2 “Yes” votes) It was perfect. Everybody was on board and it looked like all of the emotional gut punches were over. The Maloofs even accompanied the mayor in a three man arm rising in the middle of the court in what looked like the exact opposite ending people thought a year ago.
However, like a bad soap opera episode, another unforeseen twist emerged. The Maloofs decided not to go through with the agreement that they agreed to just weeks earlier. The agreement in New York wasn’t valid, the deal was dead and the arm rising at center court might as well have been a public mooning to the crowd. Now the team sat at square one again. They weren’t as bad as they were with Anaheim but it still hurt to have your new shiny toy taken away from you not even a month after you got it.
Then, just to make the fans squirm once again, you know, for fun, a report emerged that the team was potentially moving to Virginia Beach. That’s right, no longer was the worry about a team six hours away. Now, we had to worry about a city that was nearly 3,000 miles away. Luckily, that fear was washed away in fewer than three months after it was understood that the work needed to make Virginia Beach happen needed too much work. Never mind, nothing to see here. Pay no attention to the men behind the curtain.
Do you feel tired of this yet? Well, if you do, imagine how the fans felt as well the mayor felt. Mayor Johnson had to have aged three times as long as the rest of us during this process.
So we’ve been told the arena stinks. We were convinced that the team was leaving and we were told that we were keeping the team. What else could happen? How about round two of, “We’re leaving.” How does that grab you? Only this time they have an agreed upon deal with the city of Seattle. Not only did they have a target location but they apparently had a deal in place that would finally deliver the death blow.
That’s right. After being poked and prodded more than a cadaver the Maloofs decided to sell the team to Seattle and wash their hands completely of the city of Sacramento. Never mind the fact that Mayor Johnson asked the brothers Grimm repeatedly if they were willing to sell the team. Never mind the fact that the mayor had a group in mind and never mind the fact that it’s more expensive to move an NBA team than keep it where it is. No, the brothers were done. They wanted out and they went with the Seattle deal. Now Johnson was left to jump through the same hoops again that he did two years ago in order to keep the team here. And that’s exactly what he’s done to this point. He’s assembled four owners. He’s united the city council to again agree upon help subsidize part of the arena and he’s excited the public enough to pledge over 10,000 season tickets if and when the team remains in Sacramento at the end of this.
Make no mistake about this. This is the final battle. That may seem hard to believe after everything you’ve read but believe it when I tell you that commissioner David Stern is just as fed up with the brothers as the fans are. He knows that if this thing drags out any further it will only damage the team. Whether or not the team stays or goes to Seattle this will be the final year that the people of Sacramento discuss the name Maloof as anything more than an old memory. I, like so many others here, hope that they stay. Carmichael Dave, our patron saint of good news and updates, has put his confidence level as high as 96% and he knows 10 times as much as I do. I’m just a local college kid who has hopes to be one of the 10,000+ people sitting inside of the new arena a few years from now.
In closing, as far I go, I’m not an insider. I’m not somebody who hangs around the people in the know and reports the updates as they come in. As much as I want to be I’m just a random Kings fan who keeps up on Twitter with what’s going on. People like Carmichael Dave, Grant Napear, Sam Amik, Kevin Fippin, Akis Yerocostas, Scott Howard Cooper, Tony Bizjak, Sean Cunningham, Crown Downtown and everyone else I left out on my twitter follows deserves all the credit in the world. They have made this hurricane of a process flow a lot smoother and easier for everybody involved. Thank you to all of you. #herewestay