For the latest installment in Sactown Royalty's Q&A series surrounding the changing landscape of the Kings franchise and the effort to build an arena, we check in with one of the original 20 local investors who in January stepped up to keep the Kings in Sacramento.
Phil Oates is chairman of the Buzz Oates Group and son of local developer Marvin "Buzz" Oates. He's been a Kings season ticket holder since opening night of the '85 Kings season at the original Arco Arena (a building his company owns) and has deep roots in the area. This is why he joined the team of local investors who banded together at the request of Mayor Kevin Johnson earlier this year to show the NBA that Sacramento was serious about keeping its team.
Oates has become quite the legend among Kings fans for his rousing speeches, as illustrated in this clip:
The new Kings minority owner recently answered some questions regarding what has transpired over the last eight months and what the future is going to look like for the Kings and Sacramento with a new arena.
When the proposed Seattle deal was announced in January to relocate the team, what was going through your head?
The mayor first put together a group of guys, a very small group that met. He explained he was going to fight and asked us to join in the fight and I happened to be out of town but my CEO Larry Allbaugh went to the meeting and then he called me back and said, "I think this is something we should be involved in."
I really had just one question, and that was, "do we have people that are going to join our fight that have the economic balance sheets to keep the team here?" Because really it's a billionaire's game now and we don't have those kind of players in Sacramento. The mayor assured me he did; he did not give me any names. I never heard names like Vivek [Ranadive] or [Mark] Mastrov or Qualcomm, Jacob brothers - I had not heard any of those at that time, but I trust the mayor. When the mayor said he'd have some "whales" so to speak, I was in.
You had the press conference with Mayor Kevin Johnson not long after that where all of the local investors were announced. Kings fans have sort of come accustomed to you being a pretty solid speech giver. Is that something that comes naturally to you or what?
[Laughs] Well, I don't know about natural. What was interesting was we did not really know who was in the group until half an hour before that press conference because everything had been done on email up until then; and by blind email. So when I walked into the room that first time in January, I saw who was around the table and many of them were my friends and many were people who I had heard about and have since become my friends like Kevin Nagle, and Larry Kelley and Dale Carlsen ... The mayor asked who wanted to speak and I said, "I'll do it if you want me to," and I left it totally up to the mayor. He didn't tell us but until about 15 minutes before we walked out there who would be talking so what you saw there was raw Phil Oates, that was just me being emotional.
Did you every have any doubt that the Kings were going to stay?
I was 99 percent positive. We knew there would be twist and turns. I have great faith in the mayor. The mayor is one of the most amazing men I have ever met. He is a man of integrity. He can lead, as evident by how he was a point guard for the [Phoenix] Suns. But he can lead people and he can inspire people. So certainly, I had great faith in the mayor. I always felt like what was lacking here was someone with the economics to own a team and compete with the [Mark] Cubans of the world. The mayor is an honest man, he told me had that, so that really turned the corner for me.
What really sealed the deal was that first trip to New York. I was not there when the presentation was made before the NBA, but that was my first opportunity to meet Vivek [Ranadive], Mark [Mastrov] and some of the others. And watching the fan support in New York as they came out in front of the St. Regis and sat out and weathered that cold all day while the NBA interviewed our team and interviewed Seattle; there was passion out there from Sacramento and Seattle had one or two reporters, but they weren't passionate about it.
This is just my opinion, but I think what separates us from Seattle is to Seattle this was only about basketball. It wasn't about a community, it wasn't about the economics. To Sacramento, this was a live or die issue and it was more than bouncing a ball on the court and guys running up and down. It was about the future of our town and what are we going to be like as we enter the 21st Century, and I think that is why Sacramento, from day one, was much more passionate about keeping the Kings than Seattle was about getting the Kings.
How would you define your role now within the local minority group and the larger partnership?
Within the group, Kevin Nagle has been our leader. Kevin is just a great friend and we talk or email every week and he has been a terrific leader both by example, and he's just a wonderful business man. He's kind of kept the group going and I would say I have probably been his assistant and try to keep them engaged just because we were with it from the beginning. We're kind of the connecting point of the local leaders to the big partnership - that's Vivek and Mastrov and those guys. In time, everybody is going to get their opportunity to run the partnership, but at this stage, Kevin would be the No. 1 person and then I'd be assisting him.
Within the big partnership, they really look to Kevin and myself to provide that local connection and I can tell you more than once we have talked to them about what it's like to live in Sacramento and how the Kings should connect to this community. We're kind of the voice a little bit of the people in the community, along with Mark Friedman.
What is some of the advice that you have given to Vivek Ranadive and Mark Mastrov in terms of how they should connect with the community?
Without throwing the Maloofs under the bus, I don't know if they really ever understood our community. Sacramento is really a family town to me with family values - almost a Midwestern city right in the middle of California. This is not the flash and dance of Vegas, we're not Chicago, we're not Los Angeles, we're Sacramento. And I think we are a town of core values and we appreciate integrity, we appreciate family. We're very much a family town and I just reinforced that to these guys, which is easy to do because they are all family men and women. That would be one of the examples.
We talked about honoring the people that have been faithful to the Kings even in the bad times and we need to be respectful of that, and they all have been.
What is it like working with guys like Vivek, Mastrov and Andy Miller and Chris Kelly? These guys are not from Sacramento but they are well-known businessmen throughout California and beyond.
I'm 62, so I probably don't get intimidated very often, but I've got to tell you, when I walk in the room with those guys, I am a little bit in awe and I step back a little bit because these are the movers and shakers of our world. But I've got to tell you honestly, they are the most humble, easy-to-know guys. I'm just a small fish in this thing, they never played that card. They have always been respectful and listened. They have the greatest of intentions. I've met their families, they are good family men. I mean, these are people that not only do you want to own your basketball team in your town, these are people who you would want to go to lunch with ... these are people that really understand business and they are going to make good business decisions, but they also understand what it means to be a community and they understand the importance of our fan base.
Getting to the arena. What is this project going to do for downtown Sacramento?
There are already some buildings that have been sold down there, people kind of hedging their bets for the arena being built. Well that means more taxes ... I'd be interested to see how much did the property taxes go up on those buildings between now and what they will be at the point of sale. That's tens of thousands of dollars for that one building that will come into Sacramento forever; it's an annuity. From property taxes, from just the spirit of downtown, from the synergy of downtown, it's going to have a tremendous influence.
Then the other thing is I have great faith in Mark Friedman. Mark is an expert when it comes to architecture and when he tells me this is going to be architecturally one of the best, if not the best, arenas in the country, I believe him. I think people are going to come to our town and when they come here they are going to want to go see the state Capitol and they are going to want to come see our arena.
What was your reaction to the news about Chris Hansen helping fund the group that is collecting signatures to try to force a vote on the arena in Sacramento?
I was shocked like everybody else. I didn't know any more than other people and we all speculated who it was. I was one of the people who said, "let's not hang the Maloofs in effigy yet," and I am glad I took that position because there are a lot of people who owe them an apology because they had them guilty before tried.
In business, smart people do strange things and he's a smart guy that did a very strange thing, so we will see how all that plays out in history for him as an owner and for Seattle getting an NBA franchise.
What about on the floor? How do you feel about where the roster is right now with the Kings?
I don't know if the roster per se, as far as players go, is significantly different than last year's team. I think the play on the floor will be significantly different. It was a disconnected group, and I guarantee you under Michael Malone it will not be disconnected.
One thing Vivek did ... I mean everybody they are hiring, Chris Granger, Pete [D'Alessandro] Michael [Malone], even down to the assistants. He is hiring leaders of men and people who are examples.
I think they have identified some of the shortcomings of our team, you know, the lack of ball movement, the lack of assists and sometimes that's not people finishing off the shot too.
I think we are going to have a better team, but I also think we're not going to make decisions to add one or two wins this year at the cost of tomorrow. We're very much in this community for the long haul and we want to be a team that is in the hunt year after year after year, and one of these days we are going to break through.
Is there anything else you would like to say to Kings fans?
I can only reassure the fans that we have great leadership at the very top, starting with Vivek all the way down. They have the common goal of putting a quality team on the floor consistently. These guys have won in the various arenas of life and they are going to win in this arena of life.