The first five months of this year were among the most grueling in Sacramento Kings history. The team appeared to be on the way north to Seattle, the second major relocation attempt by the Maloofs in three years. No arena deal was in sight and Seattle's record franchise valuation left many believing there was no way Sacramento could put together a competitive counter-offer.
But we did, in large part due to the "herculean" (as David Stern described them) efforts of Mayor Kevin Johnson.
Now with the saga over, the Bee was able to interview several people involved in the process in order to create a clearer picture on how the team was able to stay. The whole article is incredibly well done, and I would like to give a big shout-out to the Bee's team of Ryan Lillis, Dale Kasler and Tony Bizjak for the amazing work they've done these past few years while covering this story. We're lucky to have them.
On to the highlights of the article.
After the NBA brokered arena deal fell apart in April of 2012, the team was kind of stuck in purgatory with an unsure future. There were negotiations with Virginia Beach, and the day after those talks fell apart, reports started hitting the internet that the Maloofs had reached an agreement with Seattle to sell the team for $525 million.
One problem: The Maloofs' deal with Seattle valued the team at $525 million - much higher than the $450 million or so people were expecting.
It was "a jaw-dropping number," Johnson said.
Burkle had told Johnson he wouldn't overpay for the Kings. Clearly, Sacramento needed more investors.
At the state of the City at the end of February, we heard about two investors: Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov. According to the Bee, Mastrov had spoken with George Maloof that previous summer about possibly buying the team. But Mastrov's biggest involvement was probably his connection to Vivek Ranadivé, who was involved in this process a lot earlier than when we heard about him.
An even bigger fish was lurking: Mastrov's friend Ranadive, chief executive of Tibco Software of Palo Alto and a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors.
Ranadive's role wasn't made public until late March, yet the diminutive executive was anything but silent in a Feb. 8 meeting in Sacramento with city officials, Mastrov and two Burkle representatives. Assistant City Manager John Dangberg said he was startled by Ranadive's eloquent vision of using the Kings "to build something bigger and greater" in Sacramento.
Part of the battle was to change the national narrative. Mayor Johnson flew out to Houston for the All-Star game to lobby other owners.
But even as an ownership group was forming, the city was losing the public relations battle. That became clear when Johnson flew to Houston in mid-February to lobby owners at the All-Star Game.
Most of the owners had bought into the national media's version of events: The team was going to Seattle.
"The national narrative is what everybody believed," Johnson said.
He asked owners to keep an open mind, and left Houston confident he'd made progress. In his mind, he had shaved a 25-point deficit to 18.
This is where the Playing to Win tour came in. Carmichael Dave and City Hall teamed up for the RV tour to show the country that Sacramento wasn't out of the game just yet. This was in combination with the recent reveal of Burkle and Mastrov as the city's investor group.
But very soon after Mastrov/Burkle sent in their counter-offer to the Maloofs and the NBA, we heard from David Stern at a Warriors game that Sacramento's offer was not worth consideration. There were a lot of reports about just how much Sacramento underpaid, with Seattle sources claiming it was upwards of $100+ million. The truth was a little more mundane:
Speaking before a Warriors game in Oakland, Stern declared the bid was inadequate. He wouldn't go into details, but later told The Bee the bid was $495 million - $30 million shy of Seattle's.
A source close to the Sacramento group said the low bid was partly strategic. If Sacramento immediately matched Seattle's price, Hansen and Ballmer might raise their offer and trigger a costly bidding war.
This spurred Vivek to finally join the group, knowing that he could be the difference between success and failure.
Ranadive was in, and he was the lead partner.
His role proved crucial. Unlike Burkle or Mastrov, he was already a member of the clannish world of the NBA through the Warriors. "You look at the folks who tend to win these bids, they tend to have a relationship with the league," Lehane said.
Ranadive took his time joining the fight. He was reluctant about leaving the Warriors. But when he saw "he could be the difference ... that's the point where he stepped up," said Ranadive adviser Adam Mendelsohn.
Vivek also called Mayor Johnson the night the Sacramento City Council approved the latest term sheet for a Downtown Plaza arena to make him a promise.
"I make you a personal promise," Johnson recalled that Ranadive said. "We will pay and do whatever it takes to keep the team in Sacramento."
The next big step was the meeting in New York with the NBA. Seattle and the Maloofs were set to give their own presentation, and went first. This worked out to Sacramento's advantage.
Once inside, the Sacramento group couldn't believe its good fortune. Based on the questions from the committees, it appeared the Seattle delegation had blundered.
According to Lehane, the Seattle group made false and easily refutable claims about Sacramento. The most blatant: Sacramento's investors didn't control the land they needed to build an arena.
"We all sort of looked at each other like, is this a trick question?" Lehane said. "It was an enormous mistake." The miscue let Sacramento bolster its credibility.
Soon after the relocation committee unanimously recommended that the team not move to Seattle. Seattle's response was to raise their bid, but despite the thinking from some national media sources that the increase in money could help sway the owners to vote against the recommendation, it didn't have much pull in the end.
But even with a strong probability that the Seattle bid would be rejected and the Kings would stay in Sacramento, there was still the Maloof conundrum: would they sell the team to Sacramento's group?
But the Maloofs had still not agreed to sell to the Sacramento group. As the owners drifted into the Hilton Anatole, Stern played mediator, meeting with George Maloof in a semiprivate alcove off the main lobby. The commissioner brought up the likelihood that the Seattle deal would die that afternoon.
"I was seeking to know ... what he expected would happen if in fact the (board) voted to stay in Sacramento," Stern recalled.
After weeks of putting out mixed signals, Maloof gave Stern the answer: They would sell the team if Ranadive put a little more money in.
Stern agreed to pass along the message. By nightfall, the Maloofs and Ranadive had informally settled on a $535 million valuation, a $10 million increase. The deal remained secret for 24 hours.
The Kings stayed, and will continue to stay for at least 35 more years.