David Stern sat at a hotel lobby table cheerfully conversing with George Maloof. A little while later, he calmly got up and walked over to take a photo with a young NBA fan and his mother. A few hours later, Stern could be seen leaving his board meeting for a break in the action, hands gesturing wildly as he paced about.
The scene was at the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas, Texas last May before the NBA Board of Governors voted in favor of keeping the Kings in Sacramento and against relocating the team to Seattle.
The many faces of the outgoing NBA commissioner are what those who follow professional basketball have become accustomed to. Most of the time, his PR genius left folks trying to decipher his messages. His ability to say something without actually saying something and say things of meaning at the same time is a Stern staple. We saw it throughout the Kings relocation saga.
He was a master at cutting the cake, but making the slices as small as possible.
He would drop intentional bombs like Sacramento's offer on the team "is not quite there" in comparison with Seattle's offer. (Later it would become comparable, of course.) On the other hand, he would say he doesn't "believe it's going to come down to economics." He would call the potential Seattle ownership group "strong" and then praise Mayor Kevin Johnson and Sacramento's efforts.
Basketball reasons man.
One thing he did say that hit home during the saga was, "I don't see any scenario where both cities are happy."
These are memories that probably produce some strong emotional response from Kings fans (and Sonics fans). But regardless of what he said, you always got the sense that he knew what the endgame would be and that he was always in control of the Kings' fate, not the Maloofs.
Throughout much of his tenure as NBA Commissioner, Stern seemed to be in control and he is often tagged with the label of running the league with "an iron fist." Fair or unfair, for the most part, he made the NBA a lot better by running it the way he did.
Since he took office on Feb. 1, 1984, he revolutionized the league through TV deals (a $600 million deal with NBC in 1989); made the NBA an international game; helped the country through the Magic Johnson HIV news and the spread of the disease in general; hired the first female referees in U.S. sports (Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner); and he's taken a league that was once a one-floor operation with 24 employees to a league that is now valued at around $19 billion.
And that is just a short list of all the things he accomplished.
I said earlier that "for the most" his impact was positive because you can't overlook things like the Tom Donaghy scandal (certainly Kings fans can't forget) and the Malice in the Palace, but overall, the league is in much better shape than it was when he took over.
And don't forget, the Kings coming to Sacramento in 1985 was just Stern's second big decision as commissioner (the Clippers moved from San Diego to Los Angeles in October 1984). So maybe there has always been a soft spot in his heart for the capital of California.
Heart played a big part (from a lot of people) in keeping the Kings in Sacramento, but it wasn't just that that made the difference. As has been said many times, the decision on whether to relocate the team was always up to Sacramento and its ability to find new owners and a viable plan for a new arena. Stern and the majority of the other NBA owners discovered Sacramento had what it takes and made the decision, plain and simple. And it was clear from the start that Stern thought Sacramento had a chance.
At the beginning of the 2013-14 season, Stern returned to Sacramento as a follow-up meeting to that rainy day in Dallas last May. As he stepped onto the "Purple Carpet" and the fireworks shot into the air (yes, remember when that actually happened?) he was all smiles. He embraced the moment, spent ample time with reporters, waved to the fans and watched the Kings defeat the Denver Nuggets in their home opener as new owner Vivek Ranadive, the man who replaced Stern's chair side partner in Dallas, sat courtside.
It was Stern's world - a world he's helped establish and facilitate over the last 30 years.
"It feels really, really good to keep the Kings in Sacramento," Stern said on his Sacramento trip.
As Greg wrote earlier, we may never know just how big of a role Stern played in keeping the Kings here because there were so many moving parts, but all things considered, having this lion of a man so closely involved never was going to hurt Sacramento's chances.
Stern now has the key to the city and let's never forget that he helped unlock Sacramento's future.
"I'll be there when the new arena opens in October 2016," he said last October.