After more than a month of rumors and speculation surrounding Sacramento’s bid to keep the NBA Kings, Mayor Kevin Johnson finally delivered some clarity to the effort Thursday night.
During Sacramento’s annual State of the City event, Johnson announced that Mark Mastrov, owner of 24 Hour Fitness, will lead a group that will submit a bid Friday to buy the Kings from the current owners, the Maloof family.
Johnson also announced that Ron Burkle, co-owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, will lead the effort to build a new arena in the Downtown Plaza area of Sacramento.
The Maloofs have reached an agreement to sell the team to a group led by Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who would relocate the team to Seattle beginning with the 2013-14 season.
That sale and the relocation, however, still needs to be approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors in April. Johnson’s hope is to present an offer that will compel the NBA to deny the Seattle sale and keep the team in Sacramento.
“We have done and will continue to do whatever it takes to keep our team in Sacramento,” Johnson said during an event held at the city’s Memorial Auditorium in front of a cheering crowd.
Johnson also announced that former Sacramento star Mitch Richmond would be part of a group of local owners who would try to buy a 7 percent share of the team that is in bankruptcy. Twenty local residents have pledged at least $1 million each to that effort, Johnson said.
Finally, Johnson also announced that as part of the plan, the city would look to bring back a WNBA franchise (the Monarchs folded in 2009) and that Sacramento’s business community has pledged $50 million in corporate sponsorships for the first five years in the arena.
Johnson did not announce details of Mastrov’s offer other than to say “my understanding is that it will be a very strong and competitive bid.”
The Seattle group paid $341 million to purchase 65 percent of the team and also put down a $30 million nonrefundable payment by Feb. 1.
There were also no specifics of the funding or the cost of the arena, though it is expected the city of Sacramento would contribute more than $200 million, which will still need approval from the Sacramento City Council.
Johnson said he had been assured by NBA commissioner David Stern that Sacramento’s plan “will be given full consideration.” He also said he plans to be in New York for the Board of Governors meeting to “represent our community and build a compelling case” for why the team should not leave Sacramento.
He noted that this is the third straight year Sacramento has had to fight to keep the Kings and that the team has not yet left.
“As a city, we have done everything that the NBA has asked of us,” he said. “Each time the NBA put a challenge in front of us, we not only stepped up but we overdelivered. There is literally nothing more that we could have done and I am convinced that in return for our efforts, the NBA will make the right decision (and keep the team in Sacramento).”
The involvement of Mastrov and Burkle in Sacramento’s bid to keep the team had been rumored and reported often since the news broke of the sale of the team to the Seattle group on Jan. 21.
There had been some thought that each might be involved in the bid to buy the team. Instead, Johnson announced only Mastrov as part of the ownership group and Burkle with the arena plan.
Mastrov made a failed attempt to buy the Golden State Warriors in 2010.
If the NBA turned down the Seattle bid, Mastrov’s group and the Maloofs would have to come to a separate sale agreement.
Johnson, though, said he was confident Sacramento’s plan will be successful, saying, “I know we are still very much in this game.”
Johnson also made reference to Seattle’s bid to lure the Kings away. He said that while he hopes Seattle gets another NBA team someday “let me be perfectly clear — let me be perfectly, crystal clear — it is not going to be this team. Not our team. No way. No way.”