Sacramento, Seattle officials pitch competing visions for Kings


NEW YORK — Investors and officials trying to keep the Sacramento Kings from leaving town finished pleading their case before the NBA on Wednesday but said they can’t predict how the league will rule on the tug-of-war with Seattle.

After an approximately two-hour, closed-door pitch to a committee of NBA owners, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and his investors said they were pleased with the presentation and confident in their chances.

But it was obvious that the Kings’ future in Sacramento is far from certain. NBA Commissioner David Stern said both cities made compelling arguments for why they should be home to the team. But the commissioner said the NBA owners need “a lot more data and information,” and it’s possible they won’t be able to decide the issue as scheduled at their Board of Governors meeting later this month.

“We’re doing it as fast as we collectively can,” Stern said.

Johnson acknowledged that Seattle, which made its presentation earlier in the day, represents formidable competition.

“The NBA said both sides did a good job and they’re going to continue their deliberations,” the mayor said at a press conference after Sacramento’s presentation, held inside the tony St. Regis Hotel.

Stern noted Sacramento’s long history of supporting the NBA, including its latest plan for a downtown arena, but added there’s “no question Seattle is a thriving, vibrant market.” He said it’s possible the league won’t make up its mind until sometime after the Board of Governors meeting April 18-19.

Earlier, the Sacramento group said it believed it answered every question to the committee’s satisfaction. Lead investor Vivek Ranadive, a software tycoon from Silicon Valley, said, “They gave us a very fair hearing….We’re excited where we are.” Co-investor Mark Mastrov also expressed confidence in the bid.

State Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said the committee of owners asked pointed questions about California’s environmental laws and whether they could interfere with a proposed new arena at Downtown Plaza. Steinberg said the state is prepared “to do whatever it takes to avoid unnecessary delay.”

Stern said “The NBA staff is going to ask each city to provide more information about ‘potential obstacles’ to building an arena quickly.”

Johnson said Kings co-owner George Maloof — whose family agreed in January to sell the team to the Seattle group — attended the presentation, which “we all welcomed.” Sacramento investors are trying to convince the Maloofs to sell them the franchise if the NBA vetoes the Seattle plan.

The mayor said he and George Maloof — who publicly feuded after the family scrapped an arena plan last spring — exchanged pleasantries beforehand. “We hugged, we laughed a little bit.”

The Sacramento group wouldn’t directly say if it has matched the offer made by Seattle’s group. Stern said last month the initial Sacramento bid was too low. But today, he said “that is not one of the issues.”

Ranadive said, “We think our offer is very, very good — All the stakeholders will be very pleased with the offer.”

The Maloofs agreed to sell their controlling interest to the Seattle investors for $341 million.

Johnson said Sacramento co-investor Ron Burkle worked to persuade the NBA owners that Sacramento can deliver a new arena on time at Downtown Plaza. Burkle, who rarely grants interviews, did not attend the press conference.

The mayor said Burkle and mall owner Todd Chapman said the $448 million building would be the centerpiece of a downtown revival.

The Sacramento group followed a presentation earlier today by investors and elected officials from Seattle.

The Seattle group, led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, made a 90-minute pitch accompanied by Seattle’s mayor and the King County executive. They walked the NBA panel through the proposed purchase of the Kings from the Maloof family. George Maloof, who was in the room with his brothers Joe and Gavin, told the committee it should green-light the family’s deal to sell their interest in the Kings to the Hansen group.

The publicity-shy Hansen, breaking his long silence on the Kings story, spoke to reporters for five minutes afterward, saying, “We’re hopeful for an outcome in our favor.” He declined to talk about the questions posed by the NBA owners.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine, in a separate press conference, said the NBA owners pressed them with questions about the political climate and fan support for returning the NBA to Seattle after a five-year absence.

The owners “just wanted to dig into the details,” McGinn said. “This was really their first exposure” to the deal.

B0th officials pronounced themselves pleased with the meeting.

Constantine, referring to the Maloofs, added, “It was touching to hear them talking about their long involvement” with the team and the NBA. The Maloofs took control of the Kings in 1999 but have fallen on hard times financially in recent years.

Johnson called his investor group a “dream team,” making note of Ranadive’s having been born in India. “It just so happens the commissioner (Stern) is going to India next week,” the mayor said.

As luminaries arrived for the big meeting, a horde of media gathered outside the St. Regis in the early morning chill, with temperatures in the mid-30s. A small cluster of Kings fans, including transplanted Sacramentans and those who came to New York to support the city’s effort, stood in front of the luxury hotel chanting, “Sacramento!” Radio personality “Carmichael” Dave Weiglein arrived in his purple recreational vehicle, which he has been driving cross-country to promote the fight to save the Kings.

Johnson has been in New York since Monday morning preparing, and says Sacramento has done everything the NBA has asked of it. The City Council last week approved a nonbinding term sheet for a $448 million arena, including a $258 million public subsidy.

Back in Sacramento, a bankruptcy trustee confirmed today that he received a letter of intent from Kings limited partner David Lucchetti to purchase the 7 percent of the team owned by developer Bob Cook.

But trustee David Flemmer said he needs a formal “asset purchase agreement” from Lucchetti before the businessman can grab the 7 percent share away from Hansen, who made a $15 million bid for the stake last week.

Lucchetti, as a limited partner, has the right to buy the share by matching Hansen’s offer.

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