Before basketball fans nominate Joe and Gavin Maloof for sainthood for keeping the Kings in the state capital, consider the more Machiavellian side of their gamesmanship. Weary of Sacramento’s more-than-decade-long inability to build a new arena, the brothers brazenly flirted with Anaheim’s Honda Center and its billionaire owner Henry Samueli, who offered up to $75 million in incentives to lure the Kings. Ultimately, the Maloofs decided to stay put for one more season not “in the interest of fair play” as they claimed on Monday, but because they were unlikely to get the needed majority of owners to approve their move.
The NBA’s seven-member relocation panel said no even though its chairman, Thunder owner Clay Bennett, took the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City a year after telling Seattle fans the team wouldn’t leave. Both the Lakers’ Jerry Buss and Clippers’ Donald Sterling were understandably against the Kings plans to move just 30 miles from the Staples Center.
New Warriors owner Joe Lacob also didn’t want the Kings invading the L.A. market fearing another team might get the green light to move to San Jose. Throw in an impassioned plea to the league by Sacramento mayor and former NBA All-Star Kevin Johnson, and the Maloofs weren’t being magnanimous in deciding not to leave, they pretty much had no choice.
However, the stay of execution is probably short-lived. Sacramento has failed 11 times in the past dozen years to replace Power Balance Pavilion, previously known as Arco Arena. Built in 1988, it is one of the league’s oldest facilities and lacks the level of luxury suites and amenities commonly found around the league. Throw in declining attendance following five straight losing seasons, while playing in an economically depressed region and you can see why Sacramento is bracing for the worst.
Last week, a number of California lawmakers sent a letter to NBA commissioner David Stern pledging to work with local leaders to try and build a sports and performing arts complex to replace the Kings’ outdated arena. Johnson insists, “If we want to be a major-league city, you have to have major-league facilities.”
But even with $10 million in new sponsorship commitments, Sacramento is hard-pressed to win popular support to finance a new arena with public funds. Oakland learned that the hard way when they brought back the Raiders and now faces a similar dilemma in the A’s quest for a new stadium.
Of course, the 49ers are still looking for funding for a new stadium they hope to build in Santa Clara. The business of professional sports is generally quite simple. Either lend your local team a hand or get ready to wave goodbye.
KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.