HOUSTON — David Stern spoke for about 30 minutes Saturday night to a crowded room on the service level of Toyota Center in Houston. It was a State of the Union press conference, essentially, but you didn’t have to read between the lines too hard to walk away with one strong impression.
Sacramento, Calif., is probably going to be without an NBA team soon, and possibly forever.
Stern didn’t say that, of course. It’s not even his place to say. He will not have a vote when NBA owners decide whether or not to accept Seattle’s bid take the Kings, and did his best to distance himself from the discussion, but as NBA commissioner he knows which way the wind is blowing.
“This is a good time to be a commissioner and not an owner,” he said.
Stern said Seattle had a strong ownership group — Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer and hedge fund manager Chris Hansen — with a deal that would purchase the Kings for $525 million and build a new arena. Stern described it as a normal bid for an NBA team, and said he wasn’t aware of anything Seattle could do to enhance its chances.
Through its mayor, former NBA star Kevin Johnson, Sacramento has indicated it plans to submit a competing bid including construction of a new arena “with a significant subsidy from the City of Sacramento,” Stern said.
“It’s going to wait upon mayor Johnson making good on his statement that there will be an offer,” Stern said. “And it’s going to, I think, be upon, in the Sacramento area, a number of the regional municipalities and the various people who have been saying they’ll give the mayor the support that he needs. And we’ll see.”
Stern even directed something of a sniping remark at Seattle, which of course lost the Sonics to Oklahoma City and is still bitter about it five years later.
“I seem to remember, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, that there was a $300 million-plus subsidy for the Mariners, and a $300 million-plus subsidy for the Seahawks, and there was legislation which precluded that for the Sonics,” Stern said. “And (Washington State House) Speaker (Frank) Chopp said we should take the money from our players. Is there anything I’m missing here?”
In other words, Sacramento had better pony up.
Johnson is in Houston this week, reportedly lobbying behind the scenes to help keep the Kings in California. At this point, you’d have to call him an underdog.
And it just gets more sour for Sacramento from there.
Stern and Adam Silver, who will take over for Stern next year, discussed the possibility of NBA expansion, and made it sound like, for the foreseeable future, the league was unlikely to add a new team in Sacramento or anywhere else.
“There is a large group of owners who believe that expansion as an economic matter, is a neutral thing,” Stern said. “At least the way we’ve done it to date, you get a lot of money in and in return for that you cut the new team in for a large and growing source of revenue . . . And then it doesn’t really seem to make that much additional sense.”
Silver had concerns about the talent pool, “whether there are 15 more of the world’s greatest players available without diluting the league. And we think we’re at the right point now.”
It is still too early to declare a winner between Seattle and Sacramento, or even to handicap it, but one thing was clear.
“I don’t see any scenario,” Stern said, “where both cities are happy.”