Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and other political and business leaders emerged from meetings with NBA officials Thursday optimistic about their efforts to keep the Kings in town.
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A week after Johnson made a desperate pitch to the NBA Board of Governors in New York that persuaded the league to dispatch a fact-finding team to Sacramento, the mayor believes he made another splash when they arrived. He presented $9.2 million in commitments for new advertising, ticket purchases and other financial support from regional businesses and other backers to prevent the team from moving to Anaheim.
Johnson said his pitch to Clay Bennett, the Oklahoma City Thunder owner and the NBA’s relocation committee chairman, and league attorney Harvey Benjamin made a strong impression. He originally promised $7 million to league owners and NBA Commissioner David Stern.
”If you go back a week ago from today, we thought it was virtually over,” said Johnson, a former NBA All-Star. ”And not only did we prevent the team from leaving, we got a chance to show them who we are. And when we said $7 million, and the commissioner said, ‘Well, prove it,’ he sent a team out and we over delivered. I mean, this is Sacramento. This is what makes us great.”
The meetings began two days of talks with the two NBA representatives.
Johnson, Bennett and Benjamin first met in California’s Capitol in the office of Senate President Darrell Steinberg. That meeting included local political leaders.
They later met at the U.S. Bank tower downtown with business leaders, including Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce President Matt Mahood. The relocation team headed by Bennett, who moved the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City three years ago, also was expected to tour proposed sites for a new arena.
Stern wanted to investigate further because he said past arena efforts in Sacramento were ”usually an eye-roller” and didn’t know if Johnson’s assertions were ”real or a pie in the sky.”
”They’re sort of verifying some of the representations by Mayor Johnson about how to produce so much in increased sponsorships, so much in increased ticket revenues,” Stern said Thursday night in Philadelphia before the 76ers-Heat game. ”And as a result, if the team does come back or stay in Sacramento for another year, it will not only be much better off financially, but it will also give us the time to deliver a deal on a regional basis for a new arena.”
The pitch by business and political leaders centered on that regional effort — not just one by city of Sacramento, as in the past — to increase team sponsorship and finance a new arena. While Johnson has yet to publicly disclose the businesses involved in his secured commitments, other leaders backed up his claims to league representatives.
”Sacramento put a stake in the ground today saying the Kings need to stay,” Mahood said.
Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof have until May 2 to request permission to relocate to Anaheim. After years of failed efforts to replace outdated Power Balance Pavilion, formerly called Arco Arena, Sacramento officials are using the extra time to show the NBA that they can finally agree on a plan to finance a new facility.
A new arena feasibility plan — the major sticking point in past efforts — won’t be completed until a few weeks after the relocation deadline. A majority approval by owners would be needed to approve the move, and political leaders in Sacramento believe there’s still time to convince the NBA the Kings shouldn’t leave.
”I don’t think they have made up their minds,” City Councilman Rob Fong said.