Kings Stay Put

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson accomplished the seemingly impossible, persuading the NBA and the Kings to stay in his city for at least one more year.

Keeping the Kings for the long-term may be an even tougher task as Johnson and the business community now have to come up with a viable plan for a new arena after so many failed attempts in the past.

“This is one of the proudest moments of my life because the community believed when no one else did,” Johnson said Monday. “We kept believing. And if you believe, anything is possible.”

The decision by the Maloof family to keep their team in Sacramento rather than apply for relocation to Anaheim, Calif., is only temporary. Co-owner Joe Maloof and NBA Commissioner David Stern made clear that the team will leave after next season if an arena plan is not in place.

“We spent 13 years and millions of dollars to try to get an arena built,” Maloof said. “We don’t have the answer. The mayor has the answers and we’re willing and able to listen. He’s got to have a plan. We never want to be untruthful to the fans of Sacramento. There is a sense of urgency, and that’s up to Mayor Johnson and his political team.”

Johnson, a former NBA All-Star, said he will meet with the Maloofs this week and ask supporters to channel all their efforts to save the Kings into ticket sales and sponsorships. Sacramento has to show the Maloofs by March 1, when the owners have to file relocation plans with the NBA, that there is a path to funding and financing a new sports complex.

Johnson and other civic leaders have been pushing for a new arena in downtown Sacramento to replace the Kings’ current home north of downtown. It was built in 1988 and is considered insufficient by today’s standards.

A vote in 2006 on a quarter-cent sales tax in Sacramento County to fund a new arena failed overwhelmingly, 80 percent to 20 percent.

“What’s different this time is we are all in it together and we are all collectively going to find a way to get the ball across the finish line,” Johnson said. “And part of that is building a new entertainment and sports complex – not for the Maloofs, not for the Kings, but for the best interest of Sacramento.”

Stern praised Johnson for his Herculean effort at mobilizing the community to keep the team. Stern’s support for another chance for Sacramento is a far cry from his stance during the All-Star break in February, when he said the league would spend no more time trying to get an arena built in California’s capital city.

At that point, the Kings’ departure seemed almost inevitable. But after two extensions of a March 1 deadline for relocation, and Johnson’s efforts to arrange $10 million in sponsorship pledges from the corporate community, the city gets another chance.

Stern said he is sending a team of nine league officials to Sacramento this week to assist with marketing, tickets and the arena. But if this plan fails, Stern said he has “pledged support for a move to another market.”

A feasibility study for a new arena in Sacramento is scheduled to be completed later this month. There has always been a divide between Kings fans and the broader public on how to finance a facility.

Four California lawmakers, including the leader of the state Senate, sent a letter to Stern last week pledging to work with local leaders over the next year to try to build a sports and performing arts complex to replace the Kings’ outdated arena.

“We came away with a strong sense that this was worth the additional year because it seemed to us to be so important to the leaders of Sacramento that they would not allow the opportunity to pass without getting it done,” Stern said.

Sacramento was once a thriving NBA franchise that produced sellout streaks of 497 and 354 straight games. The building formerly known as Arco Arena provided one of the most notorious home-court advantages in the league.

Sacramento, with budget deficits and heavy job losses during the economic downturn, has turned down initiatives for years to contribute public dollars to replace or upgrade the aging arena.

“If we want to be a major league city, you have to have major league facilities,” Johnson said. “And what you saw happen today and over the last couple of weeks, is the community stepped up and said we can make big things happen.”

If Johnson’s plan doesn’t come to fruition, Anaheim could once again be an option for the Kings next year with the Honda Center and its luxury suites waiting in Orange County.

Maloof said he appreciated the support and encouragement from Anaheim officials and said he believed the city would get an NBA team in the future.

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said his city proved it’s “NBA-ready” and should be considered its own market separate from Los Angeles, which already has the Lakers and Clippers.

Stern praised Anaheim’s efforts and said he believes the city will one day have an NBA team.

“This process only moved it along, rather than detracting from it,” Stern said.