It was all but a guarantee that the Sacramento Kings had played their last game in the city they have called home since 1985 at the end of last season. Everything was set, or at least the Maloof brothers, who own the team, were set, for a move to Anaheim and the television revenues and newish arena that could be found in the suburb of Los Angeles. It would have been a move to a major market. Yet, none of it came to pass.
The Kings have remained in Sacramento, for this season at least. This is in part due to the city and Mayor Kevin Johnson’s strong push, at the urging of the NBA, to fund and build a new arena in an attempt to coerce the Maloofs into keeping the Kings right where they are. Despite their readiness to abandon the city and the Kings’ loyal fan base, the Maloofs actually agreed, albeit tentatively, to remain in Sacramento and have their team play in the new fancy arena that the city will build. It all seemed like a win-win situation. The Kings stay in Sacramento and the Maloofs, as inept as they are at business, have a shiny new arena in which they can try to amend some of their financial losses. Then the walls fell.
At the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting last week, the Maloofs, who you recall were just fine with the arena deal before, made it known that they wanted to restructure the deal. None of the arena plans have been changed, it is the same deal. The only thing that has changed is the thinking of the Maloofs (that is if you buy into the notion that they actually supported the deal in the first place and weren’t just biding their time before they pitched relocation again).
Kevin Johnson will not renegotiate the deal. Why should he? They struck a deal. Gavin Maloof referred to the arrangement between his family and the city of Sacramento as a “fair deal.” Apparently, what was once fair, and has not changed, is now precarious and obscene. It would be easy to vilify the Maloofs for their change of face but Twitter and Al Gore’s internet have already done that.
They are business men. Not good ones, but they have made a lot more money than most people can ever dream about. The Maloofs see the Kings as a business venture, one that paid off handsomely in the early 2000s when the team was regular playoff contenders. Now they are a lottery team. Despite a fervent fan base, lottery teams are not known for raking in much profit and the Kings fit that bill. As the property of the Maloofs, the Kings are subject to their whims even if that means relocation to Anaheim. David Stern has said as much.
Sacramento has been more than cooperative with the league’s insistence that a new arena be the backbone of a continued Kings tenure in the city. This is not a situation like Seattle (which is a permanent blight on the league). The city of Sacramento and state of California have a $255 million financial commitment to the arena out of the $400 million proposed total cost. Not only that, but Stern has stated that the league was willing to front $70 million to the Maloofs to help right their finances as the arena is built. That is a lot of money being thrown at the Maloofs to keep their team in Sacramento but they are still dragging their feet.
Stern, and the NBA, is in a tough position. The city has done its part. The league has done its part. They Maloofs…eh, not so much. This is not a situation alike the New Orleans Hornets where the league stepped in and purchased the team. George Shinn, the former owner of the Hornets, was not financially solvent therefore the league had to act. The Maloofs, if just barely, are solvent and everyone is getting paid. League ownership is not an option. It has been suggested that the league and the Board of Governors strip the Maloofs of their ownership but that would be a coup for the ages that would likely end up in the courts. Not a good option.
Unfortunately, there are no good options for keeping the Kings in Sacramento as long as the Maloofs own the team and are willing to distort the facts, pull out of deals, and be generally sleazy on all levels. The situation that the Maloofs have created has tarnished them indefinitely. In their meeting with the Board of Governors, they presented an economist who sullied the arena deal and virtually every other proposal set to keep the team in Sacramento. Consider every bridge burned.
However, there is some truth in suggesting that the arena is not such a beacon of financial prosperity for the city after all. The taxpayers are already footing part if not most of the $255 million that the state and city are contributing. They rest will come at the hands of developers and business men who will “require” tax incentives in order to invest in the project. These incentives will likely include a below value tax rate for the better part of a decade or more so that they can reap the benefits of a high profile, low tax property. This is pretty standard for arena deals. Not only that, but developers will ask for the same incentives to build around the arena creating a low tax zone which will be marketed to the public as the best way to draw new business to the area. Meanwhile, the city is robbed of desperately needed revenue. It happens all the time and property values are not guaranteed to go up. In fact, they could potentially drop as is the case in Dallas with the Victory Park development around the American Airlines Center. But at least the Kings get to stick around.
The Kings are a great organization with shitty ownership. Their fans are amazing and have voiced their want to keep their team where it. Unfortunately, the Maloofs do not see eye-to-eye on the issue. Premature obituaries have been written before on this site and they will likely happen from time to time. However, this one does not seem premature, if anything this feels like it has been a long slow death. Every procedure was used in order to try and breathe life back into the effort to keep the Kings in Sacramento. For a moment, it even looked like it might make it, might come back from the brink of death. Not so fast. The Maloofs have a firm grasp on the cord and are about to yank it out of the wall. Sorry, Sacramento. You fought the good fight but your effort to keep the Kings will soon flat line and it won’t be your fault. Don’t worry through; after the Kings are relocated you can keep up the good fight in court. The legal option is all the Maloofs will leave you with.