Maloofs still deciding Kings’ future

Posted April 22, 2011, at 8:18 p.m.
Last modified April 22, 2011, at 10:19 p.m.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The future of the Sacramento Kings is headed to another overtime.

Kings co-owner Joe Maloof said Friday that his family is still deciding whether to move the franchise to Anaheim, and he confirmed that NBA officials will be in Sacramento again next week to further research the city’s viability.

Maloof told The Associated Press he’s “as anxious as anybody” to find out if Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson can deliver on his promises for more sponsorship support and finally finance a plan for a new arena. He denied reports the team has already made a decision.

“There’s been no decision made,” Maloof said. “As far as we’re concerned, we’re still looking at our options.”

The Kings have until May 2 to request permission to relocate, and a majority vote by owners is needed to approve any move. While Johnson has become increasingly optimistic that the team will remain in Sacramento next season, Maloof said the team still wants to know more information about the region’s proposals.

Part of that started to filter out this week.

Johnson ended two days of meetings in Sacramento with NBA relocation committee chairman and Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett and league counsel Harvey Benjamin. Johnson’s desperate pitch to league owners a week earlier in New York was enough for NBA Commissioner David Stern to send out the “fact-finding team,” and the mayor’s proposals when they arrived swayed the league to dispatch more representatives next week.

The Kings released a statement that the franchise will wait for the committee’s findings before making a decision. In the end, the Maloofs could still choose to put a vote before owners.

“I don’t know that Kevin Johnson’s meeting in New York swayed the NBA one way or another, but I think that the NBA next week is going to go into Sacramento to verify a lot of the promises Kevin Johnson made to the board,” Maloof said. “There were various sponsorship promises and a promise to show the board, once and for all, how a new arena not only will be planned, but financed.”

For a league that usually rubber-stamps relocation requests, Sacramento certainly seems to have done all it can to fight back.

Johnson presented more than $9.2 million in commitments for new advertising, ticket purchases and other financial support from regional businesses and other backers. He said that would help the Kings next season and allow the city more time to complete a plan to build — and finance — a new arena, which the cash-strapped city has refused to contribute public dollars toward for years.

Once the meetings were finished, Johnson even rode with Bennett to the airport and said the league’s relocation committee chairman — who moved the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City three years ago — was impressed with Sacramento’s latest presentation.

“They just said to us we delivered on what we were supposed to do,” Johnson said, adding that he hasn’t heard from the NBA or the Maloofs on a final decision. “It’s not a done deal yet. I’ve heard a lot of rumors. But I don’t think we’re at a point by any means that we can declare victory.”

The league has no plans to send a similar investigative team to Anaheim.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank confirmed officials will be back in Sacramento next week to continue studying Sacramento’s proposals. The league offered no further comment on the meetings other than to say: “Clay Bennett had informative meetings with the mayor, elected officials and business leaders and will be reporting back to the Relocation Committee next week.”

Sacramento rolled out a purple carpet for the NBA while they could.

The business community encouraged fans with all kinds of specials for patrons wearing purple. Everything from margaritas and sangrias to ice cream and popcorn were dyed purple and there were a slew of signs downtown and around the state Capitol asking the NBA for support.

“Stand up for Our Town. Our Fans. Our City,” one poster read.

It was hard to walk anywhere around Sacramento and not see Kings colors the past two days. A few dozen Sacramento supporters even rallied with signs outside NBA headquarters in New York, part of social-networking effort that took shape with even those no longer in Sacramento.

“I’m wearing purple cause we (are) trying to keep the Kings in Sacramento!” former Kings star and TNT analyst Chris Webber wrote on his Twitter page.

There’s also an effort led by a Sacramento political consultant to thwart a $75 million financing plan that Anaheim’s City Council approved to lure the Kings to the Honda Center. In a letter to Benjamin, Sacramento political strategist Rob Stutzman said he will turn in more than 11,000 signatures to Anaheim officials Monday that supports a referendum to reverse the financing package, possibly forcing a public vote that wouldn’t take place until June 2012.

The Maloofs maintain they have no issue with the efforts by Johnson or Sacramento. They also don’t believe their relationship in Sacramento is strained to the point they couldn’t return.

“I think the Sacramento fans appreciate the Maloof efforts over the past several years,” Maloof said. “We’ve spent several million dollars and hundreds of man hours in trying to find a solution for a new arena in Sacramento. It’s not like we were there one, two, three, or even four years.

“We’ve tried and tried again, in conjunction with city leaders and politicians and city leaders. I think the fans will definitely welcome us back because we’ve been fair. The question I always ask fans is, ‘What would you do?’ We’ve been honest.”

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