The Maloof family, the majority owners of the Sacramento Kings basketball team, have struck a deal to sell the team to a group that would move it to Seattle. But Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson says his city won’t give up so easily. The NBA must approve any deal.

Fans have campaigned to keep the Kings basketball team in Sacramento. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Fans have campaigned to keep the Kings basketball team in Sacramento. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Johnson, who was a three-time All Star in his 12 years in the NBA, told a press conference Tuesday afternoon that he has commitments from 19 local investors to put in a million dollars apiece to buy the team and keep it in the state capital.  (After the press conference, Ryan Lillis of the Sacramento Bee tweeted that Johnson has secured a twentieth investor.)

$20 million’s a drop in the basket against the $340 million that the Maloofs have been offered by the Seattle group, but Johnson says he has at least one big-money investor – he refers to them as “whales” – who will be firmed up in the next week or so.

The Sacramento Bee reported Wednesday that the “whales” might be Ron Burkle, a billionaire who is co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey club, and Mark Mastrov, the founder of the 24 Hour Fitness chain. Both have previously expressed an interest in the team. The Bee says they would not only buy the Kings, but also be involved in financing a new arena.

James Ham writes about the Kings for and the blog Cowbell Kingdom, and co-produced a film about the team and its famously loyal fan base called “Small Market, Big Heart.

“The mayor’s office was working on this long before the Seattle news came out,” he said after the press conference. “This has always been a possibility, that the Maloofs would decide to sell.  I think that Sacramento and the mayor himself thought the Maloof family would have enough respect for all of the support and financial backing that this community has given them, to at least make Sacramento part of the conversation. Instead, they completely circumvented the mayor and just went straight to Seattle.”

Seattle’s old NBA franchise, the SuperSonics, was bought by Oklahoma City investors in 2008 and became the Oklahoma City Thunder. Sonics fans have been longing for a new basketball team ever since. Ham says while Sacramento’s the 20th largest TV market in the U.S. and Seattle’s the 12th  largest, it isn’t a slam dunk that Seattle would be a better venue for the NBA.

“When you look at the Seattle market, they have professional baseball, football, and soccer, and they may end up with a professional hockey team. That’s a lot of major league sports to not just divert fans, but support from the business community. In Sacramento, [the Kings] are the only game in town, and it’s always been that way. In the history of the two franchises, Sacramento had better attendance than Seattle in almost every season that the two teams existed at the same time.”

Meanwhile, the effort to keep the Kings gained an unlikely champion on Tuesday. State Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg sent a letter to the state’s department of general services, suggesting that if the move to Seattle goes through, California might want to re-evaluate its purchase of Microsoft products and services.  Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is one of the principals of the Seattle group.

And some less well-known fans have made a music video in support of the effort.

The NBA makes the final decision, and they’ve said they will listen to both cities. Presentations will likely take place in March.

Sacramento Not Giving Up on Kings Despite Seattle Deal 23 January,2013Nina Thorsen


Nina Thorsen

Nina Thorsen is a KQED radio producer and director, and frequently reports on sports, food and culture.  

She co-created and produced KQED’s Pacific Time,  a weekly radio program on Asian and Asian American issues that aired from 2000 to 2007. Before coming to KQED, Thorsen was the deputy foreign editor for Marketplace.  In her home state of Minnesota, she worked for A Prairie Home Companion and for Public Radio International.  

Nina was honored by the Radio-TV News Directors Association of Northern California in 2012 for a series of stories on the Oakland A’s stadium.  She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in speech-communication. 

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