The Sacramento press conference had the feeling of a done deal: politicians and businessmen laughing and shaking hands; Kings fans chanting and clapping. If this were a sports victory, the champagne would have been rolled out into the middle of the locker room and the protective plastic draped against the lockers.
But Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, the man at the center of the hoopla, was having none of that.
“We do not want to dance in the end zone,” the former NBA star cautioned the crowd. “We do not want to celebrate prematurely.”
Earlier in the day, the NBA’s Relocation Committee unanimously voted to recommend keeping the Kings in Sacramento, rather than moving the team to Seattle. A couple of months ago the team’s sale to a Seattle-based ownership group, which included Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, appeared all but certain. That was before Johnson cobbled together a Sacramento-based group to make a counteroffer, and before he convinced Sacramento’s City Council to approve an ambitious, risky plan to finance part of a new $450 million downtown arena by leasing future revenue in city-owned parking lots.
“I feel like we’re a team — that we won a round in the playoffs and we’re going to advance to the next round,” Johnson said. “That is good news. But there’s still work to be done. The Board of Governors have to make a final vote,” And after the May vote, the new ownership group will have to finalize a purchase from the Maloof brothers, who own the team and have been trying to move it — to Anaheim or possibly Virginia Beach — for several years.
Seattle hadn’t always respected Sacramento during the two cities’ bidding war, but Johnson had nothing but praise for the Emerald City on Monday. “That has been a community that we respect,” he said. “I respect their ownership group. I respect their mayor.” He said Seattle is deserving of an NBA team — “just not ours.”
Seattle, who lost its SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in 2008, might still win the rights to an NBA expansion team. But barring an unprecedented rejection of the league’s relocation committee by NBA owners, the Kings are staying put in Sacramento.