The Kings and the NBA gave Sacramento one last chance to prove it deserves to be an NBA city.
Now it’s up to Mayor Kevin Johnson and the business community 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.”
Stern praised Johnson, a former NBA All-Star, 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.
“We’re going to put all of our efforts in Sacramento and make it happen and make it succeed,” Stern said. “But if it can’t and this becomes yet the fifth or sixth or seventh, it will be the last as far as we’re concerned, for an effort in regards to an arena. I 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.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, said he would use his clout to make sure his district gets its share of state bond money that could go to build the complex.
“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, a place where fans clanked cowbells so loud opposing coaches and players pleaded to have the noisemakers banned.
The Kings won an NBA-best 61 games in the 2001-02 season behind Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, losing to the eventual champion Lakers in the Western Conference finals at home in a decisive Game 7.