In final All-Star address, David Stern says Sacramento still has a chance

HOUSTON -- David Stern said Saturday night it's plausible for Sacramento to overcome an agreement to sell the Kings to a group that would move the franchise to Seattle and believes owners will "have a very open mind."

"But I don't have a vote," Stern said in the final All-Star Weekend address before his retirement.

Stern said he has not and will not meet with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson this weekend as the former NBA point guard is on a three-day mission to persuade owners to consider a competing bid to sell the team to owners who would keep it in Sacramento -- in a new publicly funded arena that's already been approved.

"We have been advised by Mayor Johnson ... that Sacramento will be delivering to us a competitive bid to the one we have received from Seattle," Stern said.

Johnson said he expects a competing bid to be presented to the NBA before March 1, along with the already approved arena financing deal. The purchase agreement to sell the team to a Seattle group led by Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer involves having the team play in abandoned Key Arena starting next season until a new arena clears several legal and environmental hurdles.

"That's a key variable, and I think that gives us a competitive advantage," Johnson said. "… That's a key reason why unfortunately a team left Seattle and why teams do leave, because you can't get arena deals done."

Johnson was vague on what officials he's been meeting with since he arrived in Houston Friday, but said he has made his pitch to several owners. Though Stern won't meet with him this weekend, Johnson said, "I'll do my best to run into him somehow, be in the path that he's walking."

"No owner wants to move a team from one city to another," Johnson said. "That's not the strength of the NBA. That's not the stability of this market and this association and what it's done. You don't want to do that because every time it occurs, it's a travesty to the league."

Stern said he does not believe the issue of Seattle or Sacramento will come down to economics.

"The owners are going to have a tough issue to decide," he said. "... I don't see any scenario where both cities are happy."

Among the other news items Stern touched on Saturday night at his 37th All-Star Weekend since joining the NBA and 29th as commissioner:

* Stern reiterated that he expects a testing protocol to be in place for human-growth hormone in time for next season. He said the adoption of biological passports -- electronic records to track biological markers related to doping -- would be "a subject for discussion with the players' association. ... Our players have been front and center on this. They want to be, and be perceived, as playing in a drug-free sport."

* Deputy commissioner Adam Silver, whom Stern has nominated to succeed him, said he is not in favor of expansion because of the "competitive issue" of "whether there are 15 more of the world's greatest players available without diluting the league. We think we're at the right point now in terms of numbers and players."

* Stern said the Knicks and Nets have submitted competing bids to host the 2015 All-Star Game in New York City. "I really think that Commissioner Silver is going to have a great time with those applications, I really do. And I asked him to send me a postcard to tell me how they go." It would be the first All-Star Game in New York since the 1998 game at Madison Square Garden.

* Stern reserved comment on the National Basketball Players Association's decision Saturday to terminate executive director Billy Hunter, Stern's longtime bargaining adversary. "We've seen Derek Fisher's statement, and we await further notification from the union as to who we should be dealing with," Stern said.

* Asked to divulge his favorite All-Star memory, Stern cited 1992 when Magic Johnson returned from his HIV diagnosis to win MVP in Orlando. "Giving sweaty Magic Johnson a big hug right after he hit the last three and still being able to hug him, because he's alive, every time I see him, that is the top of the list," Stern said. "And it will not be easily dislodged. Even though I do enjoy every All-Star, that one will resonate for the rest of my life."

 
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