In a stirring speech that set the stage for a showdown with the Maloofs and NBA owners, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson announced Thursday night that fitness mogul Mark Mastrov will submit a competing bid to buy the Kings and keep the team in Sacramento.
Billionaire Ron Burkle will take the lead on a new downtown arena and also will have a stake in the team if the city's bid is successful, along with a team of other investors. In addition, Hall of Fame finalist and former Kings star Mitch Richmond is one of 20 local investors who have pledged $1 million each to the cause.
"We are a city that works to keep what is ours," Johnson said.
Mastrov, who told CBSSports.com Jan. 11 of his interest in buying the team in an attempt to avert its proposed move to Seattle, will submit a "very strong and competitive bid" Friday -- meeting a deadline the mayor imposed to meet several criteria in his full-court press to keep the team.
"I have been assured by the commissioner of the NBA that we will be given full consideration," Johnson said in his annual state of the city address.
Mastrov, who finished second to Joe Lacob and Peter Guber in a bid to buy the Golden State Warriors, is believed to have a net worth of $350 million -- not regarded as enough to stand alone as majority owner in the franchise. But with the backing of other investors and Burkle spearheading the arena, Johnson might just have drawn up a compelling enough play to cause owners who will be voting on the fate of the Kings to take notice.
"With all due respect to Seattle, I absolutely do wish them well and I do hope they get a team someday," Johnson said. "But ... let me be perfectly, crystal clear: It is not going to be this team. Not our team. No way."
A group led by hedge fund magnate Chris Hansen and Microsoft's Steve Ballmer has an executed purchase agreement to buy the team from the Maloof family for $525 million. An application to relocate the team to Seattle next season has been submitted to the NBA, and the Hansen-Ballmer group has, indeed, turned over a $30 million deposit.
Commissioner David Stern has combined two committees of owners -- advisory finance and relocation -- to deal with the Sacramento-Seattle issue. The committees will make a recommendation to the full Board of Governors on which bid to accept. The full board meets April 18-19 in New York.
Johnson, who for three years has fought valiantly as the Maloofs threatened to move the Kings to Anaheim, backed out of an arena deal with Sacramento and then agreed to sell the team to the Seattle group, has forged a potentially potent alternative. Though the purchase price isn't expected to be the sole deciding factor, it's worth noting that the Mastrov-Burkle bid does not have to meet the Seattle bid to the dollar.
If the team were to stay in Sacramento, it would save a relocation fee estimated to be $30 million or more and the city's $70 million loan would not have to be repaid. Thus, the Mastrov-Burkle apples-to-apples number is approximately $425 million to compete with the Seattle bid.
“This is about building a winning franchise for a winning community,” Mastrov said in a statement from the mayor's office. “Sacramento has proven time and time again to be a great NBA market."
Once the dollars are resolved, the Maloofs' fellow owners will be in the uncomfortable position of choosing between relocation and the permanent stain it would apply to the NBA brand and an equally undesirable alternative: telling the Maloofs they can't sell their own asset to the buyer of their choosing.
No owner wants to oversee the destruction of the Sacramento market through relocation after all Johnson and the city have done to stave it off -- least of all Thunder owner Clay Bennett, the chairman of the relocation committee who successfully moved his team from Seattle to Oklahoma City in 2008. But what owner wants to set the precedent that a binding contract to sell an NBA team should be ignored for sentimental reasons?
Johnson believes the owners ultimately will side with Sacramento.
"As a city we have done everything that the NBA has ever asked of us," Johnson said. "Everything. Each time the NBA put a challenge in front of us, we not only stepped up, but we over-delivered. There is literally nothing more that we could have done, and I am convinced that in return for our efforts, the NBA is going to make the right decision. ... A small market that is [as] committed to this league as we are will be rewarded by keeping its team."