Sacramento mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson, left, and arena developer… (Mary Altaffer / Associated…)
In an alarming turn for Anaheim's attempt to land a third NBA team in Southern California, Commissioner David Stern on Friday gave Sacramento two more weeks to boost the argument that it deserves to keep the Kings, that city's only major league franchise.
Stern extended the deadline to May 2 for Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof to apply for relocation to Anaheim's Honda Center. That amounted to a green light for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to continue selling league officials on the credibility of his plan to build a downtown arena with the help of Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle.
"The mayor's vision we don't know if it's real or pie-in-the-sky, but we'll knock ourselves out finding out over the next few weeks," Stern said in a New York news conference. "This is very building-focused."
Though Stern's act was viewed by some involved in the process as a nod to the 25-year loyalty of Sacramento's fervent fan base, it complicates the Kings' plans for arrival in Anaheim by next season. The Maloofs presented details of their move Thursday and were poised to apply for relocation to the NBA's Board of Governors on Monday.
The board has 120 days to approve a relocation application and the league is bracing for a labor battle by July.
An NBA team official familiar with the Board of Governors' relocation committee discussions but unauthorized to discuss them publicly said the league is intrigued by the 11th-hour entry of Burkle, a co-owner of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, and impressed by how quickly Johnson mobilized what Stern said was $9 million in team sponsorship and season-ticket buyers.
The model of allowing Burkle and Johnson to work toward a new downtown arena on a 230-acre plot is considered no less impressive than the financially struggling Maloofs' attempt to move into the nearly 20-year-old arena in Anaheim, some league officials said.
"The kids have no money," the NBA team official said.
Stern nevertheless told reporters he has concluded that Southern California "can support" a third league team and noted that previous attempts to build an arena in Sacramento have been met in the league offices by "eye rolling."
Stern said the delay does not mean that the Kings will be "forced to stay in Sacramento" next season.
Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said in a prepared statement, "We understand that the relocation committee is balancing a variety of issues we remain hopeful and optimistic that the NBA will have a franchise playing at Anaheim's Honda Center in the near future."
The relocation committee headed by Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett will press the Maloofs and Honda Center officials to specify their plans for anticipated television revenue in Anaheim, and to detail arena improvement initiatives for which the city of Anaheim last month authorized $25 million in a $75-million bond package that includes undetermined relocation fees the Maloofs would owe.
In Sacramento, the Maloofs' local television deal nets less than $10 million annually, money the owners kept.
In Southern California, a possible TV deal could enter the $20-million annual range, and the league wants to know whether that revenue will be placed in its revenue-sharing pot.