To fans' dismay, Kings era in Sacramento seems to have ended
Potentially the last Kings game in Sacramento was 116-108 loss to Lakers
Fans chanted 'Here We Stay!' in hopes of persuading team to stay
Maloofs must get 16-14 majority vote at BOG meeting to relocate
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- By the time Kings coach Paul Westphal disappeared into the home tunnel at this place known forever as Arco Arena, the goodbye party behind him was just getting started.
A chorus of cheers started slowly and percolated, slicing through the boos that rained down only because of the extra shot to the gut that no one saw coming. Kobe Bryant had played his heartless role in this once-great rivalry, showing no mercy to this city that wanted one last win.
His three-pointer in the final seconds of regulation forced overtime. His 36 points were of the typical coldblooded variety. His arms stretched left and right when the game that would end with the two-time defending champions up 116-108 was all but over. But everything that came before it was enough to spark the civic pride, the frenetic Kings surging back from 20 points down in a furious fourth quarter that felt like a parting gift even with the end result. And as was almost always the case when it came to this city and its 25-year marriage with its team -- through Reggie Theus and Chris Webber and even former King Ron Artest -- the locals showed the love in what was possibly the last Kings game ever.
They stayed through U2's "One Love." They didn't move during Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight." The sit-in that had been orchestrated by local radio man Dave Weiglein, aka Carmichael Dave, began along with the chants.
"Here We Stay!"
"We're not leaving!"
They stayed for more than an hour, through the tears of fans and dancers and the return visits of players and coaches who were met with ovations worthy of pre-game introductions. Francisco Garcia addressed the crowd, vowing to call their home his no matter what's to come of the team's looming relocation bid to Anaheim. There was no difference between the basketball and the business on this night, and the fans who were so long known as the most loyal in all the league can only hope the fight that takes place in the coming days matches the one on display in the finale.
Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof were already in New York by tipoff time, preparing for a Thursday presentation at the NBA's Board of Governor's meeting that will determine their fate. They will talk of small-market challenges and large market benefits, explaining to their fellow owners how the Honda Center is a good fit and how the lease agreement with Anaheim Ducks owner Henry Samueli isn't as flawed as some have made it out to be. Yet according to numerous ownership sources, their pitch is hardly a formality in this process and there remains a small chance the "Here We Stay" chants might come true after all.
After making their pitch, the Maloofs must file for relocation by the Monday deadline.
At that time, a relocation committee that is appointed by commissioner David Stern has up to 120 days to review the proposal and offer a recommendation. The size of the eventual relocation fee remains significant as well, as the recent precedent set is $30 million but the likely figure far greater if the Lakers and Clippers have anything to do about it. One minority Kings owner who spoke with SI.com estimated that a relocation fee in the neighborhood of $100 million, for example, would likely force the team to stay.
The combination of the Maloofs' well-chronicled financial troubles and the significant pushback from some owners against the notion of having a third team in the Los Angeles market has complicated the Maloofs' situation. One owner who spoke anonymously to SI.com said "a lot of owners are leaning against it." And with league officials and some owners concerned about the Maloofs' long-term viability, there are many who would prefer they either sell the team or move to a market that doesn't infringe so heavily on their colleagues, who need a 16-14 majority vote to ensure the Kings stay put.
The hope is certainly slim for Sacramento, and it can be found both in the most unlikely of places: Lakers owner Jerry Buss. It's widely known that Buss is adamantly opposed to the move, largely because his television contract with Time Warner that starts in 2012 and is, according to two sources with knowledge of the terms, potentially worth $5 billion over 25 years would, according to ESPN.com, reportedly be worth 10 percent less should the Kings move to Anaheim.
It's a stance that has been delivered more than once by Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who spoke out against it yet again before Wednesday's game.
"[The Kings remaining in Sacramento] would broaden the expanse of the NBA," Jackson said. "We miss Seattle. St. Louis has offered to be in the NBA a few times and hasn't made the grade. Kansas City has a new arena, and they used to have the Sacramento team in their town, so there are a lot of opportunities, but we'll see what happens."
The Maloofs, who currently earn approximately $11 million annually in their deal with Comcast, are well aware of the Lakers' TV figures and have been hopeful of tripling or even quadrupling their current revenues. But while Fox Sports West recently lost the Lakers and is widely believed to be badly in need of a replacement partner, the Maloofs may be unpleasantly surprised once they sit down at the bargaining table.
The Clippers' annual television figure, believed to be $22.5 million, is expected to be an approximate starting point in those negotiations. The $150 million annual earnings that the Lakers brought in on their previous contract is virtually irrelevant for the Maloofs' purposes, and the leaguewide average is believed to be $20 million annually. With the Maloofs counting on a television windfall to help with their significant costs -- from the $77 million owed to the city of Sacramento that must be paid upon departure to a hefty loan to the NBA and the aforementioned relocation fee -- it's yet another reason to wonder if they can execute this problematic proposal.
Yet Anaheim officials are clearly both motivated and prepared to finalize the deal. Samueli will be attending the meetings along with the city's mayor, Tom Tait, the duo having already secured $75 million in bonds that are intended to help grease the wheels of this moving bus. Approximately $50 million is reserved for relocation expenses and $25 million is for a practice facility, and the NHL owner who has wanted an NBA team in the Honda Center for so long appears prepared to cut as many checks as it might take to finish the deal.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is certainly hoping something goes awry. But the former NBA player who took office in 2008 has a pitch to make of his own, as he will address the finance advisory committee on Thursday in an attempt to show why Sacramento deserves to have this team or perhaps another.
"The Maloofs are going to be trying to share why they think it's important for them to move to Anaheim, and I'm going to make a case for why it's important that they stay in Sacramento," Johnson said before the game. "I'm not trying to block their deal, and I've said all along that they have to make decisions that are business decisions that are in the best interests of their franchise. I just don't believe the grass is greener in Anaheim.
"If owners feel that the market is too saturated in LA, that would probably work to our advantage. If the Maloofs are trying to put a deal together in Anaheim that's not quite as good, or things don't work out in their favor, they may consider staying Sacramento. Maybe the deal overall isn't good and the other owners aren't excited about it. We can't control that."
The helpless fans controlled what they could as the evening wore on. Nearly an hour after the end had come, the camera flashes came to a crawl but the chants continued.
"We're not leaving!"
Radio play-by-play man Gary Gerould continued to broadcast from the seat he had held since the team arrived from Kansas City, and eventually was given a chant of his own. Weiglein ended the sit-in he had started at 10:47 p.m. Pacific time, grabbing the microphone and ask the crowd of more than 1,000 to head home from atop a ladder at midcourt
The end, sadly and somewhat suddenly, had finally come.