Updated Saturday at 1:41 pm
This saga is far from over, at least according to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. The former All-Star point guard briefly addressed the latest rumors surrounding the Sacramento Kings’ future following a fundraising event for St. Hope, a non-profit education organization Johnson founded 24 years ago.
“I wouldn’t count Sacramento out,” Johnson said Friday night when asked if he believed the sale of the Kings to Seattle was a done deal.
A report early Friday by Comcast SportsNet Bay Area’s Matt Steinmetz suggested that an agreement is in place to transfer controlling interest in the Kings to the Seattle-based ownership group led by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen. It alleged that the Maloof family would sell the Kings for an NBA record $525 million.
Reports also surfaced about potential buyers invested in keeping the Kings in Sacramento. Mark Mastrov, founder of 24 Hour Fitness, confirmed his interest in the team to Ken Berger of CBS Sports. When asked, the mayor neither confirmed nor denied that he’s had conversations with the fitness magnate about purchasing the team on Sacramento’s behalf.
“Honestly, there are a number of people that are excited about the opportunity to own the Sacramento Kings and keep them here,” Johnson replied while meeting and greeting dozens of attendees at Friday’s banquet that raised approximately $450,000 for St. Hope. “This is something that we knew was in the works for quite some time. It just became official that they finally publicly acknowledged the team is on the market.”
As first reported by the Sacramento Bee, Sleep Train CEO Dale Carlsen has also thrown his name into consideration. The Rocklin-based entrepreneur knows there are local groups interested in keeping the team in California’s state capital. And though he may not be a billionaire, he does have the ability to form a group to make an offer.
“I can bring people together and I can try to say ‘hey lets try to keep this team here’,” Carlsen told Kitty O’Neal in an interview on the Friday edition of the KFBK Afternoon News.
If a buyer is to keep the team local, Johnson doesn’t believe a bid needs to match Seattle’s $500-million price tag. In a conversation with USA Today’s Sam Amick, the mayor thinks that an offer between $425 to $450 million will suffice considering the absence of a relocation fee and the city’s existing $77-million loan to the team.
Jokingly, Johnson gauged the interest of one of the NBA’s biggest superstars. LeBron James, who headlined Johnson’s St. Hope fundraiser, was asked by the Sacramento mayor if he would like to do the unprecedented and help buy the Kings.
“Liverpool Football Club – he owns a soccer team,” Johnson said to tonight’s crowd while sitting on stage across from the 2012 NBA Finals MVP. “It’s much different than just normal and I think you get a chance to hear that today. And I think one of the themes that’s come out clearly is he wants to be first. He wants to do things different.
“So are you interested in owning a basketball team?” Johnson asked James, which got a thunderous ovation of applause and laughs from the capacity-filled ballroom.
The NBA’s top dog may not be part of Johnson’s team that will seek to purchase the Kings. However, the mayor seems confident that he’ll be able to assemble a group that gets something done.
“I think that Sacramento is going to be very competitive at the end of the day,” Johnson said as he made his way through the ballroom inside the Downtown Hyatt to shake more hands and greet more smiling faces. “And I’m overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and interest to keep a team here in Sacramento.”