Kevin Johnson and Sacramento poised for victory in fight over Kings, but not celebrating just yet

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In Sacramento’s fight to keep its only major pro sports team, a resolution is finally in sight.  Earlier today, the NBA announced that its relocation committee unanimously agreed to recommend against relocating the Sacramento Kings to Seattle.

“I didn’t see a unanimous vote coming,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said in comments to NBA TV during game four between the Hawks and Pacers in Atlanta. “But they decided as strong as the Seattle bid was, and it was very strong, there’s some benefit that should be given to a city that has supported us for so long, and has stepped up to contribute to build a new building as well.”

The next step in the process is a decision from the league’s entire Board of Governors.  The NBA requires seven business days before action on the recommendation can be made.  The league’s 30 owners are expected to convene during the week of May 13 and make a final vote on the matter.

“I feel like we’re a team that won a round in the playoffs and we’re gonna advance to the next round,” Mayor Kevin Johnson said Monday evening at a press conference at the Firestone Public House in Downtown Sacramento.  “That is good news, but there’s still work to be done.”

Below are more comments and notes from today’s press conference from the city of Sacramento reacting to the recommendation from the league’s relocation committee.

  • Johnson on Seattle: “That has been a community that we respect. I respect that ownership group, I respect the mayor. They deserve (to be) an NBA city. I know they don’t think it’s over and they’re gonna keep fighting. So no matter how this turns out, we in Sacramento are very proud and respective of those people in Seattle…”
  • Democratic State Senator Darrell Steinberg: “Let us not rest on our laurels. Let us show respect for the city of Seattle. It may only be halftime and if we’ve got another half to play, let’s win.”
  • Republican State Senator Ted Gaines: “Here we stand…on a bipartisan basis to see if we can make a difference in our community. And I represent the northern county all the way up in Lodi, Shasta County, Lake Tahoe. And I tell you we’ve got fans for the Sacramento Kings in every one of my 11 counties. And isn’t that representative of Northern California and how we care?”
  • Sacramento City Councilman Allen Warren told a story of how he competed in basketball against the mayor in high school.  After his Grant High Pacers fell to Johnson’s Sacramento High Dragons, he knew then that Johnson was destined for bigger things.  “I remember a tenacious point guard who our coach came to us and said you know this guy can beat you. You gotta pay attention to this guy. I was a senior, he was a junior in high school that year.”
  • Mark Friedman, one of the major equity investors in the proposed Sacramento ownership group, talked about how many counted out the capital city back in January: “Three months ago when the Maloofs signed a contract to move the team to Seattle, I don’t think there were many believers in this city. There were lots of doubters. But there was one person who pulled us all together, who recognized that contract as an opportunity and that’s of course our Mayor Kevin Johnson.”
  • Johnson believes this wasn’t about proving Sacramento was a better city than Seattle.  Rather, he thinks the relocation committee’s decision was based on whether Sacramento was still a viable NBA market: “Our position was this isn’t Sacramento competing against Seattle. This is Sacramento trying to lay out a compelling case why the team should stay right where it is.”
  • The mayor claims that he’s not yet sure what the next steps are for the city in this process.  He isn’t sure if the NBA will facilitate negotiations to sell the team on behalf of the Maloofs, but believes there will be more clarity in the days ahead.
  • Johnson reiterated multiple times that the effort to keep the Kings is not over just yet:  “It’s definitely been a mountain that I’ve climbed. I think we’re getting closer to being at the top, but we’re not there yet. And as all of us have said, we’re not gonna celebrate prematurely. This was a big win for Sacramento. We would not be telling the truth if we didn’t act like this was a big win. But we’ve got to respect the process. Owners are still gonna deliberate and make a final decision. If they vote in our favor, then we’ll come out and have a real party in Sacramento.”
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