By Tony Bizjak
After weeks of backroom talks, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson tonight announced that 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov has agreed to make a bid to buy the Sacramento Kings to keep them from moving this year to Seattle.
The mayor, during his State of the City address at Memorial Auditorium tonight, also announced grocery billionaire Ron Burkle and the owners of the Downtown Plaza have agreed to team with the city to build a downtown arena.
The mayor sweetened his offer, to be delivered to the NBA tomorrow, saying the new group has agreed to bring back the Sacramento Monarchs women's professional basketball team.
In addition, the mayor said former Kings star player Mitch Richmond would join about 20 other investors from Sacramento, each pitching in $1 million to buy a 7 percent stake in the Kings that is being auctioned in bankruptcy court.
In an often impassioned, sometimes theatrical speech before an estimated 3,000 people, many of them Kings fans, the mayor vowed Sacramento will not let Seattle take the Kings. The speech took on the atmosphere of a pep rally, with many in the crowd standing and cheering when Johnson took off his jacket to display his purple shirt and tie, and then announced Mastrov's name.
"Many across the country have counted us out. And I know we are still very much in this game," he said. "I hope Seattle gets a team someday. Let me be perfectly crystal clear, it is not going to be this team. Not our team. no way."
The mayor also announced that Sacramento businesses have committed $50 million in sponsorships for the Kings over the next five years. "Don't tell me we don't have a strong corporate community," he said.
While he said the Mastrov's bid would be competitive, Johnson did not provide details of how much the founder of 24 Hour Fitness is offering for the Kings. The Seattle group's bid for the Maloof family's 65 percent share is estimated to be $341 million. Johnson said he will fly to New York in April to pitch Sacramento to the NBA team owners group.
"As a city we have done everything the NBA has ever asked of us," he said.
Neither Mastrov nor Burkle joined the mayor on stage during his speech.
In a statement issued just after the mayor's speech, Todd Chapman, head of JMA Ventures, the company that recently bought the Downtown Plaza shopping mall, said he is thrilled that Johnson, Mastrov and Burkle have put together a bid for the team, and said his company is excited to participate. But he stopped short of saying his company had fully signed on yet.
"We are excited to continue our discussions with the Mayor, City Manager, Mark Mastrov and Ron Burkle about how Sacramento Downtown Plaza can be a new home for the Kings' organization," Chapman said. "Our goal has always been to create a dynamic center for the city in the heart of Sacramento, and an arena for the Kings at Sacramento Downtown Plaza would certainly be a fantastic addition."
The mayoral announcements should trigger several weeks of intense lobbying by both Sacramento and Seattle, culminating in an NBA vote on April 18 on whether to ratify the deal the Maloof family has struck with Seattle.
In brief statements issued through the mayor's office, Mastrov and Burkle offered no details about their plans, but said they are pleased to be part of something special.
"This is about building a winning franchise for a winning community.
Sacramento has proven time and again to be a great NBA market," Mastrov said. "As a
longtime resident of Northern California with deep ties to Sacramento,
I am thrilled to be a part of an effort to do something special for
Burkle said he is "excited about the economic possibilities for the arena and for
downtown Sacramento as a whole. We have an opportunity to transform
downtown into a vibrant hub of economic and cultural activity that
will create jobs and generate a positive economic impact for years to
come," he said.