By Tony Bizjak, Ryan Lillis and Dale Kasler firstname.lastname@example.org
LAS VEGAS - It's official. The Kings are staying.
After weeks of political drama and speculation, team officials announced this morning they are dropping plans to move to Anaheim this year, co-owner George Maloof told The Bee.
"We are heading back to Sacramento. It was a tough decision. Ticket holders were reaching out to us, and it was the right thing to do to give it a shot at one more season," Maloof said during a lengthy interview in his office in the Palms casino in Las Vegas.
The move came just a few hours before a league-imposed 2 p.m. deadline for the Kings to file a formal request to the league to relocate the team for the coming season.
NBA commissioner David Stern told the Maloofs this was the right decision. George Maloof said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson now has to come up with an arena plan by March 1.
"We are prepared to work with the mayor," Maloof said. "We'll give him every opportunity to show us what he has in mind."
"We're not going in with a defeatist attitude," he added. "We'll look to the mayor to turn his words into reality. We have to put him on the spot. He has represented he can get it done. It needs to get done."
Despite their decision to stay, it's clear the Maloofs remain doubtful an arena can be financed in Sacramento.
"We need to see how it is going to be financed and quite frankly, we are not going into this with a big checkbook," Maloof said. "Is it even right to ask people to pay for it?"
The decision to stay was "in the best interest of the franchise," Maloof said. He said family members initially disagreed about what to do, but eventually made a unified decision.
"It wasn't easy. At the end of the day, we felt we should go back and give it one more try. Some of us felt it wasn't necessary to go back (to Sacramento), some of us felt we should give fans the opportunity. We're all on board though with this decision."
Asked why they decided to stay under these circumstances, he shrugged and laughed: "Blind faith, I guess."
The Maloofs said it seemed there was an unusually high number of people from Sacramento staying at The Palms the last few months, and the family found themselves trying to explain their actions. "You want to explain. It's not as easy as just coming back," Maloof said.
Sources said the Maloofs felt strongly up to the last minute that a move to the Honda Center in Anaheim would provide a more stable financial situation for the struggling team. George Maloof said on Monday that the franchise will continue its relationship with Anaheim officials.
"Henry (Samueli, operator of the Honda Center) is a stand-up guy," Maloof said. "We have a deal with Henry we feel is fair. The NBA had issues with the media (TV contract) component."
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Johnson launched a late campaign to solicit $10 million in new corporate sponsorships for the team next season. League officials, in turn, are said to have told the Maloofs privately last week they want the team to remain in Sacramento, at least for one more year to give Sacramento a last chance to pull together a plan and financing for a new sports and entertainment arena.
Now that the Kings will be here one more year, the team needs to get to work with marketing for the upcoming season.
"We want to call all our corporate sponsors right away," Maloof said. "We want to call everyone who reached out to us the past several weeks. We want to thank them and we want to sell tickets right away."
The team will also seek the NBA's assistance in marketing the franchise and helping to sell tickets for next season, Maloof said.
With the arena now the focus, officials here have been talking in the last two weeks about forming a multi-county "joint powers authority" to finance a facility, but said they have not yet determined what revenues might be tapped to pay for the project.
If the Kings had filed for relocation, they would have faced a vote of the league's board of governors, made up of the 30 team owners. Sources say the Kings called other owners over the weekend to gauge how many votes the team may have had on the board of governors in support of a move.
The decision to stay in Sacramento, however, leaves the team in a precarious financial position. The Kings' owners are said to have serious concerns about being able to survive financially in Sacramento without a new arena.
The team owners are believed to have talked recently with Southern California billionaire Ron Burkle, who has publicly said he wants to buy the team or a stake in the team to help keep it in Sacramento. However, Maloof family members have said repeatedly they do not want to sell the team.
The Kings launched initial talks with Anaheim officials about a move several months ago, as Sacramento's latest efforts to build a new arena crumbled. The team had planned to file for relocation two weeks ago, but ran into opposition at a league meeting in New York after the mayor made a play for more time to show the NBA Sacramento could financially support a team better than it has the last few years.
The drama reached a peak last week when Johnson announced he had secured $10 million in new corporate support to keep the team here, and Samueli countered by increasing the loan he is offering the Maloofs from $50 million to as much as $75 million to play in the Honda Center, which his company manages.
Samueli's sweetened offer was not enough to counter the NBA's desire for the Kings to remain in Sacramento for at least one more year.
"I just don't think they wanted to take on the league," said a consultant familiar with the Kings finances. "There's a lot of resistance here. It's a long fight."
Stern had said the league would give Sacramento until next March to develop an arena plan, and the consultant said it made more sense to wait a year - a year likely to be interrupted by a work stoppage anyway - than to fight.
"Why fight if you're talking about a short-term roadblock?....It's less than a year."
Looming in the background is billionaire Burkle, who wants to buy the Kings. A source close to Burkle said he remains interested in the team and believes the financially strapped Maloofs will likely reach out to him.
"He's the guy sitting there playing cards who has four aces," the Burkle associate said.
TOP VIDEO CREDIT: George Maloof talks to Bee reporter Tony Bizjak in his office in the Palms casino in Las Vegas.
BOTTOM VIDEO CREDIT: Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson talks about the Kings' decision to remain in Sacramento for next season. Video by Randy Pench.