This was just another wild and crazy day in a Kings arena saga that has extended into its second decade - and become more dramatic by the hour. Before a fourth major investor emerged in the attempt to buy the team, build an arena and keep the franchise in Sacramento, joining the efforts of billionaire developer and Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle, 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov and Golden State Warriors minority owner Vivek Ranadive, I spoke with several interesting parties and NHL sources about Burkle.
The group includes former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell and Pat Brisson, Sidney Crosby's agent and longtime friend of hockey legend Mario Lemieux, who partnered with Burkle to buy the Penguins out of bankruptcy in 1999 and faciitated development of the new Consol Energy Center. I wrote a column about this for Tuesday's print editions of The Bee, but for a look ahead:
* Rendell, who was governor when the private/public financing plan for the arena was finalized in 2007, characterized Burkle as an aggressive, bruising, but fair negotiating partner. The former governor estimated the state's contribution to the $321 million facility, which opened in 2010, at 35 percent.
* Burkle is universally described as an intensely private, media-shunning pro sports owner. Nonetheless, because of his willingness and financial ability to spend and compete in the market, he is extremely popular in Pittsburgh. Of course, his team also wins: Since he joined Lemieux's ownership bid, the Penguins have been to the Stanley Cup finals twice, won once, and withstood repeated relocation threats before the new downtown facility was negotiated and constructed. The Penguins also currently own the best record in the NHL, are regarded as elite hockey franchise in the United States, and have sold out the building since Valentine's Day, 2007.
* The plot thickens. The addition of Ranadive last weekend to Sacramento's potential ownership group was interesting enough. David Stern loves his reputation as the most progressive commissioner in professional sports (think WNBA, the number of African-American head coaches, etc.), and the fact Ranadive would be the first Indian-born native is extremely significant. So is Stern's retirement date: Feb., 2014. If Mayor Kevin Johnson's coalition somehow pulls this for Sacramento? I think the Kings finally find a permanent home. That said, I still think Seattle winds up with an expansion franchise or the promise of the next team that financially is forced to relocate.
* The introduction of the Jacobs family, founders of San Diego-based Qualcomm, does nothing but strengthen Sacramento's efforts and suggest that a competitive bid for majority interest in the team will be presented to the league's relocation committee in the next few weeks. Of course, let's not forget the Maloofs have already agreed to sell the team to the Chris Hansen/Steve Ballmer group in Seattle, but also, that the Board of Governors has the right to approve all sales and relocations. Again, the league does not want yet another relocation, particularly one involving a franchise that was extremely robust and viable - a model franchise, Stern said - before the Maloofs were crushed during the nation's economic collapse.
* Burkle and Mastrov abruptly canceled a Monday afternoon visit to The Bee. In light of the late-afternoon developments, and the introduciton of the Jacobs family, it starts to make sense.