DALLAS - Where to begin? While the NBA owners were expected to endorse the relocation committee's recommendation and keep the Kings in Sacramento, the scene at the Hilton Anatole these past two days was filled with tension, drama, anger, and perhaps surprisingly, more than an occasional display of humor and humility.
As I pack up for the flight to Oakland for Game Six of the Western Conference semifinal between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, here are a few final thoughts, observations and tidbits:
When I was a young journalist attempting to establish myself in the business, a wise man known as Pat Riley once advised me: "Write what you see, not what you hear." Lesson learned. The body language and demeanor of George Maloof, David Stern, Adam Silver, Kevin Johnson, Chris Hansen and Vivek Ranadive, among others, pretty much told the story. The Kings are staying in Sacramento, the Maloofs are intent on finalizing a deal to sell their majority interest to the Ranadive group within the next few days, and in something of a shocker, the Cold War appears to be over. KJ effusively praised the Maloofs, and after publicly acknowleding the mayor's efforts to put together an ownership group and an arena deal to counter the $341 million offer from investors Chris Hansen/Steve Ballmer in Seattle, George Maloof, in a one-on-one conversation in the hotel lobby, sounded genuinely impressed with Sacramento's political/business/financial/civic coalition that secured the Kings. Undoubtedly, and given his history, George Maloof will fight to get the best deal for his family. But he appears ready to compromise and finalize an agreement, and wave goodbye to Sacramento without relocating the Kings.
Seattle will be getting an expansion team, and in the very near future. The league announced Monday that it has reopened negotiations on a new television contract, and while the decision to keep the Kings in Sacramento was the right thing to do on many levels - see AV columns in The Bee - there is no way Stern or Silver don't try to keep Hansen and Ballmer in the fold. Once the sale of the Kings is finalized, the expansion discussion will gain traction. Nothing against any competing cities, but it is hard to imagine any groups from Las Vegas, Virginia Beach, Kansas City, outdueling Hansen and Ballmer for a franchise. Remember, Sacramento was an incumbent city. And once upon a time, Seattle was a great NBA town.
I believe this to be true about the Maloofs: Emotionally, Joe, Gavin and Colleen Maloof were determined not to sell controlling interest in the franchise. But they entrust George with their financial matters, and at some point, he clearly decided the family needed to shed their debt and 65 percent interest in the franchise. My disagreement with him is on this point: if the family needed to sell, fine. The economy toppled a lot of financial empires. But if he wanted to sell, he should have said so publicly, ensuring that investors intent on keeping the team in Sacramento were aware of his intentions. Sports is different than other businesses. Note the very quick assembling of Ranadive, Jacobs, etc., that pushed the NBA execs to the brink. This rush-to-sell didn't was bruising, for all concerned. Stern looks sooooo ready for his Feb. 1 retirement.
The emotional tugs for Sacramento were considerable. KJ is a native son, and Mark Friedman comes from a prominent local family. Speaking briefly, and with subtle passion during the late afternoon press conference, Friedman recalled evenings when his mother read to him from the book, "The Little Engine That Could." Folks around the NBA are still stunned that Sac pulled this off.
Ranadive would be a very involved owner, and undoubtedly, would eviscerate much of the Kings business and basketball operations. His choice of basketball execs will be particularly interesting. People tend to hire people and players they know. Fortunately for Sac, Ranadive's reps shot down reports that he was infatuated with undersized ex-Warriors guard. Ellis gets traded for Andrew Bogut, and even while Bogut is injured, the Warriors evolve into one of the league's more entertaining and successful teams. This is not a coincidence.
Most of the league execs flew out of Dallas shortly after the meetings ended, among them Clay Bennett (Oklahoma City) and Jason Levien (Memphis Grizzlies), whose teams played the series finale in OKC shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, many of us were still at the hotel when tornado warnings were issued for the area. We were told to seek shelter in the bathrooms if we were in our rooms. Other journalists working in the downstairs media room were directed to a larger, more secluded conference room, coincidentally, the same room where the Board of Governors convened earlier in the day.