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Ball Don't Lie

Kevin Johnson is still trying his damndest to keep the Kings in Sacramento

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Sacramento, California mayor and former NBA All-Star Kevin Johnson is not giving up on keeping the Kings in the city he's charged with leading. And though the Kings limped to another rough year at the gate and in the standings in 2010-11, Johnson managed to cobble together a stay of execution for the team when it looked as if the group had all but finished its run in the California capital after 26 years.

KJ isn't finished, though, as he attempts to keep the teetering Maloof brothers from taking their team to Anaheim, or wherever will have them.

In an interview with USA Today, Johnson revealed plans for a publicly-financed but publically owned new arena in the city that would count the Kings as tenants, in an attempt to allay the cost. A sales tax hike proposed in 2006 (back when the team was still making the playoffs) was shot down by a wide margin, but Johnson believes such a civic project would go a long way toward helping Sacramento's double-digit unemployment statistics.

"We're talking about 4,000 jobs," KJ told USA Today, "3,700 of them being construction jobs. It's bigger than basketball. It's not just about the Kings. It's not just about these owners. It's really about job creation and quality of life for our community."

Of course, there is the matter of Sacto's relatively small community. But Johnson doesn't want to hear it:

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Sacramento is a viable market. It's a top (30) market They (owners) didn't realize that. They were kind of scratching their heads to say, 'Is it, really?' The city of Sacramento is only, if you're rounding up, 500,000 people. But if you take in the greater Sacramento metropolitan area you're talking about 2.3 million people.

We can't just try to sell something for the city of Sacramento. We've got to talk about the shared benefit around the region. … This notion that we win as a region is very important. Two-thirds of the jobs come from outside the city of Sacramento. Two-thirds of the people who go to games are from outside the city of Sacramento.

That's all well and good, but the Kings have been bleeding money for years because they play in the relatively-ancient Arco Arena. The building may serve as possibly the NBA's loudest when things are going full tilt, but fans haven't had a reason to come out to many games as the Kings go from coach to coach and lottery pick to lottery pick.

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If the Maloofs have been losing money for years in Arco (amongst their other ventures, it should be noted), why would they want to stay for a building that hasn't been agreed upon, much less financed? Even if Sacramento eventually breaks ground, what can the Kings expect?

Here's KJ:

We think the worst-case scenario is 2015. If we can get the financing of all this stuff lined up as we think we can, before 2012, we've already got a design team, architects and contractors starting to work on real numbers, starting to think about schematics and renderings and all that.

It's going to an intermodal, which is very similar to Madison Square Garden (New York) and Boston, where you have a transportation hub connected to a venue that deals with green and transit-oriented development, all those "Smart" things. It goes back to us only having one team. Our market can probably support something that's 600,000 or 700,000 square feet and not something that's humongous, because we just don't have the market to do that. Our footprint will be a little bit smaller. That's why we think we can keep our cost under $400 million.

"Think" and "$400 million" are things no northern California resident is going to want to hear, but this is Johnson's job to seek these things out (basketball connection or not), and 4000 new jobs are no joke. And there is plenty more at this interview well worth checking out.

Anaheim isn't exactly a panacea, and that city's NBA-ready arena isn't exactly sparkly and new. The last thing the Kings want to do is move to a building that will resemble their old building in a few years, as was the case with the Hornets in New Orleans well before the tragedy and setback of Katrina.

The fact that the Maloofs and the NBA are at least listening is a good sign for Sacramento, if also a foreboding nod to a paucity of options in other potential NBA cities.

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