Arena deal falls by the wayside, but saga isn’t over yet

I woke up Saturday morning and when I looked in the mirror, I had a faint row of white hair on each side of my head.  I have had a few white hairs in the past – after all, I am 36-years old.

But this is something different.

That is what the last year has done to me and many others.  It has taken its toll in so many ways, so much so that my partner here at Cowbell Kingdom, Jon Santiago called me yesterday afternoon just to see how I was doing.

During the filming of Small Market, Big Heart, when I interviewed longtime Sacramento Bee reporter Tony Bizjak last September, he told me this was the greatest story of his career.  He’s a respectable journalist who’s written for a major metropolitan newspaper for more than 20 years.

And again, this is the greatest story of his career.

Why is this story so special?  Because of the staying power.  The Kings relocation saga is entering month 16 and there’s no way that it won’t last at minimum another year.  Battle lines have been drawn and re-drawn and I expect things to get downright nasty from here on out.

What is at stake?  For some people  - everything.  For a guy like me, I will only write about NBA basketball as long as I have a team to write about.  And when I don’t have a team any longer, I will lay my keyboard down and move on with a heavy heart.

I’m not ready to move on yet.

We saw fireworks in New York on Friday.  I could write a hammer piece like this gem over at Sactown Royalty, or the maybe something like our friend Zach Harper wrote last year when faced with similar conditions.  But honestly, that has never been my style.

I am a positive person.  I have a belief that cooler heads will prevail and I have been known to say “follow the money” on more than one occasion.

I now know that George Maloof has no interest in keeping the Kings in Sacramento.  His body language said it.  His economist talking about Stockton and Indian artifacts said it.  But mostly, this incredible list of demands really said everything that anyone needs to know.

Maloof asked that the team be able to relocate after 15 years in a new building.  He asked that the team not be subject to city taxes and not be responsible for game-day expenses – like police and firefighters.  These are only three of the 16 issues that George brought to the table.

It wasn’t a list of demands. Rather, it was a list of how they would blow up the deal.

And make no mistake, they blew up the deal.

Does is matter that George Maloof feels this way?  No, it doesn’t one bit.  Eventually his head will cool, as will Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is beyond livid right now.

Can these two sides work things out?  I’m not sure, but I am willing to put money that we have not seen the last negotiation between them.  Sacramento needs the Kings and while they may not believe it today, the Maloof family is going to need Sacramento.

Why?  Easy.  Sacramento will struggle to ever replace the Kings if they leave.  Look no further than Charlotte, N.C. to see what happens when you let a team leave and replace it down the road.  The love is gone.

Why on earth do I believe the Maloofs need Sacramento?  Because they aren’t going anywhere else.  Anaheim is not going to happen.  While David Stern cannot replace an NBA owner, he can advise other owners to turn down a relocation bid.  He can also run the relocation fee so high that no one will be able to pay it.

Last year, I had been told the relocation fee to move to Anaheim would have ranged between $150-200 million, and that was before the Kings would have to write a $70 million check to Sacramento bonds holders.

Henry Samueli has money, for sure.  But lending $220-270 million for a 43 percent stake in a $300 million product isn’t going to happen.  That’s right – 43 percent is what the Maloofs own, not including an estimated $100 million they owe the NBA.

Can the Maloofs try an antitrust lawsuit against the league?  Good luck with that.  In case anyone missed the subtle jab by Stern during his presser on Friday, he knows plenty of antitrust attorneys and this suit would get really ugly.

Ugly and expensive.

What if the Maloofs try to move the team elsewhere?  Seattle?  No, they are not going to do a deal with owners that cannot help build a new arena in the Emerald City.  Kansas City?  That beautiful new stadium lacking an anchor tenant is owned by AEG, the company that was willing to pay $60 million towards the new stadium in Sacramento.

The Maloofs also showed up Stern on Friday.  They made the commissioner tell the world that he has no ability to make things right in Sacramento, regardless of what the community did to prove its worth.  The Maloofs embarrassed the most powerful man in the NBA at his annual Board of Governors meetings and he will never forgive and never forget.

So for the time being, George Maloof will step away and leave his brothers with the mess.  And trust me, it’s a mess.  Season ticket holders are going to cancel at an alarming rate (I know more than a few who have already made the call).  And it’s a shame because renewal rates were through the roof.

Remember that $10 million in new corporate money Mayor Johnson brought in last year?  Don’t count on that for next season, or the season after that, which will most likely still be here in Sacramento when they are denied access to Anaheim.

The best option, maybe even the only option is Sacramento.  So while George Maloof is busy making statements to USA Today about not wanting to negotiate with Kevin Johnson anymore, he has ignored the fact that no one in Sacramento wants to deal with him.

Probably ever again.

The city of Sacramento wants new owners.  They have even lined up two potential suitors.  Instead of listening to potential offers, the Maloofs have pulled the copper from inside the walls, smashed toilets and removed the cabinetry.  And we aren’t even talking about the 19-41 team that’s lost seven in a row.

So I am optimistic.  I believe that I will get to continue writing about NBA basketball.  I don’t like what happened over the last few days and I certainly don’t like white hairs, but I hope that this is the greatest story of Tony Bizjak’s career, not mine.

I want to watch DeMarcus Cousins become an All-Star.  I want to see if Jimmer Fredette can prove so many fans wrong.  I want to see the playoffs from my courtside seat and maybe one day, I want to cover a championship team that raises a banner to the roof of a new Sacramento arena.  Now that would be the story of my career.


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About: James Ham

James Ham is co-owner and senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also provides game day coverage for NBA.com and is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary "Small Market, Big Heart".