Sunday Musings: Sacramento braces for a monumental week

Sacramento Kings fans following the season finale against the Clippers. (Photo: Steven Chea)

The battle to keep the Sacramento Kings in the capital city is almost complete.  Be it a unanimous decision or the expected 7-2 vote on Tuesday evening, Sacramento City Council and Mayor Kevin Johnson will, in all likelihood, approve the finalized deal for a new entertainment and sports center in downtown Sacramento.

This is a story more than a decade in the making.  After so many failed attempts before, Sacramento finally has all of its ducks in a row.  They have not only found the means to build a new arena, they have found the political will to follow a deal through to the end. Sometimes it takes the threat of losing something for true change to happen.

Kings fans have been through the ringer throughout this saga and Tuesday’s historic vote will almost ensure that their nightmare is over.  With a new arena comes a 35-year lease agreement to keep the team in Sacramento.  That means that the team is locked in though 2050.

While May 15, 2013 marked the end of the Maloofs in Sacramento, Tuesday’s vote marks the beginning of a new chapter of stability. With David Stern mandating a new arena as part of the sale of the team to the Vivek Ranadivé led ownership group, this is the only way that Sacramento retains its seat at the NBA table.

As soon as the vote is cast and the documents are signed, shovels will hit the ground.  First comes the demolition of the Downtown Plaza, a failed mall experiment in the heart of Sacramento’s core.  Next will come a two-year project to erect a state of the art facility that will put Sacramento back on the map.

This is a moment for reflection.  For this project to come to fruition, so many pieces to a giant puzzle had to fall into place.  The right political climate was needed, both in Sacramento and at the league office.  The perfect ownership group was a must and the will of the people had to be there for all of this to come together.

Johnson will rely on his allies on the city council to get this project off the ground.  Council-members Angelique Ashby, Jay Scheiner, Steve Cohn, Bonnie Pannell, Allen Warren and Steve Hansen are all expected to vote in favor of the project.  It isn’t a voting block, as much as it is a group that has stood behind this project from the beginning.

But these aren’t the only players that should be applauded.  State Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Senator Ted Gaines each played crucial roles in this game, as did City Manager John Shirey and his right-hand man John Dangberg.  Kunal Merchant, Jeremiah Jackson, Joaquin McPeek and Jeff Dorso are just a few of the names that worked tirelessly behind the scenes as members of Johnson’s inner circle over the last few years.  And there are many more that will never get the recognition that they deserve.

Council-members Darrell Fong and Kevin McCarty have voted against the project at practically every step and may choose to do so in it’s final stages.  While a nay vote is expected, these two have fought hard to protect the city from an arena deal that would do long-term harm.  They haven’t chosen the most popular path, but in the end, their efforts may be looked upon more fondly, as this deal plays out over three-and-a-half decades.

David Stern is gone from office, but rest assured, Sacramento hasn’t seen the last of the former NBA Commissioner.  Be a fondness for Johnson or Sacramento or maybe even something completely unknown, Stern, newly anointed commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA owners stood tall against one of their own.  They held the Maloofs accountable for their misdealings with Sacramento and they supported a fanbase that has always supported the league.

We will probably never know all of the back-story as to why Sacramento was given a reprieve, not once, but twice.  Nor will we ever know how close the 22-8 vote to turn down Chris Hansen and the Seattle group’s bid for relocation really was.

What we do know is that Ranadivé has been a dream owner so far for Sacramento.  He is the perfect personality for a team and an city looking for an identity.  He isn’t Las Vegas.  But he also isn’t Sacramento.  He is global and intriguing and slightly mysterious.

No, Ranadivé hasn’t built a playoff contender yet, but he has shown a willingness to not only invest money in the team, but in the Sacramento community as well.  His insistence on bringing in a team of millionaires and billionaires will come in handy as the $477-million project breaks ground.

The team, led by team president Chris Granger, has already upped the ante once, adding an estimated $30 million to the project for an attached practice facility and other extras.  They have also vowed to pick up any cost overruns, help build out the remaining area and work with the city on a reuse plan for the current Sleep Train Arena location.

The previous owners balked at $3 million in pre development fees.

As for the fans, they have stood strong at every possible turn in this process.  They have proven that they are indeed the loudest fans in the NBA, long before Guinness sent out an official to record crowd noise at Sleep Train Arena.  They have etched a blueprint for all fanbases in the future that are faced with a similar situation.

A hat tip goes out to the Here We Stay group who started the grass roots movement in Sacramento.  But there have been countless others who have carried the torch as well, like Here We Build, The Playing to Win Tour and the folks over at Crown Downtown.  It has taken an army to win this battle and that is what Sacramento has put forth.

The fight to keep the Kings in Sacramento hasn’t been for the faint of heart.  There have been moments of incredible highs, but also the lowest lows.  For every NBA Board of Governors meeting that brought joy and hope, there was a trademark application for the Anaheim Royals or a Daina Falk tweet that shook a loyal city to its core.

So enjoy Tuesday night, it will go down as one of the biggest moments in Sacramento history.  Pray for an 9-0 vote, but understand a 7-2 victory.  Shed a tear, hug one of the many that have helped to make this possible and take a snapshot in your head of what this city looks like now.  Because this is the moment when the Kings truly become the heart of a revitalized, vibrant Sacramento.

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About: James Ham

James Ham provides coverage through news analysis and in-depth interviews with Kings players and staff. James is also one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary "Small Market, Big Heart". James graduated UC Davis with a degree in history and is happily married with two children.