- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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NEW YORK -- There’s good news and bad news; which do you want first?
Even as NBA commissioner David Stern shared the happy news that the Hornets were finally moving out of their parents' basement, the owners of the Sacramento Kings were a few blocks away in Manhattan with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson trying to salvage a deal to build a new stadium and keep the team in place.
It didn’t work. Instead, on a Friday the 13th when one NBA franchise found a stable home, another was in shambles.
“Unfortunately it's not going to happen,” Stern said of the talks between Johnson and the Maloofs. “But I can say [Sacramento] has stepped up, and you know, I'm extremely protective of the Maloofs' rights to do what they did as owners. I'm sorry that the parties were not able to make a deal. ”
It was only a few weeks ago at the NBA All-Star Game that Johnson, the former Suns guard, affectionately put an arm around Stern as all parties celebrated the framework of a deal. But as the NBA’s Board of Governors met in the ornate setting of the St. Regis Hotel, the likelihood of a conclusion satisfying to both parties became starkly remote.
Even Johnson didn’t have a last-second shot to save this game.
“Is the deal dead? As we know it, absolutely,” Johnson said.
Earlier in the day, the Maloofs had gone rogue in an attorney’s office in Rockefeller Center. An agitated George Maloof brought out an economist, letters from the city, and legal documents with yellow flags and highlighters worthy of Alice’s Restaurant to illustrate how difficult it was to flesh out that framework.
"I am defending myself, I’ll tell you why,” Maloof said, “because the mayor this morning called me a liar.”
The Maloofs questioned whether the city had the funding. Johnson questioned whether the Maloofs have the money and whether they had ever been negotiating in good faith. Maybe Anaheim, Seattle or some other midlevel American market was the goal, Johnson said, and Sacramento’s efforts were expected to fail.
“Our intention is to get a deal done,” George Maloof said. “Not to kill a deal, but to get a deal done.”
In his own news conference, the last one of the long day, Johnson called the scene bizarre, and in terms of professional teams wanting to keep the dirty laundry in the locker room, the Maloofs were breaking the code. Still, the commissioner for the owners defended their right to defend themselves to the people of Sacramento -- a city that scraped up $260 million in a tough economy to help fund a new stadium.
“It's probably not the weirdest press conference we've ever had in the NBA,” Stern said.
But this isn’t what a league in search of consistent profits needs, another drain on emotional energy and resources. Stern agreed to donate $7 million to help lubricate progress, but now things could get much more expensive.
Do the Maloofs move the team? Johnson said again that Sacramento was committed to a franchise, so does the NBA try to get another team in the market? Stern seemed tired enough of all the what-ifs that he posed a question of his own.
“You want to talk about jerseys?” Stern said.
On the day of a Board of Governors' meeting, the NBA was not in control of the message. Business negotiations that usually take place behind closed doors were being played out in news conferences, needing only PowerPoint presentations to complete the picture.
Few NBA fans likely have the stomach to digest the numbers and the payment schedules, but they know chaos when they see it.
All three parties -- Stern, George Maloof and Kevin Johnson -- could agree on one thing: There is no clear path moving forward.