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Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Kings fans' opinion doesn't matter

By Tim Keown
ESPN.com

Sacramento Kings fans don't understand. They don't understand how their loyalty, always durable, often completely illogical given their team's laughable mismanagement, isn't powerful enough to keep their team from moving to Seattle.

The team's flagship radio station is doing everything it can: playing the John Belushi "Animal House" motivation speech on promos while the hosts exhort the fans to fight the power. It's not over 'til the moving vans arrive might sound good, but the fans have no control. They should be used to it, though, or at least jaded by the process. Those who aren't disgusted are organizing rallies and pledging money and trying to sell out the arena -- oh, how the Brothers Maloof must absolutely hate that form of punishment -- to convince the NBA board of governors how serious they are about proving to the world how much they deserve to keep their team.

Kevin Johnson
Mayor Kevin Johnson continued to fight for Sacramento on Tuesday.

There's nothing wrong with the effort. It gives them an outlet for their frustration, but that doesn't make it any less delusional. They don't matter, and they never have. They've sold out the building in 19 of the 27 seasons in Sacramento -- doesn't matter. They cheered for every Brook Steppe and Quincy Douby who wore the purple -- doesn't matter.

They didn't do anything to put their team in this position, and they can't do anything to stop it. Welcome to the big business of professional sports.

The Maloof family, fronted by three brothers who saw their family fortune dwindle as they oversaw a basketball team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2006, have agreed to sell the team to a group that will move it to Seattle. The price: reportedly an NBA-record $525 million, a total that includes the NBA relocation fee as well as payoffs for large loans the Maloofs took from the city of Sacramento and the NBA. After clearing the Maloofs' debt and fees, the Seattle group's 65 percent interest comes out to a cool $340 million.

Incompetence has its benefits, depending on your station in life.

They had an arena deal, personally negotiated by David Stern, and the Maloofs turned their backs on it last spring when they refused to pay predevelopment costs of around $7 million even though the city of Sacramento agreed to come up with $255 million for an arena to house the Maloofs' investment. If the unlikely happens and a local owner appears to keep the team in town, the arena plan remains in place.

When news of the Seattle involvement first broke, the Maloofs said the team was not for sale. They owe the city -- the city they refuse to address -- $77 million. The Seattle group has agreed to give the Maloofs a $30 million nonrefundable deposit. You thought your landlord had it good. If the league nixes the deal and keeps the team in Sacramento, the Maloofs will pocket that $30 million in addition to the sale price offered by a future and still-hypothetical Sacramento group.

There's nothing we hate more than ungrateful professional athletes. We look at their salaries and their effort and pass judgment. This guy doesn't deserve what he's being paid, and that guy over there must have some guts to complain about his deal considering how little he produced. But what about the owners? What's their responsibility to their communities? Marc Ganis, the president of SportsCorp, a firm that brokers team sales, told The New York Times, "By all their machinations, the Maloofs have killed the potential for the team in Sacramento."

It doesn't help that Sacramento can't seem to shake its small-town identity. Take the news conference Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson held Tuesday, when he announced a coalition of 19 -- now 20 -- local business owners who have pledged $1 million each to buy the Kings.

Kings fan
Kings fans have something to say, but only those who can write a check for the team have any chance of changing the ownership conversation.

Geez, only a half-billion to go? Assuming it's the day his people wash his pants, Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer probably has $20 million rolling around in the drum of his dryer right now.

(And, really, if we're on the topic of narcissistic, power-drunk owners, this doesn't help: "I'm doing this for one reason: it's time to fight," said Phil Oates, son of a wealthy Sacramento developer and one of those pledging $1 million. "Somebody wants something that I own. It's mine, and I'm not giving it up easily. I owe it to my kids. I owe it to my grandchild that's going to be born in May and named after me. I owe it to my neighbors. I owe it to my friends. I owe it to [Sacramento] to fight and go down swinging.")

The plutocrats who own NBA teams will look at the $19 million news conference as a reason Sacramento can't be taken seriously. Johnson is on the search for a "whale" -- his word -- but Seattle has already come up with two of them. If you're interested in breaking it down to a level of statistical ridiculousness, the Chris Hansen/Ballmer offer, in pure monetary terms, amounts to more than $35 million each for the right to employ Travis Outlaw and James Johnson and every one of the 16-26 Kings.

The Maloofs have reportedly told local media they don't trust Johnson, and therefore couldn't do business with him, which is a clever way of creating a straw man if your ultimate endgame is to ignore Sacramento and extract the most money from a city willing to overpay for a replacement franchise.

Make no mistake: The Maloofs' financial situation forced this move. The Kings used to be their high-end hood ornament; now the team is their whole car. Hansen and Ballmer turned it from a Subaru into a Bentley.

And if Sacramento, a city that repeatedly prostrated itself to make the Maloofs love its fans, has to be collateral damage -- well, that's just business.