- Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- Three months ago, the Sacramento Kings seemed on the verge of a move to Seattle after the team's majority owners secretly executed a deal that would land a record sale price to a deep-pocketed and respected group that promised a glittering new downtown arena.
On Monday, Sacramento overcame those long odds when an NBA ownership committee studying the situation unanimously voted against relocating the Kings. A formal vote of all 30 owners is scheduled for May 13 but sources told ESPN.com the full body is expected to ratify the recommendation of the seven owners from the relocation committee.
The move is a victory for Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson. In January, he had no competing ownership bid, no plan for a new arena after years of trying and no working relationship with the team's owners, the Maloof family.
But Johnson, who successfully staved off a bid to move the Kings to Anaheim in 2011, hastily assembled a strong counter-proposal that ended up winning over skeptical owners.
Moments after the league announced the committee's recommendation, Johnson wrote on Twitter: "That's what I'm talking about SACRAMENTO!!!!! WE DID IT!!!!!"
The decision is a loss for Seattle businessmen Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer, who had bid $365 million for 65 percent of the team and had made a separate deal with a bankruptcy court to pay $15 million for another 7 percent. They were also willing to pay millions more in relocation fees and arena development in a larger market.
Despite the recommendation, Hansen pledged to "move forward with the transaction" he signed with the Maloof family to buy and move the franchise anyway. In a post on his Seattle arena website late Monday night, Hansen said he plans to pitch the NBA Board of Governors when owners will vote on the issue.
"When we started this process everyone thought it was impossible," Hansen wrote. "While this represents yet another obstacle to achieving our goal, I just wanted to reassure all of you that we have numerous options at our disposal and have absolutely no plans to give up. Impossible is nothing but a state of mind."
Earlier, at a packed pep rally at a downtown restaurant, fans serenaded Johnson with chants of "Sac-ra-mento!" He called the recommendation a "big day for the city of Sacramento" but stopped short of declaring victory.
"We do not want to dance in the end zone. We do not want to celebrate prematurely," Johnson said.
A group led by Bay Area software magnate Vivek Ranadive, who currently is a part-owner of the Golden State Warriors, now appears to be in the drivers' seat to make a deal to purchase 65 percent of the Kings for $341 million. That overall evaluation of $525 million would make the Kings the largest sale in league history.
That purchase would have to be approved by 75 percent of owners. But the committee's vote on Monday will effectively clear the way for Ranadive's group to buy the Kings and keep them in Sacramento.
The NBA's relocation committee is headed by Thunder owner Clay Bennett, already a reviled figure in Seattle. The other owners on the committee are Miami's Micky Arison, Washington's Ted Leonsis, Utah's Greg Miller, Indiana's Herbert
Simon, Minnesota's Glen Taylor and San Antonio's Peter Holt -- who's
also the chairman of the league's Board of Governors.
Sacramento also has funding and government approval to build a new downtown arena to be open in 2015 or 2016.
"I'm speechless. Thanks to all of the amazing people who supported this great effort," wrote Ranadive, who could become the first Indian-born majority owner of an NBA team.
The Maloofs had urged their fellow NBA owners to accept the Hansen deal and allow a move to Seattle through personal lobbying and a letter that attacked the merits of the Sacramento bid that was sent to all owners two weeks ago.
NBA commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and a legion of league attorneys had studied the two offers for the past two months. A vote that was expected to be taken at the annual spring owners' meetings was pushed back to allow further study.
Those delays helped Johnson and Sacramento firm up their offer. As recently as last week, there were some doubts among NBA owners that the Sacramento group would be able to assemble all the financing and clear all the government hurdles to truly compete with the Seattle offer, which was much more developed.
Stern recently called the decision "wrenching." But in the end, it appears the league favored supporting a city that stepped up and fought to keep its team.
"I've never been prouder of this city," Johnson tweeted. "I thank the ownership group, city leaders, but most of all the BEST FANS IN THE NBA!!!"
The mayor also commended Seattle for its effort and wrote that the Pacific Northwest city "no doubt deserves a team in the future."
Spokesmen for the Maloof family and Hansen had no immediate comment on the committee's recommendation. Seattle mayor Mike McGinn pledged that his city will continue to fight for an NBA team.
"I'm proud of how Sonics fans have rallied together to help Seattle get a team," McGinn said in a statement. "We're going to stay focused on our job: making sure Seattle remains in a position to get a team when the opportunity presents itself."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
7dEthan Sherwood Strauss