- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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DALLAS -- The Sacramento Kings are going nowhere.
Ownership representatives from the league's 30 teams met Wednesday for nearly four hours and ultimately voted to reject the Kings' proposed move to Seattle, backing last month's unanimous recommendation from a relocation committee to keep the team in Sacramento. NBA commissioner David Stern confirmed the vote in Sacramento's favor was 22-8.
Acknowledging the toll this saga has taken on both cities, with the Kings' future in Sacramento uncertain for the past 2½ years and Seattle's wait to return to the world of professional basketball forced now to continue indefinitely, Stern said: "I would say it's a victory for Sacramento, not a victory for the NBA."
Stern went on to say at a news conference afterward that the Maloof family that owns the Kings has "the right to retain ownership" of the team under league bylaws. Stern, though, expressed confidence that a sale to the consortium assembled by Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and headed by Silicon Valley billionaire Vivek Ranadive eventually will be completed.
"It is my expectation that we'll be able to make a deal with the Maloofs and the Ranadive group to transfer title of the team in Sacramento," Stern said. "It's not a certainty, but we're going to work [toward] that result."
Stern added that Wednesday's vote, while technically addressing only the proposed relocation of the Kings to Seattle, has "effectively" canceled the Maloofs' sale agreement with the Seattle group headlined by lead investor Chris Hansen. Stern said league officials immediately would begin talks with the Maloofs over the next "24 to 48 hours" aimed at facilitating a sale to the Ranadive-led bidders.
"And now we hope that they will, having really forcefully projected support for the Seattle bid until the end ... now we think that because the Maloofs have overall been very good for Sacramento and the Kings and the NBA that they will be motivated to do something fast, so that the franchise can get cracking," Stern said.
George Maloof, in attendance in Dallas with brothers Joe and Gavin, made no such promises. Although he disputed the widely held belief that his family does not want to sell to Ranadive's group, George Maloof added that he'd have to speak with other family members -- as well as Hansen -- before deciding what steps to take next.
"We'll see what happens," Maloof said. "It's not over."
Two sources close to the process indicated Wednesday that it has been conveyed to the Maloofs that approval from fellow owners is unlikely at this point if they try to sell to a group other than Ranadive's, given the considerable capital and commitment that the prospective ownership team Johnson pulled together has poured into its offer to match the considerable bid from Hansen's side.
Maloof seemed to acknowledge that before leaving the site of the meeting just outside downtown Dallas, telling reporters: "I can pick who I sell to, but it's up to the owners" to approve any deal.
Maloof, though, did add that there's been "no pressure" from the league thus far and said that the past four months -- since it emerged in January that Hansen's group had reached an agreement on a deal to buy the Kings valued at $525 million -- have "been a fair process."
Just last week, in a last-ditch bid to sway owners to dismiss the recommendations from the league-appointed relocation committee, Hansen increased the value of his offer for 65 percent of the Kings from $358 million to a record $409 million, pushing the overall valuation of the proposed transaction to $625 million. The previous record for an NBA franchise sale, by comparison, is the $450 million paid by a Joe Lacob-led consortium in 2010 to purchase the Golden State Warriors.
To further sweeten the pot, Hansen also offered each team a relocation fee payout of more than $4 million -- for a total of $115 million -- in hopes of securing the 16 votes Seattle needed for the original sale agreement to be ratified.
In a statement issued Wednesday night, Hansen said: "While we are obviously extremely disappointed with today's relocation vote and truly believe we put forth both a significantly better offer and arena plan, we do thank the league and the owners for their time and consideration and look forward to hearing back on our agreement to join the Maloofs as limited partners in the Kings. But most of all I would like to thank everyone in Seattle who has been a part of our effort and supported our cause. Words simply can't express how much your support has meant to me personally and to our city. I truly believe we did everything possible to put our best foot forward in this process and you all should be proud and hold your heads high today. Our day will come ... and when it does it will just be that much sweeter for the struggle. I love you, Seattle!"
Maloof said he, indeed, still holds out hope of Hansen being included in the sale of the Kings, at least as a minority partner.
"If it had to turn out this way, it's fine with us," Maloof said of Sacramento keeping the Kings. "But my loyalty's to Chris, because he stepped up."
Johnson and Ranadive, meanwhile, were understandably overjoyed, knowing that -- despite the issues that remain in terms of actually buying the Kings from the Maloofs -- they've secured Sacramento's NBA future after bids in recent years from multiple cities (Anaheim, Calif., Virginia Beach, Va., and Seattle) to take the Kings away.
Ranadive described Johnson as "the best mayor in America" for his efforts in assembling a competitive group so quickly after news of Hansen's deal emerged in January. Johnson praised Ranadive and his partners for not only stepping up financially, but agreeing to put the full $525 million they're willing to pay for the Kings in escrow Tuesday to show the league how serious they are about buying the team from the Maloofs and moving it into a new arena downtown.
"Let me just say we are really excited to be from Sacramento today," Johnson said.
"In terms of building a brand-new building, it's been very clear and we've said this time and time again: Building a building downtown is bigger than basketball," Johnson continued. "It's transformative. You're going to see a situation where Sacramento will be changed forever for the good because of what's transpired in the last couple days."
The former Phoenix Suns All-Star point guard also revealed that he received congratulatory handshakes after Wednesday's vote from George, Gavin and Joe Maloof.
Said Ranadive associate Mark Friedman: "This is a big day for Sacramento. I think several weeks ago it would be very, very difficult to imagine being here today. But the kind of effort that we put together -- the way in which the city and the community pulled together and put forth the proposal that we did -- is nothing short of remarkable."
Yet, the outcome of the vote understandably came as a bitter blow to the basketball fans of Seattle, who will understandably bristle at Stern's explanation that Sacramento prevailed as much because of "advantage incumbent" as anything. Seattle lost its NBA franchise to Oklahoma City in 2008, despite four decades of support for the Sonics.
"I share the disappointment of Sonics fans about today's vote," Seattle mayor Mike McGinn said. "But we are in this for the long haul. The memorandum of understanding we have with Chris Hansen is for five years and we will continue working to bring the NBA back to Seattle."
Yet, it remains to be seen if the considerable public and political support behind Hansen's bid in Seattle can be resuscitated in the future after the crushing nature of coming so close to acquiring the Kings and missing out in the end.
"This was not an anti-Seattle vote. This was a pro-Sacramento vote," Stern said.
Added NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver, who is scheduled to succeed Stern in office in February 2014: "We've never wavered in our desire to return to the Seattle market at some point ... and we fully expect we'll return there one day."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
2dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann