Before moving to Sacramento, all I knew about the city could be summed up in one word: Kings. The Sacramento Kings were, for a time, a franchise rivaling the Shaq-and-Kobe-led Los Angeles Lakers in success and popularity. With players like Chris Weber and Jason Williams (i.e. “White Chocolate”), they were a team with a league-best record of 61-21 in 2001-2 that captivated people across the country with their flashy, no-look-pass-first style of play.
And now, after rumors of the franchise leaving swirling since 2005, the Kings are officially staying. That much is clear. As both a fan of the NBA and resident of Sacramento, I watched as the war raged between my new city and Seattle for the Kings. Each day brought a soap-operatic twist, a sudden revelation that Sacramento would build a downtown arena or that Chris Hansen, the man attempting to bring the team to Seattle, had upped his offer to an astonishing $625 million. With the roller coaster ride over, the effects of this decision on Seattle, Sacramento, and the NBA have come into sharp focus.
Seattle is still the city left at the NBA’s altar and very well could be until the league expands.
The story of the Sacramento Kings staying in town really began in 2008 when the Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City after 40 years. The deal orchestrating the relocation is still considered unfair to Seattle, with Forbes calling the deal “sordid”. With that move, Seattle investor Chris Hansen and his group were prompted to search for replacement teams and their eyes, ultimately, fell on the Kings.
Seattle is a great city for a variety of reasons, but now it’s primed to be the NBA’s ace in the hole. As both Oklahoma City and now Sacramento have proven, David Stern and his protégé Adam Silver can push second-tier franchises and/or desperate cities to build new stadiums on the backs of taxpayer money by pointing to Seattle. Just point and the threat will be clear, the urgency to keep the team will come into focus, Seattle will get its hopes up, and Milwaukee or Minnesota will cobble together a deal and the NBA will win. Rinse and repeat until the league expands or a city refuses to pay for a new stadium. Sorry Seattle.
Build it (with taxpayer money) and the NBA will come, or stay.
Memphis, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, and Sacramento have one thing in common: they have NBA franchises because they were willing to build new stadiums with public funds when Vancouver, Charlotte, and Seattle were not. True, Seattle was willing to put public money in the equation this time around, but not to the extent Sacramento was.
Public funding was not the only factor in the decision to keep the Kings in Sacramento, or move a team to Memphis or New Orleans, but it’s a key factor not just in the NBA but sports in general. From an F-1 race track in Austin, Texas to the Atlanta Falcons’ new stadium, the NBA is no different in wanting a city and its residents to pay for the privilege of having a team. And when you're paying, you're building a stadium.
Good businessmen don't always make good owners.
I’m not going to expound on the Maloofs, the Kings' owners, as people since this piece does it better, but I will say this: good riddance. Both Gavin and Joe were businessmen with a product in the Sacramento Kings. For awhile, they were good businessmen who did their job well with smart moves and earnest support in the franchise, which manifested in wins and popularity.
Listing all of their blunders would take too long, but their penny-pinching ways affected the team’s success in so many ways that this year’s Thomas Robinson trade to Houston could only be seen as a move motivated by finances, not basketball.
And now, despite their best attempts, they’ll still profit from the endeavor. The Kings were purchased for $156 million in 1998 and now they’ll sell it for an NBA-record $535 million. It's not fair, but having them as owners in the first place never was either.