Jun 27, 2011, 2:56 PM EDT
Jimmer Fredette, the most talked about player in this year’s NBA draft, was selected No. 10 overall by the Sacramento Kings on Thursday.
30 minutes later, the Kings had a splash page with his likeness up ready to sell tickets on their website. Within another 30 minutes, Jimmer was trending worldwide on Twitter and was the 20th most searched term on all of Google.
By the time he arrived at the royal airport the next day, the Sacramento fans had gathered en masse to welcome him to his throne, conveniently forgetting the contention by many basketball types that he is a slow, white, geeky chump.
So as he descended down the airport escalator doing a poor man’s rendition of the Heatles’ introduction in Miami (not four times, not five times, not six times did he ride the escalator), even the most ardent Kings fan had to wonder if he is more Ringo than John.
None of this hullabaloo should be surprising, however, after Jimmer left college basketball with a formidable cult following, recognition from just about every corner of the basketball universe, and a music video to help explain how that all works (with a very white version, here). And while he would have likely received significant attention wherever he landed, the honeymoon in Sacramento has been amplified due to the fans’ grassroots efforts to save their team.
As we’ve reported, the Here We Build coalition being quarterbacked by former Suns PG and current Mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson has brought together 70 regional leaders to try to deliver an arena, including heavy hitters from the world of money and politics to go with the Joe Lunchbuckets that refused to leave Power Balance Pavilion when everybody told them that their team was gone.
Without a new arena, the Kings will almost certainly pack up for Anaheim, who has rolled out the red carpet to become an NBA city.
And despite precise measurements available to anybody with an Internet connection showing how the public would benefit both economically and culturally by funding an Entertainment and Sports Complex (ESC) in Sacramento, the appetite to publicly fund sports arenas in California is decidedly bulimic. And because of that recent history, and the ease with which one can complain about any tax, politicians in the greater Sacramento region have balked at the very real threat of the Maloofs leaving Sacramento for over 10 years.
But this time around things are different, perhaps due to reality setting in when moving vans started circling Power Balance Pavilion. Or maybe it’s the 12.7% unemployment rate in Sacramento and the 4,000 jobs the proposed ESC will create, or the hundreds of millions of dollars the region would lose if the Kings leave and within just a handful of years – that word million graduates to the word billion.
The result is a creative set of funding proposals that will be considered over the coming months that will attempt to blend the perfect amount of public and private money to pay for the estimated $387 million price tag for a new ESC.
That’s right, public money. Now public money does not have to come through a direct sales tax. It can come from hotel fees, taxes on cigarettes, and just about anything a city or region would like – but it has to be approved (in this case) by a city council or regional authority that ultimately wants to get re-elected. Whereas prior arena funding efforts were largely unpopular, in conversations I’ve had with local politicians off the record, there is a palpable fear of the political fallout in future elections should they fail to deliver here.
As for the Maloofs, they liquidated nearly all of their ownership in the Palms Casino, eliminating $400 million of debt from the family’s balance sheet. For all intents and purposes they appear to be mobilizing to contribute to the private portion of the funding arrangement, though it’s unclear how much they’re able or willing to spend.
The question the Here We Build committee will seek to answer is what an operator would be willing to pay (and for what type of profits in return), what the Maloofs would be willing to pay as simple tenants (and what other profit-centers they would be willing to invest in), and then what funding the Sacramento region can get approved through its decision-making apparatus for the public piece – which naturally will happen when they compare the cost of their investment compared to the projected revenues and profits from audited reports.
And naturally, the investment will look better when the Kings are playing well, when they’re selling tickets and securing sponsorships, and when the Maloofs can kick in more money to the project with those higher projected revenues to lean back on.
Enter, the Jimmer.
Less than 24 hours after touching down on the tarmac, the Kings rolled Jimmer out with his two fellow draftees, Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Honeycutt, for a ‘Rookie Rally’ that begs the question of whether Justin Bieber grabbed Doc Brown’s DeLorean and kicked off his 80s mall tour. I’m only slightly sure that reports of grown men screaming and fainting were exaggerated by the press.
Despite the obvious marketing opportunity Jimmer brings to the table, the contention from Kings management is that he was drafted based purely on basketball ability, and whether the fans believe it or not — they don’t care. It is a rare, if not unprecedented, example of a team’s fans and media knowingly and willingly taking the bait.
The fans in Sacramento know that his defense is an issue, they know the team’s defense is an issue, and they know that the team has at least five shooting guards and no true point guard. They know that the Kings could have addressed the gaping hole at small forward by drafting Kawhi Leonard, who is also known as the guy that the four-time NBA champion Spurs traded up-and-coming George Hill for.
They also know the move to trade Beno Udrih for John Salmons was made to accommodate Jimmer’s development, and while most of them believe that Salmons was not the right guy to bring in, only a muted few are screaming about not drafting Leonard.
When team president Geoff Petrie conveniently forgets the extra year on Salmons’ contract when he talks publicly about the trade leaving them in the same spot financially, nobody points out the $3-5 million per year that Leonard would have cost – compared to the 31-year old Salmons at about $8 million per year for three years (and a partially guaranteed fourth year at $7 million).
And no, the fact that the Kings may need five basketballs to be used during the game to keep everybody happy is not lost upon them. But while Kings fans recognize that there could be some chemistry issues, they’ll be quick to point out that Jimmer’s new teammates have all made statements that they’re excited to play with him.
Though Kings fans have watched their neighbors in Golden State crash and burn with it for years, they want to know what Don Nelson’s fun-and-gun offense would look like with Jimmer at the helm. After all, nobody in their right mind is expecting anything more than a No. 7 or 8 seed in the playoffs, so why not play a brand of basketball that’s exciting to watch.
Most importantly, Kings fans know that it doesn’t matter who the team drafts if they’re playing in Anaheim. And that’s where they’ll be if they don’t sell some tickets.
As for Jimmer-mania, the only thing that appears to have the ability to stop it would be the lockout.
Talking with vice president of tickets sales for the Kings, Phil Horn said “We are excited to welcome all of our rookies to the market,” adding, “As far as specific marketing initiatives, stay tuned.”
Horn could be playing coy because something big is coming down the pipeline or he could be in a holding pattern due to the lockout, and surely it should be a concern that any momentum for the arena effort get halted for any reason.
But judging by the estimated 5,000 people who showed up to see him at the mall, I’m guessing the Kings will have no problem marketing him with or without his presence on the team appearance circuit.
And whether or not he was a selected based solely on the merit of his play, it is inconsequential to Kings fans right now.
For them, Jimmer clearly gives them the best chance to win, and anything else that he can do on the basketball court right now is icing on the cake.
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