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Report: Billionaire who wants to keep Kings in Sacramento met with Stern

Jan 25, 2013, 6:10 PM EDT

Clippers Kings Basketball AP

If you learned one thing from the time the Maloof family tried to move the Kings to Anaheim it should have been this — Sacramento fans, led by mayor Kevin Johnson, will not give up without a fight.

While the Maloof family has reached an agreement to Sacramento Kings to a group headed by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer — a group that intends to move the team to Seattle for next season — Johnson and team are working on a counter proposal.

One that includes Los Angeles based billionaire Ron Burkle, who flew out to New York to meet with David Stern this week, reports Sam Amick at USA Today.

Los Angeles-based billionaire and prospective owner of the Sacramento Kings, Ron Burkle, met with NBA Commissioner David Stern on Thursday in New York City, according to two people with knowledge of the situation…

Burkle — the supermarket mogul who is part owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins — has been planning to make a competing bid with fellow money man Mark Mastrov, the Northern California-based founder of 24-Hour Fitness, in an attempt to convince the NBA to keep the team in Sacramento. The goal all along from the Sacramento side has been to force the NBA into a tough decision by putting together an arena plan and a bid that’s competitive with the Hansen-Ballmer group.

The question is simple: Even if Johnson puts together a group with the money and a viable plan, the question is will that be enough? If they do get it together, it would certainly make approval of the sale more awkward for the Board of Governors, but the board can choose what it wants.

If you’re asking why the Maloofs don’t just sell to Burkle, there is some animosity there. Burkle stepped forward saying he would buy the team and keep them in Sacramento when the Anaheim deal was proposed, and that angered the Maloofs. They don’t want him to get the team.

Any sale of a team must be approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors (made up of the owners or their appointed representative). That body meets in April in New York and Johnson is expected to make his pitch there.

But it will not be easy. He’s going to have to convince those owners (who may want to sell their team some day and don’t want a lot of precedent set) that Sacramento has an offer that is better for the league long term. While Sacramento is the nation’s 20th largest television market, Seattle is 14th. While Sacramento is pulling together an arena deal, Seattle’s is financed, through most approvals and on to environmental review (but certainly not done). Several owners — and reportedly David Stern — see leaving Seattle as a mistake they want to correct. Plus each owner would each get part of any relocation fee straight into their pockets — it was $30 million for the Sonics move to Oklahoma City, which is a little more than $1 million a team.

The Hansen/Ballmer group has worked hard to present an air of inevitability around this sale, to make it seem done and done. Smart move by them.

But it’s not done.

Sacramento certainly has its work cut out for it. But pulling out of Sacramento when city officials worked to keep the team, had quality new owners lined up plus an arena deal moving forward would be an ugly black eye for the league as well. The league says it wants communities and cities to work with them, that is what Sacramento has done only to be thwarted by the Maloofs. It also has been reported the Maloofs minority owners have a “first right of refusal” clause to buy the team if it went up for sale, something they could use to muck up the planned sale to Hansen/Ballmer.

It’s messy. But politics and business is now and always has been messy (go see “Lincoln”). However uphill the battle may seem, the people of Sacramento are not going down without a fight, they are not just letting their team waltz out of town.

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