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Volume 24 No. 154
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Stern Appears "Split" On NBA Kings-Seattle Move; Says Owners Have Tough Decision

NBA Commissioner David Stern’s final All-Star Weekend news conference Saturday in Houston "delivered no new answers" on the proposed move of the Kings to Seattle and Sacramento’s bid to keep the franchise, according to David Barron of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Stern offered "few updates other than that NBA owners will address the proposed sale." Stern said that he did "not believe the decision would come down to economics." He said it was “plausible” the Kings could stay in Sacramento, “but I don’t have a vote. But I expect that the owners have a very open mind" (, 2/16). Stern said that he did "not envision a way Seattle and Sacramento could each emerge satisfied from their current tussle over the Kings." In Seattle, Bob Condotta noted while Stern "spoke in more detail on the topic than he has since the sale of the Kings was announced last month ... he gave few other concrete answers." Stern called the ownership group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer "very strong." He also called the proposed arena in the Seattle Sodo neighborhood "quite strong," and when asked if there is anything more Seattle can do to ensure it is in the best position to have a team, answered "not that I'm aware of." After Stern spoke, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson "held an impromptu news conference in the same room." He said that he had "met with a few owners here to state his city's case." He offered "no new details on Sacramento's plan." Johnson also said that he "made the point that Sacramento's arena plan does not 'have lawsuits coming' and other challenges, such as an environmental impact review, and that Sacramento 'controls' the land on both of the possible sites of its proposed arena." Johnson: "Those are very, very critical components to be able to have a competitive advantage and we have that" (SEATTLE TIMES, 2/17).

PLAYING IT STRAIGHT: In Sacramento, Ryan Lillis wrote Stern "played it right down the middle" in his news conference. He said that he has "no idea" how the owners will rule. Stern: "I think the owners are going to have a tough issue to decide." Johnson said one owner told him over the weekend, "I didn't realize you guys were that far ahead." Johnson said that he has "spent much of his time talking up Sacramento as an NBA city, reminding owners of the 19 seasons of sellouts." The team's attendance this year "ranks at the bottom of the league as the team has struggled on the court and fans have become increasingly turned off" by team Owner the Maloof family's efforts to sell the team. Johnson: "I'm reminding them of how great the Sacramento market has been." He added that he "thinks many owners are predisposed to keep the team in Sacramento because they don't want to see franchises relocate" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 2/17). The SACRAMENTO BEE's Dale Kasler reported Johnson "spent hours in a series of closed-door meetings with key NBA officials." A source said the talks were "positive and productive" but would not identify the league officials who met with Johnson. The source said that the officials "seemed to appreciate that Sacramento has 'an approved arena plan.''' A source said that most NBA owners "aren't yet engaged on the Kings issue" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 2/17).

WORKING FOR THE WEEKEND: USA TODAY's Sam Amick noted Johnson did not think anything Stern said during the weekend "dimmed the continued confidence he has in his efforts" to keep the Kings in Sacramento. Johnson, on his confidence: "No, [it's] just increased. ... Everybody we talk to, they're rooting for us -- whether they're in the league or not. I feel like we can control our own destiny" (, 2/17). Stern on Saturday said that he "has not and will not meet" with Johnson over the weekend (, 2/16). In Sacramento, Ailene Voisin wrote Stern "in no uncertain terms ... acknowledged that Sacramento is facing a formidable bid" of about $340M from the Hansen-Balmer group. But this "ordeal is all about new owners and a new building." Stern made that "very, very clear." He will "roll up his sleeves one more time, will get down and dirty if need be" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 2/17).

SPLIT DECISION? In Boston, Gary Washburn wrote it is "apparent that Stern is split" on the Kings situation. Those close to him "believe he wants to leave his post next February with a solution for Seattle." But Stern also wants to "reward Sacramento for rescuing the Kings from Kansas City 27 years ago and approving the arena deal in a difficult economy." The fact Stern "appears split won’t help the competition between the cities." This is "by far Seattle’s best chance to regain a team, since expansion seems out of the question for now." Stern "won’t even broach that topic, leaving it up to deputy commissioner Adam Silver, his successor" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/17).