Sacramento Fights to Keep Kings, With Mayor Kevin Johnson Saying ‘Not Our Team. No Way’

Kevin JohnsonSACRAMENTO, Calif. — The wealthy investors who are partnering on a plan to keep the Sacramento Kings from moving to Seattle have finally been revealed, and they’re the two almost everybody expected — with a twist.

Mark Mastrov, founder of 24 Hour Fitness, will submit a bid to the NBA to buy the team on Friday,¬†Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson said in his State of the City address Thursday night. Ron Burkle, the billionaire co-owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, will instead only lead the effort to build a new downtown arena that he hopes will also lure back a WNBA franchise.

“With all due respect to Seattle, I do hope they get a team someday. But let me be perfectly clear: It is not going to be this team,” Johnson said. “Not our team. No way.”

The Associated Press and other news outlets have reported since Jan. 22 that Mastrov and Burkle were working on a plan to keep the Kings from relocating to Seattle.

Burkle, who also expressed interested in buying the Kings two years ago, had met with NBA commissioner David Stern at the league’s New York headquarters in January before deciding to back out of the bid. Mastrov was among the final bidders for the Golden State Warriors before Joe Lacob and Peter Guber bought the team for an NBA-record $450 million in 2010, and he’s hoping the second time going solo in Northern California is the charm.

Neither Mastrov nor Burkle were present for Johnson’s speech. Each released statements through the mayor’s office expressing excitement but offered no details about the plan.

“This is about building a winning franchise for a winning community,” Mastrov said. “Sacramento has proven time and again to be a great NBA market. As a longtime resident of Northern California with deep ties to Sacramento, I am thrilled to be a part of an effort to do something special for this region.”

“I am excited about the economic possibilities for the arena and for downtown Sacramento as a whole,” Burkle added. “We have an opportunity to transform downtown into a vibrant hub of economic and cultural activity that will create jobs and generate a positive economic impact for years to come.”

Now the Sacramento-Seattle showdown is set.

The Maloof family agreed in January to sell 65 percent of the franchise for $341 million to a group led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer. The group already has applied to relocate the team to Seattle next season and restore the SuperSonics, which left the basketball-loving Pacific Northwest for Oklahoma City in 2008.

Johnson has been scrambling to organize local ownership for the Kings ever since.

The NBA Board of Governors is expected to make a decision on the sale by the end of its meetings in mid-April. Johnson, a two-term mayor and former NBA All-Star, said he believes Sacramento is back after announcing the Mastrov-Burkle plan.

“I’ve been assured by the commissioner of the NBA that we will be given full consideration,” Johnson said.

Sacramento is hoping to revitalize the city with an arena at the Downtown Plaza shopping mall owned by JMA Ventures, whose officers have said they are eager to participate. To show local support for the Kings, Johnson also lined up 20 local investors who each committed $1 million. They hope to buy the 7 percent share of the team now under control of a federal bankruptcy court.

One of those investors is former Sacramento Kings standout Mitch Richmond, who was a 2013 Basketball Hall of Fame finalist.

“He will undoubtedly bring credibility to our efforts,” Johnson said.

The mayor also said that Sacramento businesses have committed $50 million in sponsorships and season-ticket sales for the Kings over the next five years, which he hopes will be enough to convince NBA owners.

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