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Sacramento mayor vows major player to join last ditch effort to keep Kings

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson announced a four point plan Tuesday and claimed he should have one or more "major equity partners" by end of the week to keep the Kings from moving to Seattle. (AP image)

It doesn’t sound like enough to undermine a deal to sell the Sacramento Kings to a Seattle investment group, but Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said Tuesday at a press conference he hopes to be able to announce a “major equity partner” by the end of the week to match an offer by investor Chris Hansen and his group of Seattle investors.

Johnson, flanked by dozens of business leaders, officials and fans at what resembled a pep rally, said 19 local business leaders had responded to his pleas for help and pledged $1 million each towards the effort. He said he initially hoped for three to five.

Johnson said the city has come up with a four-point plan to buy the Kings from the Maloof family and build a new arena in Sacramento to prevent the team from leaving town.

The strategy, modeled after a similar effort in San Francisco that ultimately kept baseball’s Giants from being sold to a group in Tampa, includes bringing together a local ownership group, finding a major equity partner, partnering with the city and business community to build a new arena, and demonstrating to the NBA the “viability and strength” of Sacramento.

“We’re going to do everything we can to put forward a fair and competitive offer to match or come as close as we can to what they’re offering in Seattle,” Johnson said.

Johnson reiterated any deal would still need to be approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors, and Commissioner David Stern has assured him he will have an opportunity to present a counter offer to league owners when they meet in April.

“It is unprecedented for a team to be relocated from a city that has done everything that this community has done for 28 years,” Johnson said.

“It’s time to fight,” said Sacramento businessman Phil Oates, one of the 19 investors pledging $1 million to the effort. “Somebody wants something that I own. It’s mine. And I’m not giving it up easily.”

The agreement announced Monday calls for Chris Hansen and his fellow investors to buy the 65 percent majority interest in the Kings from the Maloof family.

Several reports out of Sacramento have said the minority owners have the right of first refusal and the chance to match any sale.

But NBA insider Kevin Pelton with ESPN told The Luke Burbank Show Tuesday even if Johnson can come up with a group of investors, it’s highly doubtful they could come up with the money to match or top Hansen’s offer, thought to be in the neighborhood of $340 million for the 65 percent share of the franchise, valued at $525 million.

“I think that most owners, when they look at this, they don’t want to block franchise flexibility because they look at this and think, this could be me in a few years if something goes wrong in my own city,” said Pelton.

Not to mention, the sale would significantly increase the value of all franchises. And Hansen would have to pay a $30 million relocation to the league, which would be split among the owners.

Hansen also reportedly paid a $30 million non-refundable deposit to the Maloofs, setting the stage for a legal challenge if the league tries to block the sale.

But Johnson had strong words of warning for Seattle. “Don’t celebrate too early,” he said, adding that he was devastated when the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City. “I strongly believe they do deserve an NBA team at some point. Just not ours.”

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