Sacramento City Council passes most important vote to keep Kings in town

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I interviewed Carmichael Dave, the person most synonymous with Sacramento’s grassroots effort to keep their basketball team, way back on April 5, 2011. The Kings were all-but gone by most accounts, and I asked Dave what he thought the Kings’ chances of leaving were.

“90-10.”

It turns out that he might have been a bit optimistic, as there wasn’t a soul on record, including mayor Kevin Johnson, that thought the Maloofs would keep their team in the Cowbell Kingdom.

And during the Kings’ final game last year, when the Lakers were up by 20 points in the first half and the team was honoring its lifelong season ticket holders with the future not just in doubt, but in the trash – I thought to myself, ‘This is what it’s like to watch your own funeral.’

Even the Lakers fans that had gathered that night stopped giving Kings fans the business. They knew when enough was enough. 2,000 or more people stayed after the game, refusing to leave the arena. Players, coaches, media, management, and anybody affiliated with the team all stayed back to take in the scene. Grown men, including then coach Paul Westphal and TV commentators Grant Napear and Jerry Reynolds – they cried. They weren’t the only ones.

In the background, people were working, though. Some of those people had great influence and some of them had simple tweets. Together, and with no one part being able to complete its work without the other, they were able to keep their team and by virtue of that – give their region hope for a better day.

Tonight, the Sacramento City Council voted 7-2 to approve the term sheet drawn up by all of the stakeholders of the $387-400 million Entertainment and Sports Complex. The wheels could theoretically spin off, but there are 5-of-9 votes in the council that are rock solid in favor of the arena. The other four votes range from serious opposition to only mild opposition, as evidenced by two of them crossing the line tonight. In addition, tonight’s vote will put the project in real motion, with more money being spent as the city finalizes the parking portion of its contribution.

And aside from all of that, sources from each side of the table indicate that they are a full go and the Kings are staying in Sacramento.

It was a moving scene, having interviewed many of the fans, stakeholders, city leaders, and the like for over a year. These people spent hundreds of hours not just to protect a basketball team, but to keep their region from going under. The Sacramento area, having relied on the public sector for decades, has been beset by 12 percent unemployment and big-name companies are leaving weekly.

Or maybe the word is ‘were.’

Kevin Johnson, the hero in all of this, was able to raise an additional $10 million in sponsorships before the plane hit the ground for last year’s NBA Board of Governors meeting. With some help from Jerry Buss and Donald Sterling, Johnson was able to convince David Stern and the NBA that Sacramento could be a viable place for an NBA team – and that most importantly that he could deliver on an arena.

He formed a coalition that included business leaders, fans, churches, various ethnic groups, and heavy hitters from the political world that had a vested interest in keeping Sacramento afloat.

He floated the name, ‘Burkle.’

And I don’t know when Johnson whipped the city council to determine whether or not he had their votes, but he knew that if he kept the ball moving that good things would happen.

When the motion to approve the term sheet was made last night, 500-1000 arena supporters packed two floors of the new city hall and one floor of the old, adjacent city hall. The opposition had its chance to speak first and 19 of the two million people in the Sacramento region spoke out against the arena deal. In the interests of time K.J. limited public comment in support of the arena to 45 minutes. When that time ended, he asked those that didn’t get a chance to speak to stand up.

Nearly everybody in each room stood up.

After public comment, as each councilperson spoke it became clear where each of them stood.  When two opposition votes from the last motion moved over to the pro-arena side it was clear that the Kings were going to stay. A full year’s worth of anxiety and effort started to settle, and with one more moment to go – the room looked tired and worn out. Sensing that it was time to vote, though, they sprang into action and started waving their signs.

The payoff was near.

The roll call vote meant that each councilmember would have to say their vote out loud, and when it was Johnson’s turn to give the final vote he screamed ‘YES’ into the microphone.

It was somewhat anticlimactic since we knew the results weeks ago, but it was his Braveheart moment. And Carmichael Dave had a Braveheart moment when he stood on a 12-foot ladder and told 2,000-plus fans that they had to leave the arena but not to give up hope. And each of those fans that organized en masse, made documentaries, and wouldn’t give up – they had their Braveheart moments, too.

That’s the best part about this story, aside from the happy ending. Faced with a less than 10 percent chance of success these people banded together, did something, and might have staved off long-term erosion of their economy.

And if the Kings can play some winning basketball, that will be a close second.

Russell Westbrook threw it down all over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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A rough night for the Thunder will not stop the Russell Westbrook highlights.

The Thunder had another poor game and fell to a Hornets. Westbrook tried to push the team back, but the Thunder defense that has kept them in games all season was not good enough against Charlotte, and the OKC offense was once again up and down.

Westbrook had 30 points on 22 shots on the night, and none of them were as impressive as this transition throwdown on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Jahlil Okafor excited about fresh start with Nets

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jahlil Okafor finally got the fresh start he wanted.

Okafor was the consensus No. 1 high school player in his class, won a national championship at Duke, and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds in his rookie campaign for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Then things changed drastically.

Okafor struggled with injuries and a logjam at his position in his second season.

“When I first got drafted there, we already had Nerlens (Noel) there, Joel (Embiid) was there, so we’re trying to have three starting centers on the same team,” Okafor said Monday at his introductory news conference with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets.

“It just never really was the right fit.”

The 76ers traded Okafor along with seldom-used guard Nik Stauskas and two draft picks to the Nets on Thursday. Philadelphia got forward Trevor Booker from Brooklyn.

Okafor also had off-court problems during his time in Philadelphia. He got a speeding ticket for driving 108 miles per hour and was suspended by the 76ers for two games after in an altercation outside of a Boston nightclub with a heckler.

“Speeding obviously is illegal,” Okafor said. “I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I guess you just learn how the page can turn on you and how everything can flip. I can’t really say I learned anything, because you know going in that’s not right. You just learn from your mistakes, but (it was) a tough thing that I went through, I got past, and I’m looking to better times now.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, joins D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the same draft class, on the Nets.

“We’re just very excited to get on the court together,” Okafor said. “You never would’ve thought the number two and number three picks would be playing on the same team a few years after, but like I said, everything happens for a reason and I’m really excited.”

Russell also had problems on and off the court with the team that drafted him. He was criticized for recording a video of former Lakers teammate Nick Young that aired sordid details about Young’s private life. The Lakers gave up on Russell and drafted Lonzo Ball as his replacement.

“I feel like we’re similar in that we have a lot to prove,” Okafor said. “I know he’s working his (butt) off as well. Right now he’s rehabbing, trying to get back on the court. I think we both have a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove. We’re definitely similar in that regard.”

Okafor understands he has areas to improve, mainly defense and rebounding.

“I’m not a perfect player,” Okafor said. “I’m 21. There are things that I need to work on, that I have worked on and that I’ll continue to work on.”

He’s excited about fulfilling his potential with a new team.

“I feel really motivated right now, but I’ve always been motivated,” Okafor said. “This is the first time where people are against me in a sense because I’ve always been the hyped-up guy. It’s something new for me to experience, so I’m glad that I am experiencing it.”

 

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”