Sacramento City Council votes 7-2 to go forward with next step in arena process

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City council meetings can be dull, but the Sacramento City Council meeting on Tuesday to decide if the Kings should go forward with a key element of their plan to secure a new Entertainment and Sports Complex (ESC) was anything but.

Alright, it was still pretty boring, but Tuesday’s meeting had everything you could ask for in a five-hour local government showdown, including human PowerPoint presentations, #Occupy protestors, some normal people, the villain city council member, people whose sole purpose in life is to show up at every city council meeting and speak on every issue, people that sang during their two minutes to speak, the transvestite with a keen business acumen, and of course, the mayor that dunked on Hakeem Olajuwon like he was Timofey Mozgov.

On the docket was a vote to determine if the city should go forward with a Request for Qualification (RFQ) from parking lot operators that could end up providing $200 million or more toward the city’s stake in the estimated $400 million arena.  Once the vote passed, the city manager would then be authorized to have parking lot operators produce preliminary bids for the right to operate city-owned parking lots for terms up to 50 years.  This is said to be the funding nut that will push the Kings over the finish line, though it remains to be seen if it will be enough.

What made Tuesday’s meeting critical, aside from the unlikely scenario that the council would vote down this motion, was getting to see once again how each council member would act, as they will ultimately determine the project’s fate. During the last procedural vote in which $500,000 was requested to secure a qualified arena negotiations team, I wrote about how each council member discussed the arena project and said that things looked good for Kings fans.

They voted 7-2 on that day to authorize funding that would move the process to its next step, and on Tuesday they voted the same exact way to authorize this RFQ. Again, the main opposition to the arena plan has come from two council members, Sally Sheedy and Darrell Fong.  After Kevin McCarty talked extensively on Tuesday about how the parking funds could be used in other ways, he also joined my unofficial ‘no’ side of the ballot.  Meanwhile, Sheedy has taken a Judge Judy like role in proceedings, barking out commands to city staff and generally trying to muck up the process.  She is seeking re-election under an anti-arena campaign.

On the other side of the ballot I had identified four arena proponents prior to Tuesday that, as I see it right now, will vote yes when the vote matters in February (Rob Fong, Angelique Ashby, Bonnie Parnell, and Jay Schenirer).

Following Tuesday’s meeting I added Steve Cohn to that list after he offered up this tidbit following an exchange with ‘no’ voter McCarty. After Cohn cited a Green Bay Packers-like stock plan as a creative example of a funding mechanism, McCarty said “It probably helps that the Packers are 13-0.”

To that point, Cohn said “Yeah but they’re going to keep their team no matter what. So we need to keep ours.”

Kevin Johnson’s ‘yes’ vote would only be needed to break a tie, so essentially Kings fans need 4-of-8 members to vote ‘yes.’

All said, I’m predicting a 6-3 vote in favor of funding the arena, but like everything else having to do with Sacramento versus Los Angeles, this will come down to the wire. Assuming my word-parsing, eye-tests, and other voodoo analysis are correct, the deal still has to come to the city council’s desks without any major flaws. Then, it has to provide enough time for council members to vote on it without having any reservations about moving too fast.

As of now, Kevin Johnson has yet to make a mistake and has conducted the campaign to a presidential degree, with a former campaign manager to Bill Clinton, Chris Lehane, at his side co-chairing the Think Big coalition. Until Johnson screws something up, it’s wise to bet that he’ll continue to hit his deliverables.

Meanwhile, Kings fans continue to impress in their role of drumming up public support.  During Tuesday’s meeting, a diverse set of seven Kings fans spoke during the time for public comments, but the twist was that they scripted their comments to fit a theme. The theme was that the city’s need for an arena is “bigger than basketball,” so before each of them spoke they removed their Kings jerseys to reveal a white T-shirt with one of the words ‘Concerts, Regional $, Events, Revitalize, Nightlife, Jobs, and Pride.’

They live-tweeted each person’s talking point and along with the streaming video of the council meeting the entire Kings’ grassroots network trended on Twitter in Sacramento.  Small gestures, big impact.  I’ve said it before, but Save our Sonics needed Twitter to invent itself a few years earlier.

I asked the leader of the group that came up with the idea for the T-shirts why they did it, and Mike Taveres of #FANS (Fund Arena Now Sacramento) said, “We wanted to show this was more than just our Sacramento Kings. They’re a piece of the puzzle but not the only piece.”

What’s going on in Sacramento is much bigger than basketball, indeed. The region has 12 percent unemployment and lost $40 million in tax revenues in the last year alone due to falling property values. The city’s normally stable public sector has been hammered by budget cuts at the state level, and big businesses are leaving with regularity (for places like Anaheim that cater to business no less).

Should Sacramento not fund the arena and they lose their team, they will need to find an anchor tenant before they could entertain the idea of building a game-changing downtown anything district. Their citizens will continue to pour money into other regions when they travel outside of Sacramento for shows and events, property values will likely continue to struggle, and businesses will see the city’s inability to build an arena as a failure of leadership. They already are. The citizens, already slumping through bad economic times, will see their crown jewel going away as a sign that things aren’t working, and confidence will erode all the way around. These aren’t my words – they’re the words of the many citizens I’ve interviewed that desperately want to keep the tumbleweeds outside of city limits.

Yes, there is a discussion to be had about the public funding of sports arenas, but ironically that discussion is in a pending status within the academic community. As I reported back in August, the go-to economist on sports subsidies, Brad Humphreys, is in the middle of a study to address the hundreds of millions of dollars of increased property value a facility like the proposed Kings arena might bring. I spoke with Humphries in great detail, and he said that as long as the Maloofs and the NBA were throwing in the type of money that had been reported, that the Kings deal shaped up as a “good deal.” As for the study, that’s on pause until his co-author can catch a break from his two newborn kids. They’re in no hurry to finish the study and under no societal obligation to do so, but for anybody with so-called claims that they understand the economics behind this – they don’t. Simply put, the experts are still studying it. In the meantime, Humphries and others have noted that the previous approach of building a stadium or arena in the middle of nowhere was flawed, and building them in the middle of downtown hubs is the best way to monetize the value of a sports franchise. He wrote,

A new state of the art facility integrated in a comprehensive urban redevelopment program and located in the heart of a large city might be expected to generate increases in residential property values in the vicinity of hundreds of millions of dollars within a mile of the facility, if the location, planning, construction, and development are carried out carefully.

This is what the Kings fans and community leaders are fighting for. It’s not just the increase in tax revenues an extra ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ of land value might bring, but rather the overall economic activity the arena will spur. It’s why these normal citizens have given all of their waking hours to a cause, it’s why a documentary is being made about the #HereWeStay guys, it’s why thousands of fans refused to leave after the team’s final game, and it’s why they continue to outpace their opposition at every turn.  Their community literally depends on it.

Kevin Johnson heads to New York on Friday to meet with the NBA and AEG to discuss how much private contribution the league and the Maloofs are going to make. All of this is going to come together in the next 60 days, and ultimately there will be a final vote.

Sure public opposition could pick up, and yes, unappealing deal-points could make the deal go bad, but with Kevin Johnson pitching a shutout and Kings fans handling the public education piece – it sure seems like they’re on track to finally get that win over Los Angeles.

Report: NBA planning to start next season on Christmas

NBA Christmas
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The current NBA season – interrupted by coronavirus – could extend as late as Oct. 12. That means the league must delay next season. How long past the normal mid-October start? December was the popular notion, but that’s still a wide timeframe.

Now, we can pinpoint it.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

If the N.B.A. can successfully complete the 2019-20 season under this structure, it is expected that the 2020 N.B.A. draft would be moved to October, with free agency to follow shortly thereafter and a tentative plan to establish Dec. 25 as opening day for the 2020-21 season.

Coronavirus can ruin the best-laid plans. Though NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said play would continue around a positive test, it’s unclear whether that would delay this season’s schedule – then the offseason then next season. It’s also unknown how the country will be handling coronavirus in December. The cold weather, pushing people indoors, could increase cases.

But it’s still interesting to know the plan, even if it’s tentative.

People fondly recall the NBA season starting on Christmas in 2011. Many have pointed to Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin’s idea of permanently opening in December to avoid overlap with the NFL, though he suggested mid-December – not Christmas.

That’s quite late.

This year, coronavirus has forced radical changes. A Christmas start might be totally reasonable for the 2020-21 season.

What about beyond?

If the NBA wants to begin each season on Christmas, this is the simplest time to shift. A different start date for future seasons would require altering the calendar to get on track.

There are plenty of issues with opening on Christmas in normal times, though:

  • Historically, TV viewership is down during the summer. That might be changing, but people might find other activities while it’s warm rather than attending or watching an indoor NBA game.
  • Would people really watch more NBA games just because fewer of them would compete with the highly popular NFL? The NBA regular season might just be too long to capture attention, no matter when it’s held.
  • By starting on Christmas, the NBA would reduce two marquee regular-season dates – opening day and Christmas – to one.
  • Many regional TV networks that carry NBA games also carry MLB games. Many of those networks already carry NHL games. But with baseball teams playing more games, there would be more conflicts.
  • With schools out, the American system is built on summer being more of a vacation time. People within the league – including players, especially those with children – might object to working during that time.

Projecting schedules for all 22 returning NBA teams

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The NBA will recall 22 teams to each play eight games.

How will the schedule work?

The new structure will reportedly be based on teams’ existing schedules, teams playing their next eight originally scheduled games against the continuing 22 teams. Of course, that doesn’t work cleanly. Some teams would reach eight games more quickly than other teams. So, whenever a team arrived at an opponent that already reached eight games, I just continued to that team’s next game.

With that assumption, here are the remaining opponents for each team:

  • Boston Celtics: Bucks, Wizards, Raptors, Nets, Wizards, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Heat
  • Brooklyn Nets: Clippers, Kings, Wizards, Celtics, Magic, Clippers, Magic, Trail Blazers
  • Dallas Mavericks: Suns, Clippers, Kings, Trail Blazers, Suns, Rockets, Jazz, Bucks
  • Denver Nuggets: Spurs, Lakers, Clippers, Thunder, Raptors, Heat, Spurs, Thunder
  • Houston Rockets: Lakers, Trail Blazers, Kings, Bucks, Mavericks, Pacers, 76ers, Raptors
  • Indiana Pacers: 76ers, Heat, Suns, Magic, Rockets, Kings, Clippers, Lakers
  • L.A. Clippers: Nets, Pelicans, Mavericks, Nuggets, Suns, Nets, Pacers, Thunder
  • Los Angeles Lakers: Rockets, Nuggets, Jazz, Jazz, Raptors, Pacers, Trail Blazers,* Heat or Magic*
  • Memphis Grizzlies: Trail Blazers, Jazz, Spurs, Thunder, Bucks, Pelicans, Pelicans, Celtics
  • Miami Heat: Bucks, Pacers, Thunder, Nuggets, Suns, Celtics, Raptors, Lakers or Trail Blazers*
  • Milwaukee Bucks: Celtics, Heat, Grizzlies, Wizards, Rockets, Wizards, Mavericks, Raptors
  • New Orleans Pelicans: Kings, Jazz, Clippers, Spurs, Grizzlies, Kings, Grizzlies, Magic
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: Jazz, Wizards, Grizzlies, Nuggets, Heat, Nuggets, Suns, Clippers
  • Orlando Magic: Pacers, Kings, Nets, Nets, Pelicans, 76ers, Raptors, Lakers or Trail Blazers*
  • Philadelphia 76ers: Pacers, Wizards, Raptors, Trail Blazers, Suns, Rockets, Magic, Spurs
  • Phoenix Suns: Mavericks, Pacers, Clippers, Mavericks, 76ers, Wizards, Heat, Thunder
  • Portland Trail Blazers: Grizzlies, Rockets, Mavericks, 76ers, Celtics, Nets, Lakers,* Heat or Magic*
  • Sacramento Kings: Pelicans, Nets, Mavericks, Rockets, Magic, Pelicans, Pacers, Spurs
  • San Antonio Spurs: Nuggets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Jazz, Jazz, Nuggets, Kings, 76ers
  • Toronto Raptors: 76ers, Celtics, Nuggets, Lakers, Bucks, Rockets, Heat, Magic
  • Utah Jazz: Thunder, Pelicans, Grizzlies, Lakers, Lakers, Spurs, Spurs, Mavericks
  • Washington Wizards: Celtics, Thunder, 76ers, Nets, Bucks, Celtics, Suns, Bucks

*To reach eight games for each team, I had to create three games not on the schedule:

  • Lakers vs. Trail Blazers
  • Lakers vs. Heat or Magic
  • Trail Blazers vs. Heat or Magic

Los Angeles would face whichever of Miami and Orlando that Portland doesn’t face (and vice versa).

The Lakers could also play the Trail Blazers twice, and the Heat could just play the Magic. But that’d mean five Lakers-Trail Blazers games and five Heat-Magic games this season. Generally, teams play each other four or fewer times.

I wouldn’t get too caught up in the order of the games. That almost certainly must be adjusted. Otherwise, teams would finish at significantly different times. For example, the Bucks’ eighth game in this format is against the Raptors. But that’s just Toronto’s fifth game.

The NBA might also use a different method altogether. Again, the reported plan can’t work exactly as reported.

But want the best guess at each team’s remaining games? This is it.

*Thanks to Kevin Pelton of ESPN for providing a handy spreadsheet of originally scheduled games.

LeBron James to Drew Brees: You still don’t understand why Colin Kaepernick kneeled

Colin Kaepernick and New Orleans Saints Drew Brees
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Colin Kaepernick’s protest worked.

Just by kneeling during the national anthem, Kaepernick shined a light on racism – specifically through police brutality – plaguing the United States. Whether or not you agreed with his methods, Kaepernick made it difficult to avoid discussion of the very important issue. Kaepernick’s simple demonstration made society far more sensitive to police misconduct, particularly toward black people. That set the stage for these incredible nationwide protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

Of course, work remains. Kaepernick suffered far too great of personal cost to deliver his message. Racism and police brutality continue.

So, expect some people – including NFL players – to keep kneeling during the national anthem.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees explained why he objected to that. Lakers star LeBron James then objected to Brees’ explanation.

LeBron:

I do think not standing for the Star Spangled Banner disrespects the United States. The societal norms are clear: Standing is the way to show respect during the national anthem.

But know what else disrespects the United States? Police brutality, which disproportionately harms black people.

At some point, you have to decide which disrespect bothers you more – racism that damages and ends lives or symbolic protest of a song and piece of cloth.

Brees also brought up the military, on which I share LeBron’s disagreement. The Star Spangled Banner represents our entire country, not just our military. It’s weak to use the military as a shield while criticizing Kaepernick. In fact, Kaepernick specifically altered his protest – from sitting to kneeling – to honor the military.

Brees can ignore Kaepernick’s message on that.

But Kaepernick’s larger message rings loudly.

Report: NBA restarted season to follow existing schedule, with tweaks

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It’s been one of the big questions for the NBA’s 22-team restart at the Walt Disney World complex in Orlando:

How would the schedule be put together for those eight regular-season games?

It turns out, the answer is modifying the old schedule, reports Vincent Goodwill at Yahoo Sports. The idea is just to use the old schedule, taking out the teams not in Orlando.

This provides a starting point for the league’s schedulers.  For example, the Pelicans schedule would be: Kings, Jazz, Clippers, Spurs, Grizzlies, Kings, Grizzlies, Magic. The Pelicans would play the Grizzlies twice in this format, giving them a real chance to make up ground toward the eighth seed. Portland also is well positioned to make a playoff push.

The challenge with following the old schedule becomes this: the Thunder’s eighth game in this scenario is the Clippers, except L.A. already played eight. Next for the Thunder then is the Lakers, except they will have played eight. Then the Nets, but again they have played eight. Multiple teams face this scenario, so the league will need to schedule some “made up” games just to balance things out.

While there would be tweaks to be made, using the existing schedule as a base makes sense.

The teams most interested will be the teams battling for the nine seed, particularly in the West. New Orleans had a particularly soft remaining schedule and the Grizzlies had the hardest one in the league, which is why fivethirtyeight.com gave the Pelicans a 60% chance of making the playoffs. With the eight worst teams in the league out of the picture, how does that change and how much do the schedules flatten out?

Considering everything that has gone on with the league this year and the great lengths needed to start up games again, don’t expect teams to complain about the schedule. They’re just happy to be playing.