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.

Report: ‘Significant amount of pessimism’ NBA will restart season

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The idea of creating a “bubble” in Las Vegas to restart the NBA season sounds enticing. They have the hotel rooms in the city and the facilities at the UNLV campus (where Summer League takes place), it may need to be a condensed playoffs, but it’s something. It provides hope.

That hope is fading, however. They have tried to use the bubble idea to restart the Chinese Basketball Association — and twice China has had to push back the start of the league as the coronavirus has refused to fade away.

China’s experience has added to a growing pessimism that the NBA can pull off any part of this season, ESPN’S Brian Windhorst said on SportsCenter:

“I think there was optimism about progress a week ago. Some things that have happened this week have turned it south about what could happened…

“The Chinese are finding that asymptomatic carriers are causing maybe a second wave in that country and they’re just slamming the breaks on sports…

“It is clear that the NBA is angling to set up a deal that enables them to shut the season down. They don’t have to do that yet. The way they’re negotiating, they’re leaving an option either way. But they’re not having talks about how to restart the league. They’re having financial talks about what would happen if the season shuts down. I think there’s a significant amount of pessimism.”

That pessimism only grows when you consider the potential impact on the United States from COVID-19, with the White House’s own projections having 100,000 dead on the low end. Add to that the significant economic costs that our nation is just starting to experience and, while a return to basketball and its distraction sounds enticing, it’s also hard to picture.

For example, the idea of putting a “bubble” in Las Vegas (or Orlando or the Bahamas or wherever) is a promising theory on a surface level but becomes a logistical nightmare when trying to make it work in practice.

Are you going to get all the players, coaches, trainers, equipment managers, camera operators (these games will be broadcast), and the rest to self-quarantine for two weeks before they come to the bubble in Vegas? Or, will there be the many hundreds of tests (maybe a 1,000?) needed to screen everyone? What is the rate of false negatives with this test? Can players bring families (they would have to be tested and live in the bubble) or will everyone separate from their family for 6-8 weeks? The league will need about a three-week training camp in the bubble before you can start games, then there would be weeks of games, and all that time the bubble has to be secure. Is that realistic? Do the hotel staff and cooks feeding everyone in the bubble have to stay in the bubble?

That’s not even all of the challenges and it’s daunting. And that is for the “faster” answer of playing all the games in one location and without fans. Who knows how long it will be before teams can fly around the country to play in packed arenas again.

The NBA does not have to make a decision now or even soon, it can wait into May and June and see where things stand with the virus, the economy, and the nation. Still, it’s harder and harder to be an optimist with all of this.

Sacramento Kings turning former arena into coronavirus surge hospital

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If you’re old enough, you might remember Arco Arena as the home of the Sacramento Kings when they were a playoff team. Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojaković, and company pushed the Shaq/Kobe Lakers to seven games in 2002 and won huge playoff games in the arena. Arco was where Jason Williams was dropping dimes without looking, and arena which later became known as the Sleep Train Arena, Power Balance Pavilion, and eventually the current Natomas Arena.

Now, it’s about to be a coronavirus surge hospital.

The Kings are making the arena available and it will house about 360 beds, the team announced on Friday. The team also is donating $250,000 to support area community organizations providing services to families in need in the area, plus donating 100,000 medical masks to state and local health agencies.

“On behalf of the entire Kings family, our hearts are with all who have been affected by this pandemic,” said Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé in a statement. “California always leads the nation and the world, and we applaud Governor [Gavin] Newsom’s strong and decisive leadership to keep Californians healthy and safe during this crisis…

“Our community has always come first, and that is more important now than ever,” Ranadivé continued. “The Kings are proud to help by providing additional space to accommodate a predicted surge in patients. We are also donating masks to help keep people healthy, and critical resources to area organizations that are addressing food insecurity and other issues as a result of the coronavirus. I have always been in awe of the resilience and ingenuity of the American people and firmly believe that together, we will defeat this invisible enemy.”

The Kings moved to the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento in 2015 and since then their former home and practice arena has mostly sat vacant. The Kings’ G-League team practices there at times, but like the rest of basketball they find their season suspended.

Hopefully, this arena helps save some lives in the California capital. That would be the most important thing ever to happen in the building.

WNBA postpones season

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban backed off his belief that the NBA could resume in May.

It’s just already clear, amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’ll be unsafe to hold professional basketball games that soon.

WNBA release:

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert released the following statement:

“As developments continue to emerge around the COVID-19 pandemic, including the extension of the social distancing guidelines in the United States through April 30, the WNBA will postpone the start of its training camps and tip of the regular season originally scheduled for May 15.  While the league continues to use this time to conduct scenario-planning regarding new start dates and innovative formats, our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans and employees.

Many top female players – including Los Angeles Sparks guard Sydney Wiese, who tested positive for coronavirus – play overseas during the WNBA offseason. That frequency of travel makes it even riskier for WNBA teams to gather any time soon.

The WNBA will still hold its draft April 17, conducting proceedings virtually. That could provide lessons to the NBA as it determines how to handle its draft.

Joel Embiid, 76ers owners pledging $1.3M for fighting coronavirus

76ers owner Josh Harris and Joel Embiid
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Joel Embiid just showed up 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer by pledging to pay team employees who were set to have their pay cut. Amid widespread backlash, the 76ers backtracked on their salary-reduction plan.

Now – with a portion of Embiid’s coronavirus-related donation unallocated and Harris and Blitzer looking to change the narrative around them – those three are working together.

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid, Sixers managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer are contributing a combined $1.3 million to Penn Medicine, establishing a funding campaign for COVID-19 antibody testing of frontline healthcare workers.

According to a Penn Medicine press release, “The pledge from Embiid, Harris and Blitzer will provide a much-needed boost for efforts to quickly identify health care workers who may have immunity to the new virus.”

This is great.