Aaron Bruski

The Step-back 3

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Sacramento: Losing Its Crown

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Many folks in Sacramento are against using public funds for an arena. What would you say to them?

I'd say that you know what, I don't want to pave a road in South Sacramento that I'm never gonna use. I don't want to pay for my neighbor on the other side of the city to have his kids have better books than my kids at school. I don't want to pay for some homeless person, through no fault of my own, that didn't make it in this world – and now I have to feed them or clothe them? I don't want my dollars that I need to save so that my three and two-year old children can go to college some day, and in the meantime wear clothes on their back and go to preschool, going to some family to eat and live because they're on welfare.

I don't want to do that, but you know what, that's the only way that this country works.

Sometimes you have to pay for things that you'll never see in front of your face. Look, we pay 'x' amount of dollars to re-pave a freeway, well I can't remember the last time I drove around and I saw one of those signs that said 'your tax dollars at work, check out this new lane on this main drag here' – and that got me out of my seat screaming in fury. I can't remember the last time that I went and bought a t-shirt that said 'I fed a homeless person' on the back. That doesn't mean they're not worthy causes, but they don't cater to your heart and your soul like a professional sports franchise does. And if you're not a basketball fan and you're not going to watch the Sacramento Kings, well guess what, there's a lot of things that you benefit from in life – like that police officer that came to your house and investigated that burglary, or that ambulance that rolled over to your grandmother's house and saved her life after she had a heart attack.

But you were willing to do that because that's how this country works. Well, this is something that affects hundreds of thousands of people every year, this is something that instills civic pride. And, oh and by the way as you quoted in the Sacramento Business Journal, this is something that brings hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue over the years into the city of Sacramento and is one of the few destination activities that Sacramento has. So I say deal with it – you know what, that's the way it happens and that's the way it works and it's the only way we're going to be a viable city. Otherwise, just sit back on your lawn chair, drink your wine cooler, and watch the tumbleweeds roll by because that's where we're headed.

Kevin Johnson rode into office on a wave of popularity. He's a local kid that did well, he made it in the NBA, and he became the mayor of Sacramento. Where does he stand on all of this, has he been involved, and is he going to get involved with #HereWeBuild?

The only way Kevin Johnson and the city are going to get involved with #HereWeBuild is when we write them a check after they decide to build an arena. I don't want any of their hands near this. Now I spoke to the mayor's office and they said that they're supportive and I appreciate that, I really do. It helps to have that involvement, and if the mayor wants to get on board with us, and the mayor wants to support us, that's fine. But I have nothing more to say to the mayor, and we at #HereWeBuild have nothing to say to the city council other than 'you failed.' You failed and we're doing what you can't, and you better figure it out, because you're our employees. You don't have tenure. You get voted in and you get voted out.

Kevin Johnson I think is a good person, I do, I think he means well. I think he wants to keep this team to stay in Sacramento as I do, or any Kings fan does. I mean geez, the guy played point guard in the NBA for over a decade. There's nobody that's a bigger basketball fan than Kevin Johnson, and I truly do believe that. But Kevin's not a politician, and a lot of times that's a good thing, but in this case it's not.

He's surrounded by people, in my opinion, that are giving him bad information. There has been PR catastrophe after PR catastrophe involved in this whole thing, there's been grandstanding, there's been egos that are prevalent in the old guard that defines the way that the city of Sacramento runs. His official spokesperson, is an old newspaper guy that for years was slamming the Kings around. A very snarky guy, somehow got hired to be the voice of the mayor of Sacramento, and said in a national newspaper that the city of Sacramento felt it was "good riddance" for the Kings to leave. Well, that's not the case, and the mayor recently said that he took his spokesman out back and "took him to the woodshed" in his own words. It's a small microcosm of the missteps, misdirection, and ineptitude coming out of not just the mayor's office but the city council in general. So I believe he's a good dude, I believe he wants the team to stay here, but I don't think he knows how and I think he needs help. Hopefully that help will come because I don't think he can do it on his own.

There are a lot of rumors and stories about varying efforts by fans working to try to save the Kings. Is #HereWeBuild a part of the effort to go down to Anaheim and collective signatures for a petition to reject the $75 million bond measure for improvements on the Honda Center?

Well if you're putting this print, please put a big giant capital 'N' and a capital 'O,' then underline it and underscore it and put a highlighter on it so it looks like the sun is shining on it. No, no, not anywhere close. No way, no way, shape, or form. That is the antithesis of what we're trying to do.

Now I understand that, as I've said many times during this interview that if there's one thing that Sacramento knows how to do is red tape and bureaucracy, who knows – if they're going to delay this team leaving, if they're going to have success in that capacity in any way, rather than rolling up their sleeves and getting something done, it's very Sacramento-like to find a loophole, to find some red tape, to find some bylaw on the 300th page of a booklet that they can try to exploit. But, that's the opposite of what we're trying to do. We may both have the same goal, which is to keep the team here, we have entirely different ways of going about it.

Our job, and our goal, and our attempt is to have a positive conversation – not just with the fans, not just with the city council, but most importantly perhaps with the Maloof family which owns the Sacramento Kings and holds the fate of the franchise in their hands. We want them to know that we understand that there have been mistakes made on the side of Sacramento, and we also understand that there have been mistakes made by the Maloof family and I'm sure they'd be the first ones to tell you that – but there's no place for blame here and there's no place for grandstanding as I said before.

We want them to stay and we want them to know that part of the reason for that is that we have love for the franchise they own. It means more to us than just a basketball on a court, it's civic pride. We want them, if they were to announce to stay, to do it because they want to be here and it makes financial and business sense. Not because we forced them to on a technicality, and thus drove even more of a wedge between them and the city that they employ over 1,000 people in. And I believe that the Maloofs know, I know they know – I would bet money, that they know the fans love the team, and I don't think the Maloofs have any issues with the fans. I can't speak for them, but I'd bet all the money in my pockets and all the money in yours that the Maloofs have not one inkling of ill-will toward the fans of Sacramento.

Their issues fall entirely with the city of Sacramento, and like any big business owners, this isn't anything new. Sacramento is not home to tons of major corporations. Even the smaller market teams like Charlotte have a ton of banks headquartered in their city, and you can go down the road to San Jose where they have many multi-billion dollar companies. Big business does not find a comfortable home in Sacramento because Sacramento does not make it comfortable for big business. So, the Maloofs and the Sacramento Kings are just a small little sliver of the issues Sacramento has in their attitude toward big business. Sacramento asks 'what can you do for us, what can we exploit, and we're not going to lift a finger to help you because you're rich.' And you know what, whether they're right or wrong, that's not how you attract, and more importantly, that's not how you keep big businesses. That's the bottom line. So no, we're not involved in that movement, and you can put a big period behind that.

If you had 15 minutes with the Maloofs, what would you say to them?

Well first I'd like that really cool basketball suite at the Palms for the weekend. After that, I'd say 'guys, I know you're good guys. I know you're been in the NBA since you were young – since your father George Sr. passed away.'

They love the NBA, they're huge fans. And I would apologize, I would say 'on behalf of my city leaders, who I elect, I apologize. I really do. I don't know why they have egos, I don't know why there has been grandstanding, but there has been. I understand why you don't have a lot of trust or faith in the system here. I understand that it does make some very good business sense to go where you're in the second biggest business market in the United States (in Anaheim), where you have quite a few more million people to draw from, where you will be greeted with open arms, where you have a city council that is issuing money before you have even signed on the dotted line to attract you – yet the city you've been in for over a decade as owners won't lift a finger. I get it. But let's put that aside. You know we want you here. We also know that it's not going to be the easiest road in the world for you to go down there. Come back to the table, let's see what we can do. There's always time to move your team to Anaheim.'

Now Sacramento was never going to do a thing until a gun was pointed to their heads, and the Maloofs have made mistakes along the way, and maybe their biggest mistake came from the right place. I don't believe the Maloofs ever wanted to point the proverbial gun at the city – I don't think they ever wanted to say 'we need an arena by this date or we're leaving.' I think had they done that, yes that would have caused them a lot of negative press in the beginning, but it might have gotten something done by now. I think by them trying to be good guys, and not wanting to hold the city hostage, they might have inadvertently messed up the process.

But maybe they didn't understand the apathy of the city leaders, so even when I say they made a mistake, I have to underline that by saying they might have made a mistake with better intentions. I'd want to bring them back to the table, and I'd want to get everybody talking again. I like to shift their focus, if not completely away from Anaheim, but I'd like to bring an eyeball away from Anaheim – and let them resurvey the situation now that the fans are being heard.

Final question, are the Kings in Sacramento next year?

Well I could be coy and give you the sound bite and say 'I sure hope so' and 'God-willing' and that's all true. You know part of this whole process is cutting through all the BS and getting the answers, and as much as I want to give the positive sound bites, I also want to give straight answers.

If I'm a betting man I say 'no.' I absolutely say 'no.' I think the odds of the Kings being here next season are 90-10 out of 100, but I'll tell you this, I think three days ago it was 95-5, and I think tomorrow it will be 85-15. And as long as we can continue in a very short time before April 15th when the NBA Board of Governors meets, that if we can continue to move that scale little by little, we've got a fighting chance.

Until the moving trucks pull up to Power Balance Pavilion, formerly Arco Arena, and they begin packing up all the gear of the Sacramento Kings franchise – they're still the Sacramento Kings. And as long as they're here, we at #HereWeBuild at least, and the many others that have joined us and will join us in the next few days, we're going to continue to fight for one goal – and that is keeping this franchise here, and building them an arena that they desperately need. That's the best answer that I can give you.

For the 2011 Rotoworld Fantasy Basketball Awards nominees check out Page 4

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Aaron Bruski has covered hoops for Rotoworld since 2008 and has competed in national fantasy sports competitions for nearly two decades. You can also find his work over at ProBasketballTalk, where he received critical acclaim for his in-depth reporting of the Kings' relocation saga. Hit him on Twitter at Aaronbruski.
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