As the sale of the Sacramento Kings to a Seattle investment group moves rapidly ahead, let us speculate on the role played by NBA Commissioner David Stern.
The impression in Sacramento, fostered by the Bee and other local media, is that Stern really, really loves Sacramento and has been doing his utmost to thwart those villainous Maloofs from moving the Kings to Seattle, Anaheim, Virginia Beach or outer space. Stern really appreciates Sacramento’s loyal fans and respects Mayor Kevin Johnson’s hard work to build a downtown arena at public expense. The commish is on our side.
The Bee has given Stern uncritical, fawning coverage in its news stories and columns for a long time. Just yesterday, a Bee story said that Johnson, who is trying to round up investors to counter the Seattle’s group’s rumored $525 million offer for the Kings, “appears to have the support of … Stern.”
Stern, who is stepping down from his post next year, has given Johnson permission to speak this spring to the NBA’s board of governors, the story said, and Stern has gotten entertainment giant AEG to declare that it remains committed to the downtown arena project.
Meanwhile in Seattle, a columnist for the Seattle Times wrote several months ago that Stern was preparing to make amends for allowing the SuperSonics to skip out in 2008. Said columnist Jerry Brewer:
“Stern, one of Seattle’s greatest sports enemies, is primed to be an ally at the end of his Sonics-depriving tenure as the NBA commissioner. The Sonics’ mess is one of the greatest fiascos sullying his legacy. And that’s why Seattle, which hates Stern the most, is primed to benefit from his desire to exit on more positive terms.”
Last October, Yahoo! Sports writer Adrian Wojnarowski said this:
Between now and his departure, Stern is determined to get a franchise back into Seattle, league sources said. He has become a strong ally of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s group to bring back the NBA there. Ballmer’s group has been trying to get the Maloof family to sell the Sacramento Kings, so that the franchise can eventually play in a new arena in Seattle.
From the league office, pressure on the Maloofs to sell has been growing, sources said – just as hopes for a new Sacramento arena have been fading. Seattle Sonics fans will never forgive Stern for his complicit role in Clay Bennett’s deception to move that franchise to Oklahoma City, but make no mistake: Stern desperately wants to return the NBA to one of its great markets and wants it for his own measure of vindication before he leaves office.
As I noted last April, Stern plays ball for the NBA owners. The Columbia law school graduate has increased league revenue 30-fold since 1984 and overseen the relocation of five teams. I doubt he’s left his heart in Sacramento or feels guilty about messing over Seattle. But he’s good at making local media think he’s on the side of the hometown while he works his magic on the NBA’s bottom line.