NEW YORK CITY (CBS13) – Although NBA Commissioner David Stern on Friday said the Maloof family was well within its rights to back away from the new downtown arena deal, he didn’t hide his disappointment that the project has fallen apart, something Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson confirmed later in the day.
“We had an agreement in principle,” Stern said of the term sheet for a $391 million facility the sides agreed to in Orland in late February. “You can call it whatever you want. It was always non-binding and I think it’s fair for the Maloofs to say they don’t want to do it. If they had done it simpler, earlier or more directly, it could have saved a lot of angst and trouble.”
“I am extremely disappointed on behalf of both the Maloofs and the city of Sacramento,” he said. “There’s nothing further to be done and this is a situation the Maloofs will have to make judgments on and the city will have to make judgments. ”
A couple hours later, Johnson held his own press conference after meeting with the Maloofs and said the deal is indeed dead.
“Today, the Maloofs, after saying we had a deal in Orlando that was fair, they are now saying we don’t want to do the deal,” Johnson said. “Is the deal dead as we know it? Absolutely. If the owners dont want to be in Sacramento and they went to go elsewhere, then there is nothing we could do at all to change their minds.”
After Johnson spoke in New York, the Kings put out a press release stating in part: “Despite best efforts to negotiate an agreement with the city of Sacramento, and at the conclusion of a meeting this afternoon with Mayor Johnson, he advised us that there is nothing to be gained by continued discussions at this time.”
“The negotiations that have occurred surrounding, as Commissioner Stern said repeatedly today during his news conference a ‘non-binding framework,’ never resulted in a deal that was good for the city or good for the team.”
That statement is directly opposite of what Stern said at his press conference. The NBA had negotiated the deal on behalf of the Maloofs.
The Kings owners held disjointed a press conference earlier in the day where they, their lawyer and an economist expressed concern for the project that they say the city has yet to address. Stern took particular exception with economist Christopher Thornberg of Beacon Economics saying the deal would put the city “on the edge of financial disaster.” Sacramento has committed $255 million to the project.
“It’s probably not the weirdest press conference we’ve had in the NBA. They’re entitled to do that,” he said. “But I think it really does come with ill grace for the economist to play the role that he did today.”
Johnson also said he was “baffled” by the Maloofs’ change of heart, especially after Gavin Maloof cried after the term sheet was agreed upon in Orlando and Joe, Gavin and Johnson walked out arm in arm to center court at Power Balance Pavilion a few days later in celebration of the deal.
“I think Sacramento deserves better than what we’ve gotten,” the mayor said. “I’m baffled to say the least to how we got here. I’m at Power Balance with Gavin and Joe and we’re raising hands. Why in the world would we be doing that if there wasn’t a deal?”
Chris Lehane, Executive Director of Think BIG Sacramento was far more critical of the Maloofs than the mayor.
“As their bizarre press conference laid bare for all to see, dealing with the Maloofs is like dealing with the North Koreans – except they are less competent,” said Lehane. “In Maloof-world, facts are fiction; truths are half-truths; and promises are broken promises. The City of Sacramento deserves better.”
Stern said he was disappointed for the city of Sacramento and praised city leaders for their efforts in trying to get an arena deal done with the Maloofs.
“Maybe we were over-optimistic, but one thing we weren’t over-optimistic about was the spirit exhibited in Sacramento,” Stern said. “I saw the mayor today. I thanked him for his support. I told him we couldn’t have asked for more. We asked the city of Sacramento to step up and that city responded in an extraordinary way. They were prepared under the mayor’s leadership to finance $260 million and that’s an extraordinary feat.”
Senator Darrel Steinberg had some harsh words for the Maloofs in a statement. “Regardless of where you stand on the arena the facts are clear: the city stepped up and the Maloofs did not. I hope the NBA and its owners do not allow this kind of bad behavior to occur without consequences.”
City Manager John Shirey said the news was a big blow. “This is more than just we don’t have a deal with the Kings. This is about economic development,” he said. “It was not just about basketball, it was a project about the future of our city.”
Stern also revealed for the first time Friday that the league was prepared to loan the Maloofs $67 million toward their $73 million contribution to the project and the league was going to put in $7 million of its own money to build the arena. He also said the league convinced proposed arena operator AEG to increase its contribute from $50 to $58 million.
But it still wasn’t enough apparently to convince the Maloofs they were getting a good deal.
“On closer review, which was their right, the owners of the Kings wanted to re-examine certain assumptions about projections and the like and it made them increasing uncomfortable,” Stern said.
As for their future in Sacramento, the Kings will continue to play at Power Balance Pavilion in Natomas at least next season, Stern said, and co-owner George Maloof suggested at the family’s press conference that they might now look to renovate the aging building formerly known as Arco Arena.
That suggestion also shocked Johnson.
“They clearly told me that did not want to renovate Arco Arena, now Power Balace Pavilion,” Johnson said. “To hear that comment today in a presser and to sit across the room today and ask them how they could get to that point, and they said ‘Well, sometimes you change your mind.’ That’s a direct quote. We as a city are not interested in that.”
Stern said any future efforts by the Maloofs to move the team, as they tried to do last season to Anaheim before Sacramento was given a year to come up with an arena plan, would be up to the league’s relocation committee to consider and that selling the team “has always been a subject that has been left to individual owners.”
George Maloof said the project was moving along too quickly, but Stern said there was a reason for that.
“We were moving quickly because the Maloofs wanted, and we wanted, and the city wanted this arena opened as soon as possible,” he said, referring to the 2015 target date. “It was the commonality of interests on all sides to get this done as soon as possibly.”
Now, apparently, it won’t get done at all.
And it’s leaving most fans feeling the Maloofs lack the spirit of sportsmanship when it comes to dealing with city leadership in a game that goes far beyond politics.