With owners facing a difficult choice between a move to Seattle or the team staying put in Sacramento, NBA Commissioner David Stern said Wednesday the expected vote in two weeks may be delayed.
"We've never had a situation like this," Stern said.
"And the seriousness of purpose to me is really incredible, because (owners) know that there's a lot at stake here for two communities and the NBA."
A Seattle group led by investor Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has a pending agreement with the Maloof family to buy 65 percent of the team and move it back to the city the SuperSonics left in 2008. Sacramento has put together its own group to make a competing bid.
Both sides made presentations to a committee of owners on Wednesday — with George Maloof making clear during Seattle's that his family wanted to deal with them — that left enough questions that Stern says he doesn't know when a decision will be made.
A vote was expected during the April 18-19 board of governors meeting. But Stern said questions remain about real estate and arena construction timelines, and owners may need more time to sort through them.
It couldn't go much past that date, because a 2013-14 schedule has to be made and tickets have to be sold.
"I wouldn't expect it if it does to slide by a lot, because there's a combined interest in having some clarity come to this situation," Stern said.
The Seattle group went first, touting the financial strength of its city and the passion of its fans. Sacramento followed, stressing the support it's shown for the Kings, even during their many losing seasons, and the city's plans for a new arena that would revitalize its downtown.
"Think about it for a second. The NBA does not want to move a team from one market to another, period," Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson said. "We already know that. They normally move a team from one market to another when the fans don't support it or you can't build a building. That's not the case in Sacramento."
Eight owners made up the committee Wednesday. Sacramento's group, consisting of Silicon Valley software tycoon Vivek Ranadive, 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, billionaire investor Ron Burkle and Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs, seemed loose afterward, laughing and joking through a press conference.
Seattle's were more guarded, with Hansen revealing little about what was said during the meeting.
"I believe Chris did a very thorough job of outlining the deal and what the ownership team was looking at it," Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said. "I think Steve Ballmer did a very good job of expressing the kind of the enthusiasm for Seattle, and now's a good moment for us, and George Maloof closed by expressing his desire to close the deal with Chris Hansen. So collectively, I think the team did a very good job."
A group of Sacramento fans wearing Kings jerseys gathered in front of the New York hotel where the meetings were held to greet their contingent, led by Johnson. He's confident his city has done everything asked to show its commitment to keeping the Kings in Sacramento and building a new arena.
The Kings were thought to be on their way out two years ago, when the Maloofs were prepared to move them to Anaheim, Calif. Johnson came to New York to lobby owners to give his city more time, and the plan to relocate fell through.
Sacramento fell into deeper jeopardy of losing its team in January when the Hansen-Ballmer group signed a deal with the Maloofs for $341 million — a figure reached from a total franchise valuation of $525 million, an NBA record.
The city has fought back again, recently approving an arena financing plan and lining up an ownership group that can compete with the powerful Seattle one. Though no terms of Sacramento's bid were given, Stern said as he was leaving that the dollars were not an issue after previously saying Seattle's bid was much higher.
But Sacramento still must overcome the wishes of the Maloofs to deal with Seattle.
"They did express strong support for moving forward with the deal that they've made with Chris Hansen," McGinn said, "and of course in the nature of the presentation it was important to Chris Hansen to point out the advantages to Seattle as a marketplace and as a destination for the NBA."
A sale would have to be approved by three-fourths of owners. A simple majority is needed to approve a relocation.
Expecting lengthy debate and a difficult decision, Stern set up Wednesday's meeting so owners would be able to get a jump on the issue before their season-ending meetings. He said the committee will meet again before the board meeting.
Johnson stressed the strength of the Sacramento market and of his potential ownership group, which he called a "dream team." He said they avoided saying anything negative about Seattle.
"But what we did do is compare Sacramento's market with Seattle, which I think is a fair comparison," the former NBA star said. "And when you look at a 23-year period where both of us have had NBA teams, Sacramento's market outdrew Seattle's market 20 of 23 seasons, despite Seattle having a better record. Those were the kinds of things that we said in there."
Stern again ruled out expansion at this time, meaning only one of the cities will have an NBA team next season.
"There's no question that Seattle is a vibrant and thriving market with plans for a great building, and Sacramento has been a great and supportive market of the NBA with plans for a new building," Stern said. "And so we need to flesh out for the owners, every owner seems to have a different question, but we've got a fair amount of work to do."
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