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Mayor Kevin Johnson announces equity partners, plans to bid for Kings

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is continuing the fight to keep the Kings even with the odds against him. (Rocky Widner/Getty Images) Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is continuing the fight to keep the Kings. (Rocky Widner/Getty Images)

By Ben Golliver

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson revealed the names of two major equity partners and announced details of their plans to bid on the Kings and construct a new arena during his State of the City address on Thursday.

Johnson pledged to keep the Kings in Sacramento in the wake of a purchase and sale agreement between the Maloof family and an investment group led by Valiant Capital's Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer that has filed paperwork to relocate the franchise to Seattle.

"With all due respect to Seattle," Johnson said. "Let me be perfectly, crystal clear: It is not going to be this team. Not our team. No way."

The city's plan relies on Mark Mastrov, the founder of 24 Hour Fitness, and billionaire Ron Burkle, co-owner of the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mastrov, Johnson explained, will submit a "very strong and competitive bid" to the NBA and to the Maloofs to purchase the Kings on Friday.

"[Mastrov] has stepped up and stepped forward and is willing to put forward a proposal to buy our Sacramento Kings and keep them right here where they belong," Johnson said, calling the announcement a "defining moment" for his city.

Johnson, a three-time NBA All-Star, also announced that Burkle has "agreed to lead our charge to bring a world-class" arena in the city's Downtown Plaza area. 

"I know we're still very much in this game," Johnson said. "We never give up, we never give in, we never say never."

Until Friday, the participation of Mastrov and Burkle in efforts to keep the franchise in Sacramento hadn't been made official. Recent reports referred to the presence of wealthy "whales" who planned to join Johnson's effort.

NBA commissioner David Stern acknowledged during All-Star Weekend in Houston that the Kings' saga would leave either Seattle or Sacramento empty-handed.

“I don’t see any scenario in which both cities are happy here,” Stern said, ruling out the possibility of expansion to accommodate both cities’ desire to have a franchise.

The NBA's Board of Governors will meet in New York City on April 18 and 19 to vote on the sale agreement between the Maloofs and the Seattle-group as well as the application for relocation. Johnson said he will be in attendance at the meetings to make his pitch.

"I've been assured by the commissioner of the NBA that we will be given full consideration," Johnson said.

Stern said in Houston that it was "plausible" that a Kings over could win out over Seattle's agreement but cautioned against this turning into a bidding war, saying that the owners would have a "very open mind" as they weighed the two offers.

“I don’t believe it’s going to come down to economics,” Stern said of the Board of Governors’ consideration of two possible offers. “I think the owners are going to have a tough issue to decide. … We don’t have the predicate for that tough decision yet. It’s going to wait upon Mayor Johnson making good on his statement that there will be an offer. And it’s going to be upon the Sacramento area, a number of the regional municipalities and the various people who have been saying they’ll give the mayor the support he needs.”

Johnson also announced that 20 community leaders have pledged at least $1 million each to the effort to keep the franchise in Sacramento, with former Kings guard Mitch Richmond being one of the investors. In addition, he announced that he has received commitments of $50 million for five years from the city's business community and that it was his group's intention to restore the Sacramento Monarchs WNBA franchise. Kings fans recently held a "Here We Buy" in an effort to express their interest in keeping the franchise, which relocated to Sacramento from Kansas City in 1985.

The Seattle-area investment group's plan is to play in KeyArena until a new stadium can be completed. The franchise would take on the SuperSonics moniker, starting a new chapter after the original team played in Seattle from 1967-68 until 2008, when they were relocated to Oklahoma City and renamed the Thunder. The group's purchase and sale agreement includes a 65 percent share of the team at a $525 million franchise valuation.

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