When Paul Westphal was campaigning for the Kings head coaching position in the summer of 2009, his former point guard-turned Sacramento mayor, Kevin Johnson, was among his most vocal supporters. "I'm rooting for him," Johnson told me back then.
Funny how these tables have turned. Westphal is the one rooting for Johnson now.
The team that Westphal has watched over for two seasons looked destined for departure just five months ago. The Maloof family, which owns the team, had eyes for Anaheim, and Johnson, a Sacramento native who took office in 2008, was seemingly helpless to stop them from skipping town.
But "Mr. Clutch," as his colleagues have started calling him, has led the most furious of comebacks. The rally started one day after the team's emotional season finale at home, where the tears of so many fans flowed and even Westphal was at a loss for words to describe the perceived end of this era. His postgame press conference following that overtime loss to the Lakers included a 17-second stretch of silence, 14 of those seconds passing with Westphal staring at the ground below while the cameras rolled.
Johnson, however, knew exactly what to say.
Much to the delight of the fans who have so staunchly supported this team in Sacramento for 26 years, Johnson wowed the league's owners at the Board of Governors meeting in New York on April 14 and earned his city this overtime period that is still being played. Sacramento officials were given a March 1 deadline to come up with a secured arena plan or risk relocation once again.
Johnson's stellar performance continued on Wednesday in the state capitol, where viable financing options for the $387-million downtown venue were
"There [are] a lot of things that are different from past [arena] efforts," Johnson said afterward. "I think there are a lot of lessons learned. I think we're going to create a win-win. I think the public is going to win. I think the NBA and the Kings are going to feel good about it, and I think those who benefit from the use of the entertainment and sports complex are going to feel good about it. ... We can make this happen."
The Kings owners, who have agreed to be a tenant in the building as opposed to owning it, then issued a statement of support that made it clear all parties are continuing to collaborate.
"The Kings organization views The Nexus Report as a very positive step toward the goal of a new entertainment and sports complex that will bring substantial economic benefits to the entire region and we hope will enable the team to continue playing in Sacramento," the statement read. "We were pleased with the report's conclusion that funding for the project can be achieved using various revenue sources, none of which involve any broad-based tax. We look forward to continuing to work with all interested parties to bring the project to completion."
Meanwhile, Westphal, who had a combined record of 191-88 during his three-plus seasons with Johnson in Phoenix (1992-95), is hardly surprised to see Johnson leading with such poise and potency.
The two men aren't teaming up like they did back when deep playoff runs were the norm and only Michael Jordan got between them and an NBA championship in 1993, but they are certainly on the same team. In an interview with SI.com, Westphal discussed the Sacramento saga and the role one of his favorite players has played so well.