Ship to keep Kings in Sacramento has sailed

Ship to keep Kings in Sacramento has sailed
January 21, 2013, 1:00 pm
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Kevin Johnson fought mightily to keep the Kings in Sacramento, but will come up short. (AP)

Sacramento continues to hold out hope that it can keep its basketball team. It is the hope the lead clarinetist on the HMS Titanic had when he broke out into his solo in “St. James Infirmary Blues.”

All the hopes the locals had that a miracle could be performed are essentially done, now that Bay Area deep pocket Chris Hansen, the city of Seattle and the NBA have all essentially said, “Yeah, done deal.” Mayor Kevin Johnson still has a chance to plead to the NBA’s Board of Governors, but his speech will really consist of three words.

“Don’t do this.”

[NEWS: Maloofs sell Kings to Seattle-based investor group]

Then he will extend his remarks to include, “I mean, I know you’re going to, and I know our money doesn’t look as good to you as Hansen’s does, and I know once the Kings are gone we will never see you again, and I know you’re all fine with that, but don’t do this.”

Then the Governors will vote 29-0 to let the Kings become SuperSonic again, and that’ll be that.

Sacramento will be wounded by being so callously and casually rejected. It believed too much in too little for too long, and it willfully ignored the basic fact – that Commissioner David Stern gave less of a damn about the jilted market than the bigger jilted market. “David loves us,” they all cried, but David never did. David said what he had to, but he never works against his own interests.

David doesn’t work for Sacramento, after all. David works for the 30 guys who always want to know that if they ever needed to move that he would back their play. David liked Seattle, but he knew the end game when Oklahoma City’s Clay Bennett bought the Sonics from Howard Schultz.

He doesn’t like franchise relocation, but he does what he has to do when he has to do it for the guys who cut his check. Sacramento doesn’t cut any checks. The choice was simple.

This, children, was a fait accompli, and it had been from the moment the Maloof family essentially became pauperific.

The family has been beaten up good and proper in the capital, which is what happens when owners with money become owners without money. Their breathless love for Sacramento waned as their reserves did, and they handled their detachment from the town with typical owner clumsiness. They got what they deserved.

Their financial situation may have demanded speed, which Hansen offered. But they also got very snippy with Johnson and the city, which opens the possibility that they came to prefer Hansen in part because he wanted to take the team elsewhere. This could also have been a spite sale, no question about it.

True, the governors may decide they should sell to local owners, though that is so unlikely at this point that it is a metaphysical impossibility. The league’s owners like Hansen and want him among them, and he solves all of Stern’s problems – the city, the arena, the Maloofs, and Stern’s carpetbaggers’ reputation in Washington.

The lesson here for Sacramento, then, is a harsh but elemental one. Sometimes, it just happens, and you may gussy up the word “it” with any prefix you prefer.

It got stuck with owners who blew their fortune when the recession bit Las Vegas in the head. It needed a sugar daddy to buy out the Maloofs, but couldn’t get one in time. It irritated the Maloofs to the point that they much preferred having the team leave, maybe because of the deal in hand and maybe out of finger-in-the-eye hurt feelings.

And when it gave in to the cruelties of hope and believed in Stern’s words and the illusory promise of “a buyer,” it got played.

Is Sacramento an NBA-level city? Yes. But there are lots of those. Will it ever get another chance to be one? Exceedingly unlikely. Even if Stern feels as guilty about this move as he did about the Oklahoma City move, he won’t be around long enough to fix it, and incoming commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t owe Sacramento anything, nor does he possess the power to call in any debts on behalf of his predecessor.

So Kevin Johnson will speak before the owners. He has next to no chance at this stage, not even if he found $526 million in his sock drawer. Indeed, he never had a chance even if he hadn’t gotten into his thing with the Maloofs. Sometimes gravity just wins, no matter how much elevation hope provides.