Who does the NBA tell to drop dead: Steve Ballmer or Ron Burkle?
That difficult question is why NBA bosses went temporarily into a fetal position Wednesday regarding the fate of the Kings. The once-plain franchise is suddenly Angelina Jolie, Heidi Klum and Kate Upton all rolled into one purple pile of pulchritude.
In a remarkable display of public haplessness, a tired-sounding NBA Commissioner David Stern said he didn’t quite know what to do with the bids of Seattle and Sacramento in their unprecedented pursuit for a free-agent franchise.
“There is a lot at stake here for two communities and the NBA,” he said. “It is a weighty issue.”
So Stern all but postponed the vote on the relocation to some time after the originally planned April 19th vote, which was slated to take place at the Board of Governors’ regularly scheduled meeting. The delay is significant on at least two levels:
- Sacramento, led by supermarket-magnate Burkle, is officially credible as a bidder.
- Owners already may be divided in ways unseen.
An easily overlooked remark from Stern says a lot about the impressions left after the cities made two-hour back-to-back presentations at the St. Regis hotel in Manhattan.
“Every owner seems to have different questions,” he said. That says that, in the power politics of the NBA boardroom, each bidder has friends and enemies in their quest for the same goal: Increasing the post-lockout value of each franchise.
Stern and the owners always say their plans are driven by fans’ desires. But by now, the hunt to find the last person to believe that will take longer than getting bin Laden. The NBA owners are driven by money, and want to know whether a team in Seattle or Sacramento will get them more money faster.
That’s why the post-presentation media chat by the Sactown crew was more intriguing than Seattle’s. Chris Hansen was confident and careful with his words, as was Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine. All well and good.
Sactown mayor, Kevin Johnson – the guy former Sonics coach George Karl called “Princess” during his NBA playing days – was ebullient as usual. But it was the bid’s lead investor, Vivek Ranadive, a Silicon Valley billionaire originally from India, who offered the most intriguing sales pitch of the day: NBA 3.0.
The original NBA was the pro version of the game that began in New England’s high school gyms, he said. The 2.0 version was the David Stern era that began in 1984 (blatant suck-up there). The future of pro basketball, Ranadive said, was about three things: Technology, globalization and an agency for change.
It’s easy to dismiss the storyline as the airy dreams of a tech geek, and that may be true. But Ranadive is already a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors. He knows what plays well to his audience, nearly all of whom made their fortunes – to some degree – by looking ahead and capitalizing.
“It’s really about NBA 3.0, which is really making basketball the sport of the 21st century – what soccer was to the 20th century,” he said. “At one point [in history] China and India were two-thirds of the world’s economy, and at some point in the next couple of decades, that probably will happen again.”
“This opportunity [in Sacramento] is to bring together all of the stakeholders – fans, city and state governments, ownership and the NBA [to] create the 21st century coliseum and have the needle move on the city.”
For all we know, Steve Ballmer may have made a similar pitch to the owners, but he didn’t submit himself to media scrutiny, which was a missed opportunity. And Ranadive’s view had nothing to do with mundane stuff, like buying up all the parcels of land for the proposed arena or fighting off litigation, or all the other things still to be done in Sacramento that give Hansen a head start in Seattle.
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