If rumors are accurate and the National Basketball Association fails to come to the aid of Sacramento Kings fans, it will continue the association's long history of using basketball fans as pawns for the benefit of profiteering NBA owners, some of the wealthiest Americans whose income comes primarily from the extortion of cash-strapped American cities.
Sacramento's story is one similar to many told from mid-size cities with big city aspirations, and how NBA owners are complicit in the exploitation of medium-sized television markets and taxpayers for their own financial gains.
Afterall, why shouldn't every city large enough to support a national sports franchise have one? Just ask the owners of Diamonds. The precious gem really isn't that precious, it's availablility is limited by the mine owners. The same is true of sports franchises. Cities like Sacramento fight over the few available when, if a free market existed, their would simply be another team added to the roster.
But here's Sacramento's story:
When Greg Lukenbill and other investors bought the Kansas City Kings NBA franchise in the early 1980's it wasn't for the love of the game.
Lukenbill, a Sacramento developer who had purchased cheap flood plain acreage in the Natomas basin, wanted to develop his property in the same suburban sprawl fashion as East of the downtown. But Sacramento's last citizen mayor, Anne Rudin, who believed in a strong downtown city core and despised the disjointed tract developments of Los Angeles and San Jose, had attained a majority of council members who agreed with her, that Natomas' flood plain status precluded the area from development.
"Maybe all NBA owners should be charged with unsportsman-like conduct."
Rudin, in fact, was still prominently displaying a presentation board in her cramped City Hall office touting the Natomas Agriculture Preservation Plan in 1984. The mayor was committed to preserving the Capital City's agricultural heritage, but more important, she was keenly aware that neighborhoods like Del Paso Heights, outside the protective levees, were vulnerable to flooding and the more homes built in the flood plain, the greater the disaster would be when the inevitable floods came.
The majority of Sacramentans agreed with their mayor. This one was a no-brainer. Afterall, on the map the area where Lukenbill owned land was called "The Natomas Basin." It didn't get more obvious than that.
Enter the Kings.
Sacramentans have long resented their city's second class status to the San Francisco Bay Area and were eager to gain a national sports franchise for years. Prior to the Kings arrival in 1983-84 for exhibition games and permanently for the 1985 season, there was much talk of building a baseball stadium in hopes of luring a national franchise like the Oakland A's to the valley town.
Lukenbill shrewdly purchased the Kings in a thinly-veiled political maneuver to circumvent Rudin's lock on the council, telling his fellow citizens of the Capital City that he'd love to bring the Kings west, if only he could. You see, he spun, the only logical place for an arena was the Natomas basin and the council refused to let him build one.
The maneuver worked magnificently fast. So fast, Rudin lost her majority almost overnight as councilmembers were inundated with calls from constituents demanding support of the Kings, no matter the cost to the city. In fact the popular mayor nearly lost re-election to the pro-Kings challenger Ross Relles, Jr. in 1987.
Mayor Anne Rudin cast the only vote against the development plans for Natomas and Greg Lukenbill's acreage including the King's first arena.
Few, besides perhaps Rudin, realized how costly the Kings would be to Sacramento. With the development of Natomas and later the loan to build a new arena, it turned out that for the Kings franchise, a privately-owned NBA team, the City of Sacramento would, and nearly three decades later continue, to pay a princely sum.
"We were forced to divert resources, staff and money meant for other parts of the city to the development of Natomas," Rudin, now 88, told the Examiner recently in a phone interview from her home where she is recovering from knee surgery. "Developing the Natomas area meant other parts of the city suffered." In fact, Rudin says, "those older neighborhoods and parks that suffered from the loss of the resources we had to use to develop Natomas are still suffering," which is why Rudin didn't support the downtown arena idea. "I'd like to see the city finally invest in the neighborhoods" that have for nearly 30 years paid the price for the Kings.
Rudin believes the land proposed for the arena would better serve the community as "a mix of office, hotel, apartment and retail business."
Once Lukenbill and the other developers used the Kings to win council approval for the development of Natomas, and in the process making millions, they sold the Kings to the Maloofs, making millions more. Now the millionaire owners are keeping tradition alive by taking the team from its loyal fans in Sacramento even after winning approval from the cash-strapped city's council for a $406 million dollar downtown arena - because these wealthy 1 percenters can make more money breaking the hearts of Sacramentans.
What is wrong with the National Basketball Association? The owners, not the fans.
Where is enforcement of Anti-Trust laws?
Who will break-up this monopoly so we can finally enjoy the game?
What terrible things can be said of the trust-fund Maloofs that havent already been said? These fat brothers earned their millions the old fashioned way, inheritance. They have a business acumen that has managed to turn their huge inheritance into a paltry few million (reportedly only owning 4 percent of a Casino they once owned entirely). Throughout their ownership of The Kings they continued to dangle the franchise - Sacramento's team - as bait for hungry municipalities swimming in an NBA pond kept artificially small by them and their fellow NBA owners.
Everyone loves a fair game, but with the Kings there was never a chance of winning, on or off the court.
Maybe all NBA owners should be charged with unsportsman-like conduct.
For the love of basketball and the love of Sacramento many, like myself, want the Kings to stay. But at what price? The cost to the city has already been too great. The Kings will leave, and leave behind a huge flood-prone suburb, dilapidated older neighborhoods and parks and a disheartened fanbase who are back where they began in 1983.
It is a lesson that won't be learned by other cities, which refuse to band together to tell these wealthy 1 percenters, 'enough is enough.' Legislators won't enforce the antitrust laws on the books that might eliminate the issue altogether. But it is the business of the NBA to disempower its fans for the financial benefit of its owners and the arrogance of franchise owners to treat fans as pawns that ought to turn every municipality away from the love of the game.