Commentary: You can breathe now

By David Watts Barton, Sacramentopress.com, May 2, 2011

George Maloof’s comment this morning that keeping the Kings in Sacramento for one more year is “the right thing to do” struck me as disingenuous.

Since when is “doing the right thing” the way the Maloofs operate? This was not a decision based on principle. It was based on money, and a lot of other things far beyond the M-Bro’s control. They simply weren’t able to pull the move off. Yet.

That said, this morning’s announcement that the Kings will be staying in Sacramento is unalloyed good news. Whether or not the Kings staying in Sacramento is ultimately the “right” thing for Sacramento is still up in the air; but today, it is very much a good thing.

Whether that remains true going forward depends on a lot of things coming together.

We still need a decent arena; the Maloofs still need to get their finances together and start spending money on the team; and there is a lot of resentment at the Maloofs for their handling of this. They have a lot of fence-mending to do.

A few things have come out of this dramatic, constantly-changing story of the last few weeks, months and even years:

One: Sacramento loves the Kings. I have taken heat for saying that Sacramento would recover from their loss, and I still believe that, but it was in no way a good thing that they would leave. Having a pro team brings a city many advantages, from tangible to intangible.

Two: Sacramento does NOT love the Maloofs, and the NBA doesn’t seem exactly enamored of them, either. Once they’ve got their finances figured out, assuming they can, the M-Bros need to hire an exceptionally good publicity team and go on a charm offensive the likes of which this town has never seen. At least for a year.

Three: Mayor Kevin Johnson stepped up. Like him or loathe him, and there are many in both camps, the guy worked tirelessly to make sure that Sacramento did not lose the Kings. He led. There are many things a leader must do, and being the mayor of Sacramento comes with a lot of complicating factors.

But Johnson climbed into the bully pulpit, starting talking and cajoling and reaching out to the business community, and he didn’t stop until the deal was done – or undone. And he introduced some new possibilities in terms of ownership and corporate support. So give the man some credit: He was a credible, passionate and tireless voice for Sacramento, which is what he has always claimed to be. He was mayoral.

Four: A new arena remains the key to this whole thing. Those who say we don’t need one basically don’t know what they’re talking about. An arena also remains a key to downtown Sacramento’s future. Without an arena, Kings or no, we are less than a second-tier city, and it will come back to haunt us in many different ways.

Sacramento will get its best vision of how that can be done when the Taylor/ICON group delivers its analysis of the ways to get to an arena built later this month. Most likely, it will have to include public funding. This is the sort of things public money is for: Infrastructure.

But even George Maloof sounded doubtful about that this morning. “Is it even right to ask people to pay for it?” he asked rhetorically in The Bee this morning. It is a question that will get a lot of play, and a lot of opinion, before it is settled.

But one thing is very clear now: Without a new arena, the Kings are gone, next year, with the NBA’s blessing. Sacramento has a lot of work to do, and a lot to talk about. We need to figure out what we want to be. There will be even more name calling and speculation and conflict over this than we’ve already had.

But this morning, the news is good: Sacramento, the Kings and a new arena all got a reprieve, and that is good news. Onward.