On the media covering the Kings

By David Watts Barton, Sacramento News and Review, April 25, 2013

MANHATTAN — If you’re sick of the Sacramento Kings drama, imagine how reporters covering this story must feel after spending the last four months—or four years or seven years or 13 years—poring over every angle. Each mayoral press conference, every new civic suitor (Anaheim, Virginia Beach, Seattle), city-council votes and arena studies, those task-force meetings or cryptic pronouncements from the brothers Maloof. This past week in New York City was just the latest twist in a winding, convoluted plot that is beginning to rival All My Children in its length, complexity and unexpected turns.

Which means that most Sacramento media outlets just had to attend the NBA’s annual board of governors (that is, owners—ego much?) meeting in Manhattan last week. These owners convened inside; the reporters, out on the sidewalk. Waiting. In the rain. For nothing.

’Twas ever thus: Ryan Lillis of The Sacramento Bee reckoned, off the cuff, that he and his two partners in coverage, Tony Bizjak and Dale Kasler, have written about 60 stories on the subject. This year. Which, it should be noted, is barely three-months old.

And during the last three years, Lillis guessed he’s written or co-written nearly 300 stories on the subject.

“This story just never ends,” he told SN&R.

He is not alone in feeling that way.

Eric Rucker of Fox40 is on his first N.Y. trip to the NBA board of governors meeting, but says he does “at least” three stories a week on the Kings. He knows the fans are as tired of waiting as reporters.

“I think the general public is ready for this to be over,” he said. “Kings fans are the best in the league, but … you can only take so much.”

Seattle’s reporters, several of whom were also in New York, were pretty keen on the idea of the end of the story. Their city is also vying for the team, with big-money backers, and just two months ago, they said a Seattle move was a slam dunk.

They were wrong.

“It’s the story you can’t escape,” said Jon Humbert, a reporter for KOMO in Seattle. “It’s endless.”

His colleague Chris Daniels, of KING 5, has been covering Seattle’s version of this never-ending story for seven years, since investors in Oklahoma City bought the SuperSonics and moved the team away. He has lost track of how many stories he’s done, saying only, “It’s been seven years of my life.”

Sacramento News10 sports anchor Bryan May can nearly double that. He did his first story on a possible move and a possible new arena 13 years ago.

“I’ve never covered a story like this,” he said. “It is literally never-ending. Sports guys usually go to a scheduled event, do a pregame interview, watch the game and report on it. Story over. Next!”

Now, he said, “The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check Twitter to see what I’ve missed.”

But what he usually misses on Twitter, and everywhere else, turns out to be not much at all. And that’s the frustration.

“Over half of what’s out there is not real,” he said. “Nearly everything we hear is secondhand or thirdhand or just speculation.”

And yet, there was May—and Lillis and Rucker and Ben Adler of Capital Public Radio, and at one point, five crew members from News10 and three from KCRA—all hanging out on the sidewalk outside the St. Regis New York hotel waiting.

“We did 18 hours out there [on Thursday],” said May.

Things fared better last Friday, April 19: The weather warmed up from the previous day’s cold and rain, and the NBA allowed reporters inside the ornate, polished-wood and marble hotel and into a meeting room named for an actual, though dead, king: Louis XVI.

Journalists got sodas and cold cuts and, even more importantly, wireless Internet access. It was even classy. But, most importantly, it was warm.

“I didn’t know this place even had an inside,” joked Lillis.

The occasion was NBA Commissioner David Stern’s press conference. While everyone waited, cruising Twitter, it was painfully clear that this Kings story didn’t take place in a vacuum: Just 220 miles to the northeast, Boston had been completely shut down for a massive manhunt to find the second marathon-bomber suspect. Reporters who were sent to New York for the Kings ended up being pulled out to go to Boston.

Perusing the wires, Adler quipped that the Boy Scouts of America’s announcement that they will accept gay scouts—not gay scoutmasters—“may be the all-time news dump.” Who’s going to notice in a news week like this?

Turned out that in New York, there was no new Kings info. The owners, for the most part, didn’t want to speak to the press. Especially the Maloofs. But that didn’t stop the media from hustling; News10’s Nick Monacelli even chased a limo.

“Did we really need to sprint three blocks across Manhattan, in the rain, not knowing why, following another reporter, to catch an owner who didn’t really want to talk to us?” Adler asked.

You be the judge: The reporters who made that sprint got this, from a limousine-safe Joe Maloof: “Good meeting, good meeting. Can’t really talk.”

Meanwhile, back at the press conference, Stern announced … well, not much. The league hopes to vote on the Kings, but it will occur in three more weeks.

It wasn’t much, but the assembled reporters made what they could of it. May, Lillis and Adler chipped in gamely with questions, knowing that they would get no real information.

But they’d flown cross-country and braved the elements—and the cold cuts—to bring their hometown these non-news stories because, at the end of the day, this is an important story for Sacramento, all agreed.

And after having watched this saga for years (and years), how can Sacramentans turn away now?

So, as Fox40’s Rucker tried to get a car to Boston in time for a live shot at 6 o’clock, and with the wireless Internet going off at 4 p.m., everyone raced to file their news-free news stories.

Lillis disappeared and reappeared with a quote from George Maloof, which he tweeted out to a grateful Twitter public.

Turns out George, speaking for the brothers, was really speaking for us all:

“We respect the process,” he says. “But we want it to be over.”