SACRAMENTO, Calif. – There were enough conspiracy theories in the building long before the saddest of Monday nights finally arrived.
And then the Maloofs wore black.
Black sports coat for George Maloof. Black shirt for Gavin Maloof. Black jacket for Joe Maloof. The funeral references didn’t take long.
Yes, the Sacramento Kings look primed to expire, with a move to Anaheim still looking likely no matter how strongly the soldout crowd opposed such a heart-wrenching move. A rare soldout crowd at Arco Arena rocked during a win over the Clippers, the Kings besting a team that might be be a regional rival by the time next season rolls around.
But the fans who were once considered the class of the NBA came out to fight for their cause, many of them there as a result of grassroots efforts from the most loyal of the bunch. They begged and pleaded with the Maloofs not to go, making signs and yelling chants that made for a memorable night.
But the most-telling signs of all weren’t the ones written with broken hearts and Sharpies.
As one high-ranking Sacramento politician put it, “the writing is on the wall.”
* As expected, the NBA on Tuesday announced that the Kings were granted an extension on the March 1 deadline to file for relocation. The new deadline is set for April 18, with the Maloofs planning to discuss their options with the league’s Board of Governors at its April 14-15 meeting.
* Ironically, March 1 was also scheduled to be the first date of the Power Balance Pavilion era and the official end of Arco Arena. The Maloofs entered a partnership with the company recently and were all set to unveil the new signage on the inside and outside of the building.
But all week long, team sources told me that they were told to delay much of the work that came with such a move. And while I’m told they will move forward with some of the internal signage, it is certainly telling that the main component, as confirmed in a Power Balance statement, has been delayed.
“While we will need to revisit the terms of the arrangement, there is every expectation that the partnership will continue even if the Kings were to relocate and we’re very excited about that,” the statement read. “Power Balance and our partners have mutually-agreed to delay installing the new Power Balance sign on the arena until further notice.”
* As I covered in this story on Tuesday, the TV rights element continues to be a huge part of this equation. The Lakers have signed a 20-year agreement with a new network that’s back by Time Warner, leaving Fox Sports West in a lurch after their agreement with the two-time defending champions expires after next season. The need for a new partner is there like never before, and a source close to the situation tells me the Maloofs could stand to quadruple their Sacramento/Comcast earnings on an Anaheim TV deal with Fox.
* The documents. The infamous documents. For those who haven’t been tracking this story, the Sacramento City Council on Feb. 8 voted to work with developer David Taylor and the venue group ICON to draft a feasibility plan for a downtown arena in Sacramento. The problem? They needed 90 days to finish that work, at which time a definitive answer would be given as to whether or not there was a way to get an arena done locally.
But they also needed documents that only the Maloofs could provide, financial and logistical information gathered from 10 years of failed arena studies. The Maloofs announced on Feb. 9 that they would cooperate immediately, then proceeded to finally hand over a portion of said documents on Monday – nearly three weeks later.
Yet the documents are the trees in this picture and Johnson’s reactions is the forest, which is to say that his decision to share his anger publicly speaks volumes. In his Thursday news conference, Johnson spent as much time making it clear that the Maloofs had better make good on their $67 million loan to the city ($76 million with prepayment penalties) as he did talking about any hope for a downtown arena.
Now, we hear that Johnson’s meeting with the Maloofs that was scheduled for Tuesday will be at some point later in the week (he is also expected to talk with NBA Commissioner David Stern on Wednesday). That wall is getting pretty full…
Black attire or not, the Maloofs deserve credit for showing up on Monday night. They kept their comments to a minimum, but genuinely seemed to soak in the atmosphere around them that used to be the norm.
“It’s a great appreciation (from the fans) – fantastic turnout,” Joe Maloof told me during the first half as he sat at his courtside seat. “We’ve always had a wonderful appreciation for our fans and our customers, and we always will.”
I stole a moment of Gavin’s time with Ailene Voisin of The Bee after the game, catching him as he ducked into his car just outside the arena.
“We thank all the great fans for coming out,” Gavin said. “We really appreciate it. It’s very emotional for all of us. We love Sac, love our fans. That’s it.”
With that, he was off. Not long after, I caught up with Johnson on his way out and asked if he had discussed any business with the Maloofs.
“We talked about how this energy feels like a playoff atmosphere of the old days, and I said I look forward to meeting with you guys this week,” Johnson said. “That was pretty much it.”
Not far away, the side of the building that once read ‘Arco Arena’ could be seen in its new blank state. The writing, however, was still on the wall.