The Sacramento Kings finally appear to be staying put in California's capital city, possibly ending an emotional saga that has dragged on for nearly three years.
The NBA's relocation committee voted unanimously Monday to recommend that owners reject the application for the Kings to relocate to Seattle, the latest - and by far the strongest - in a long line of cities that almost landed the franchise. The 12 league owners on the committee made the decision over a conference call and forwarded the recommendation to the NBA Board of Governors.
The board, which consists of all 30 owners, will convene during the week of May 13 to vote on the matter. While the recommendation doesn't guarantee the Kings will stay put, it's difficult at this point to imagine how they don't.
Moments after the league announced the committee's recommendation, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnston wrote on Twitter: "That's what I'm talking about SACRAMENTO!!!!! WE DID IT!!!!!"
Who will own the Kings next season is still unclear.
The Maloof family reached an agreement in January to sell a 65 percent controlling interest in the team to a group led by investor Chris Hansen at a total franchise valuation of $525 million, topping the NBA-record $450 million that Joe Lacob and Peter Guber bought the Golden State Warriors for in 2010. Then Hansen increased his offer to $550 million, which implies buying the 65 percent stake for about $357 million.
Hansen hoped to move the team to Seattle and rename it the SuperSonics, who moved to Oklahoma City in 2008. Instead, those plans have suddenly crumbled.
The Maloofs are not bound to sell the team to a Sacramento group Johnson has put together. In a letter sent to the relocation and finance committees, the Maloofs said they preferred to sell to the Seattle group and expressed discontent with Sacramento's latest bid.
Spokesmen for the Maloof family and Hansen had no immediate comment on the committee's recommendation. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn pledged that his city will continue to fight for an NBA team.
"I'm proud of how Sonics fans have rallied together to help Seattle get a team," McGinn said in a statement. "We're going to stay focused on our job: making sure Seattle remains in a position to get a team when the opportunity presents itself."
While the odds often seemed stacked against Sacramento, the city rallied each time.
In 2011, the Kings appeared determined to move to Anaheim, Calif., before Johnson convinced the NBA to give the city one last chance to help finance an arena. At one point, Johnson seemed so certain the team was gone he called the process a "slow death" and compared the city's efforts to keep the Kings to a "Hail Mary."
Johnson delivered on his promise of a new arena plan - which even NBA Commissioner David Stern helped negotiate - just before last season. But in a stunning move, the Maloofs backed out of the tentative deal for a downtown arena, saying it didn't make financial sense.
The city and the owners broke off talks, reigniting fears the franchise could relocate. Cities such as Virginia Beach, Las Vegas and Kansas City surfaced as potential new homes.
In January, the Maloofs announced the deal with Hansen's group, which includes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and members of the Nordstrom department store family.
Led by Johnson, Sacramento fought back to make the sale and relocation of the Kings tough for the league to recommend. He pushed a non-binding financing plan for a $447 million downtown arena through the Sacramento City Council - complete with a $258 million public subsidy - and lined up an ownership group to try to compete with the powerful Seattle contingent.
The potential Sacramento ownership group is led by TIBCO software chairman Vivek Ranadive, who would sell his minority share of the Warriors if successful. Others who have joined the bid include 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, former Facebook senior executive Chris Kelly and the Jacobs family that owns communications giant Qualcomm.
"I've never been prouder of this city," Johnson tweeted. "I thank the ownership group, city leaders, but most of all the BEST FANS IN THE NBA!!!
The mayor also commended Seattle for its effort and wrote that the Pacific Northwest city "no doubt deserves a team in the future."