No two situations are ever the same. When relocation rears its ugly head in major pro sports, any number of reasons can provide the impetus. These days, arenas -- specifically public subsidies for arenas -- usually play a role, if not the dominant role. Owners in all four major team sports consistently request public dollars for facilities; the public's stomach for financing buildings that cost hundreds of millions of dollars has been weakening. So there's churn, or at least the threat of churn.
That's why the SuperSonics aren't in Seattle. The story is well-trod; I'll refer you to the documentary Sonicsgate for the most complete telling. In 2006, Sonics owner Howard Schultz's appetite for public dollars to replace (a not-terribly-old and heavily subsidized) KeyArena was larger than the political will to request those dollars from the public. Instead of respecting his city and the millions of Sonics fans in the Pacific Northwest, he peddled the team to an out-of-town owner (Clay Bennett) who sandbagged Seattle for two years before landing in his own town, Oklahoma City. NBA commissioner David Stern didn't like the pushback he got from a couple of Seattle and Washington politicians on public funding, so he assisted the whole move. It's widely considered that Stern made an example of Seattle, even though the NBA would dispute that and argue that the Board of Governors made its decision to relocate the Sonics on its own merits. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
In Sacramento, it never got that far. In some ways, Chris Hansen -- the hedge fund manager who watched the Sonics win a title at age 11 and is desperate bring NBA basketball back to his city -- has done things the proper way. He didn't sandbag Sacramento at all. He worked out a deal with the owners of the Kings and announced plans to move the team to Seattle immediately. No fuss about trying to work out an arena deal in Sacramento. No lies to the public's face. He told Sacramento, more or less, that he had a deal in place to take the Kings up I-5. He showed Sacramento his blueprint.
But Sacramento had a blueprint of its own. And while it's a blueprint custom-made for this city, it's also one that fans across North America should reference when their pro team is at risk of relocation.
* Politics. It helps immensely when your mayor is a former NBA All-Star. Kevin Johnson swooped into office in 2008 in part on a platform of economic development for downtown, which in his mind included a new Kings arena. He was an early skeptic of an NBA-led plan to build a new arena in the Cal Expo area, and once that plan met its inevitable demise, he immediately began pushing for a downtown solution that wouldn't involve increased sales or property taxes. The city's top civil management was worked hard on innovative solutions, as well, and voters turned out to support KJ's slate of city council candidates. In the end, pretty much every vote on the arena plan at the city level was 7-2 in support. KJ was up for re-election in the middle of all of this last summer, just after the Maloofs torched a brokered arena deal over minor, non-negotiable details. KJ won re-election easily with the Kings looming as the biggest issue.
Politics also came into play at the NBA level. Stern has widely been considered an advocate for Sacramento among NBA owners. KJ has done nothing to dispute that. Whereas a few onerous Seattle and Washington state politicians snubbed Stern in the mid-2000s, Sacramento's elected officials have been universally reverential and supportive of the NBA's decisions. Stern looks at Sacramento and sees a city that understands the importance of having an NBA team and a new downtown arena, and is willing to provide the political capital to get it done. All of that existed in Seattle, too, but it was blotted out by a select few, led by Speaker of the House Frank Chopp. In contrast, California's State Senate President Pro-tem Darrell Steinberg has been an active supporter of Sacramento's plan, even going to New York to advocate on its behalf.
* Positivity. There are two ways to fight against odds. You can demonize the advantaged and vow vengeance. Or you can promise to do your best, go as hard as possible and put yourself in a position to succeed. Those are two poles; every battle lies on the spectrum between. But it should be noted that Sacramento has during this escapade skewed hard toward the pole of positivity.
KJ's rhetoric has always focused on why the Kings should be kept in Sacramento, period. He's elevated Seattle a bit, and while some in the Emerald City have taken exception to some inelegant comments he's made about fan support up north, he's largely avoided the toxic stew of the fight as engaged by a number of fans. But throughout, KJ's primary rhetorical focus has been on painting a positive picture of what Sacramento has offered and will offer the NBA. Again, that wasn't always the case with elected Seattle and Washington state leaders, with Chopp being Example No. 1.
Also, it has to be noted that reports suggest a good portion of Hansen's presentation to the relocation-finance committee of NBA owners on April 3 focused on supposed issues with Sacramento's arena deal. Even in Hansen's statement Monday night in which he vows to fight for Seattle, he includes a couple of digs at Sacramento, calling its ownership group "yet to be finalized" and claiming "a much more solid arena plan." The leader of Sacramento's effort has been much more positive than the leader of Seattle's side.
* People. But perhaps the most important ingredient is the people. Vivek Ranadivé, who will be the lead partner in the new Sacramento Kings ownership group, has repeatedly cited the fan support for the team as his impetus to get involved and put money on the line. KJ has been financially supported and electorally supported by Kings fans. His slate of candidates has been supported by Kings fans. In the council chambers, where cheering is taboo and foam fingers typically unseen, fans have repeatedly showed up (led by Mike Tavares' Crown Downtown group) to offer visible support on pro-arena votes and to share their reasons for supporting the deal. When fan groups like Here We Stay (which, full disclosure, I am involved in) ask folks to buy tickets for the local Boys and Girls Club, show up to games, sign petitions, show up to City Hall, send letters to NBA owners, anything, the people do it. Sacramento doesn't get a 7-0 relocation committee vote without those people.
And Seattle didn't get to Monday without its people, too. Chris Hansen wasn't going to spend $100 million on land and preliminary work on a Seattle arena if he didn't know that Seattle fans -- the people of Seattle -- would show up and show out. They have, and they will, just as they did in 2008 to express displeasure at the NBA's decision. That's why Seattle came close to taking the Kings, and why Seattle is Option 1 for any to-be-relocated or expansion team going forward. Seattle has people power involved and engaged. The last three cities that the Maloofs talked to about Kings relocation -- Anaheim, Las Vegas and Virginia Beach -- did not have the people. Seattle nearly got to the finish line. Those three never really got off the starting block.
There will be more lessons to be learned from the impending survival of the Sacramento Kings, and the city will wait until shovels are in the ground before truly unleashing a massive celebration and retrospective. But the general outline is there for review if anyone feeling queasy about their team's future wants to take a look. Sacramento has no problem sharing its blueprint for apparent victory.