The owners of the Sacramento Kings are in talks to move the franchise to Anaheim, having requested an extension to the March 1 deadline to file for relocation in time for the 2011-12 NBA season. The news has been met with equal parts anger and hope. Folks like Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson -- a former All-NBA point guard who hails from California's capital -- have lashed out at confirmation that the Maloof family is indeed considering an abandonment of the city. Others, like me (a lifelong and unabashed Kings loyalist), knew the Maloofs were six inches through the door frame already, and find the extension request to mean there's a possibility the team will stay (at least) one more year.
Either way, the Kings are in bad shape, as they'd have to be to leave a top-20 market with, as of just a few years ago, one of the most passionate fan populations in the nation. ARCO Thunder, as broadcasters called it, was a real gem of the Western outpost back when Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic were leading the team to the Western Conference Finals. Few other cities manage to become actual characters in rivalries; Phil Jackson and Shaquille O'Neal more often made fun of the people of Sacramento than they zinged any member of the Kings. The rivalry, as it existed in the early part of the millennium, existed between the Lakers and Sacramento, really, as our cowbells annoyed Jackson and our cheers drove Shaq and Kobe Bryant batty. A city itself as a villain or hero in professional sports. How about that?
The city is now the victim, but not of some level of greed by the Maloofs or unrealistic expectations by the city's leaders or fans. The Kings have stunk. Sacramento has the league's second-worst record since 2006-07 at 127-258 (behind Minnesota's 107-281). Worse than that, it's largely been a boring brand of bad. Until Tyreke Evans' arrival in 2009, the Kings didn't have a single top-tier player. (Even with Tyreke, the Kings don't have a single top-tier player.) Watching Brad Miller and John Salmons lose games is not fun. Boring and bad is about the worst thing that a pro sports team can be, and it's no wonder that fans have stopped screaming their lungs out and, to some extent, have stopped buying tickets.
But should it be this way? The Kings fall on rough times on the court, leading to rough times at the game. And it all becomes so bad that the team picks up, packs the trucks and moves? How can a league be healthy and thriving when a once-beloved franchise falls into such a pit only five years after its final playoff run?
No! It shouldn't be this way. That it is -- that the Sacramento Kings are on the precipice of moving to Anaheim -- speaks to the NBA's greatest imbalance. No, not talent. Columnists whinging about stars' decisions to team up and take the league by the throat are just that: whinging columnists. No, the greatest NBA imbalance is money. Franchises are not separated into haves and have-nots in terms of talent, because talent moves, and because the draft is the great equalizer. (Ask Cleveland, circa 2003.) Perhaps the talent cycle in the NBA is slow, leaving teams that make a few bad decisions bad for too long. (Post-Garnett Minnesota, still years away, comes to mind.) The real equality gap in the NBA is all about money.
Witness this totally unbelievable and spot-on report from Sam Amick:
There are money matters that will unquestionably matter to the Maloofs, though, and they involve a recent media transaction that might have made a move to Southern California even more attractive than before.
Time Warner Cable recently struck a 20-year deal with the Lakers to create two regional sports channels on which they would cover the two-time defending champions starting in the 2012-13 season. The move was deemed a "massive blow" to one of the currents rights holders, Fox Sports West, by the Los Angeles Times, but it could create a rare opportunity in the region for the Maloofs if they made the move and became a new partner.
The Lakers ink a multi-billion dollar T.V. deal (as we've written about), leaving its former partner looking for a new team to broadcast. And this is the big-dollar impetus for the Maloofs to get serious about Anaheim! It really cannot be laid out more plainly than that: The Maloofs and, by proxy, the NBA are willing to leave a loyal, large and one-sport market for ... more T.V. money. It's absurd! What happened to Love It Live!? What happened to the game David Stern wanted to spread from coast to coast, getting past its dominance on the coasts and only the coasts?
The push for better revenue sharing -- which is to say any revenue sharing at all -- has never been more important. In the NFL, when the league does well, the entire league does well. There are not these haves and have-nots, franchises left behind during a tough spell on the field. Some teams do moderately well, some teams do extraordinarily well. But everyone does well. In the NBA, a few teams do extraordinarily well and a few teams move to Anaheim, or get bought out by the NBA (Hornets), or watch the calendar for the day in which they can escape their lease (Grizzlies), or watch the calendar for the day in which their new arena in another state is finished (Nets).
So long as the Lakers and Knicks and Bulls have a vice grip on the revenue flow of the NBA, there will be more Sacramentoes. So long as personal greed stands in the way of equity among the real powers of the NBA -- not Carmelo and Leon Rose and Chris Paul, but Jerry Buss and Mark Cuban and James Dolan -- the league's outposts will be on the edge of despair.