SACRAMENTO — In a town normally obsessed with political power plays and legislative minutiae, the only thing people wanted to talk about Monday was the Kings.
The Capitol, the city and the metropolitan area were all buzzing with the news that an NBA committee had recommended against moving the team to Seattle. The decision came after a fierce lobbying effort by Mayor Kevin Johnson, California politicos, business owners and fans to keep the Kings in Sacramento.
“WE DID IT!!!!!” Johnson tweeted after the decision was announced, and three hours later, he was at a downtown restaurant to celebrate. The mayor, who was elected to his second four-year term in November, was greeted by a swarm of rapturous fans shouting encouragement — “Mayor for life!” “Run for governor!” “For president!”
Johnson told the crowd it wasn’t a victory rally because the full NBA board of governors still needs to issue a final decision, which they are expected to do next month.
“We won a round in the playoffs and advanced to the next round,” Johnson said.
But nothing could dampen the enthusiasm from Kings fans, who are weary of years of drama as the team's owners have flirted with relocating the franchise.
Adriana Ortiz, a 25-year-old who went to the rally with her boyfriend, said there have been “a million twists and turns and a million punches in the gut.” But the Elk Grove resident now says she’s “ecstatic.”
The latest battle involving the Kings began in January, when the Maloof family announced that they were selling the franchise to a Seattle ownership group. In response, Johnson and his allies mounted a desperate effort to rally a group of California investors to counter the offer and convince the NBA, which has the final say on relocations, to keep the team in Sacramento.
Capitol insiders on all sides of the political aisle — including Republicans Rob Stutzman and Aaron McLear, Democrats Brian Brokaw and Chris Lehane, and lobbyist Darius Anderson — joined what was considered a long-shot effort to prevent the move.
The Kings are a central part of the mayor’s plan to build a new arena downtown.
“It’s bigger than basketball,” Johnson said Monday. “It’s about job creation. It’s about civic pride.”
Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who traveled with Johnson to New York earlier this month to lobby the NBA’s leadership, praised the mayor and the fans’ support.
“This is a never-say-die community!” he said.
Twitter: @chrismegerianCopyright © 2015, CT Now