By Dan Whitcomb
(Reuters) - Sacramento's mayor has won consent from the NBA to submit a proposal that would keep the Sacramento Kings from leaving town, a spokesman said on Tuesday, amid reports that an investor group was looking to buy the team and move it to Seattle.
Kevin Johnson, speaking at his annual State of Downtown Breakfast on Tuesday, said National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern had approved his request to present a counteroffer to the league from a group of investors who would keep the Kings in the California state capital, spokesman Daniel Conway said.
"This morning I unveiled our 'Playing to Win' plan which is modeled on the successful strategy used by the City of San Francisco to keep the Giants and revitalize a section of the city's downtown," Johnson, a former star for the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns, said in a written statement released later in the day.
"Over the next six weeks, we will put together a competitive ownership group, which will include local partners, that is committed to keeping the Kings in Sacramento and building a world-class entertainment and sports complex," he said.
Johnson said the effort would culminate with Sacramento once again going before the NBA board of governors to "demonstrate the strength of our city as an NBA market and the unique opportunity the Kings have to thrive in our community."
An NBA spokesman declined to comment and representatives for the Kings could not be reached by Reuters on Tuesday afternoon.
Yahoo! Sports has reported that a group of investors led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Steve Ballmer were close to a deal to buy the Kings for $500 million from their current owners, the Maloof family, and move the club to Seattle.
ARENA OPERATOR SAYS ON BOARD
The family, which has wrangled with the city of Sacramento for years over a new arena and held talks with other cities about moving the team, has now agreed to put the franchise up for sale, the report said, citing league sources.
Reuters has not confirmed the report and a spokesman for the Maloofs could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Sports arena operator AEG, which had previously been in talks with the city and the Maloofs to build a new arena for the Kings in Sacramento, expressed support for the mayor's plan.
"We remain committed to the Mayor and the city. Would be more than happy to meet with a potential new owner," an AEG spokesman said.
Under the Seattle deal, the Kings would play for two seasons in KeyArena, the home court for the Seattle Supersonics before that team's 2008 move to Oklahoma City, and then move into a new facility, Yahoo reported.
The Kings are Sacramento's only major professional sports team, and Johnson has previously said he would make "every effort" to keep them from leaving town. He has pledged to find buyers, mentioning billionaire supermarket mogul Ron Burkle as having expressed an interest in the past.
Seattle sports fans were infuriated by the loss of the Supersonics and have pined for a new NBA team ever since. Hansen last year gained city council approval for a new $490 million arena near the waterfront south of downtown.
The Kings, meanwhile, have appeared to be on the brink of leaving their host city in past years.
The Maloofs opened talks with officials in Anaheim, California, to move the team to the Orange County city south of Los Angeles in 2011, but NBA officials convinced them to give Sacramento another year to get a deal for a new arena in place.
Then, last August, reports circulated that the Maloofs were talking with officials about moving to Virginia Beach, Virginia.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb, Alex Dobuzinskis and Suzanne Hurt; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Steve Gorman and David Brunnstrom)