Sunday Commentary: He Saved the Kings, Now Can He Save the Paupers Too

Kings-MoveI will start with a few huge qualifiers – I am a big Kings fan.  When I arrived in Davis in 1996, the Kings were not much to speak of but I was intrigued by how much people were still into the team.  A few years later, they made the critical trade to get Chris Webber and built a team that was an unlucky rim bounce (which turned into a game winning three) and a refereed thrown game from a possible championship.

I also admired the work that Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson did in saving the Kings.  After all, the owners were intent seemingly on moving the team, and only Mayor Johnson’s dogged determination prevented that from happening.

“Mayor Kevin Johnson is getting a lot of praise for assembling an ownership group to buy the team – and deservedly so – but that might not have been his biggest achievement,” writes Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton.  “Using the bully pulpit of his office, and fully trading on his celebrity and charisma, Johnson refused to accept someone else’s vision of the city.  Johnson understood that the Kings are a regional asset that had to be preserved for economic and emotional reasons.”

He adds, “From the start, Johnson radiated strength, class, cunning and a never-say-die attitude. But for him, the Kings would have been gone long ago.  Losing the Kings wouldn’t have been a death blow for Sacramento, but it wouldn’t have been good, either.”

At the same time, economic studies have looked at the impact of the presence of sports teams, stadiums, and arenas, particularly those subsidized by local government, and found that they do not drive growth either in employment or personal income.

I do not want to overlook the remarkable achievement here.

As Mr. Breton noted in his column, “When it was done and victory achieved, City Hall was filled with sometime adversaries celebrating.”

“Business and labor standing next to each other,” Mayor Johnson said Friday. “Anything is possible in Sacramento.”

It is a powerful message.

To Mr. Breton’s credit he understands the contrary side.  He lists off about five other issues of priority.  One only needs to look at the shape of the schools and the crippling impact of high poverty in parts of town to realize that there are real problems that are not solved by saving the Kings.

Mr. Breton of course recognizes this and argues, “The priorities are too numerous to cite here, and some argue that the Kings effort should have been abandoned to focus on these and other issues.  I respectfully disagree. With or without the Kings, these issues remain.”

We agree completely.

At the same time here is the problem that we see: when the Kings were faced with a crisis of an imminent move, Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star himself, mobilized the various interest groups.  He was able to put together a coalition to purchase the franchise, he was able to bring the community and stakeholders together, and they were able to not only marshal their resources, but put together a successful effort to convince the other NBA-owners that basketball in Sacramento was worthy of saving.

And when Seattle lamented the losing vote, one of the NBA board of governors said that had Seattle rallied as Sacramento had, they never would have lost their Supersonics franchise to begin with.

But there is a bigger lesson here and it’s the lesson I care about and why I am writing on this today.  Mayor Kevin Johnson faced a crisis, he acted with urgency, intelligence and determination.  He faced it head on.  He refused to take no for an answer.  And he won.

Hats off to the mayor.

My challenge to him and every other leader in this nation is to use this as the model for going forward to solve our nation’s problems – one at a time.

We can all learn this lesson.

Put together a coalition of the willing not just to speak out but to put their money where their mouths are.  Social problems?  Poverty?  Crime?  Schools?

We have businesses all over this nation who donate millions if not billions each year – why not coordinate the effort?

Mayor Johnson had to bring together stakeholders – business and labor standing next to each other to save an NBA franchise?  How about business and labor standing together to rebuild our schools, crumbling infrastructure, neighborhoods?  How about business and labor standing together to feed the poor, to educate our children?

My point is not to question Mayor Johnson for taking his heroic stand but rather to implore him and others like him not to stop here.

With this kind of effort, with people joining together in cooperation, we should be able to tackle even the most vexing problems facing this community, this region, this state, this nation and even this world.

But my fear is that on Monday we will go back to business as usual.  The Sacramento Kings will still have fatal flaws in a young and otherwise talented line up, and while we will have basketball in California’s capital, too many of its children will go to sleep without enough to eat and without a safe place to be educated.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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14 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: He Saved the Kings, Now Can He Save the Paupers Too”

  1. Don Shor

    The mayor of Sacramento has wasted a considerable amount of time, effort, and political capital on a completely pointless endeavor. “Heroic”? This is a vanity project for the mayor. It utterly amazes me that anybody cares about the Kings, whether they stay or go, or whether basketball is played at all. Certainly it isn’t something the mayor of a city should spend more than a few minutes on.

  2. JustSaying

    “The Ranadive group has agreed to pay $190 million of the arena’s projected $448 million cost. The City of Sacramento has agreed to sell real estate and lease its parking operations to pay for the rest. The new arena has been questioned for fuzzy math and its construction could be impeded by a lawsuit.” (Forbes)

    Herein lies the real problem of the mayor’s successful quest to keep the (once-and-never-again great) Kings, the huge “investment” of public resources. Many studies have concluded that publicly-financed stadiums do not prove to be the economic engines promised by promoters. Yet, one way or another, they still become the solution to boost team revenues when threats to move rule.

    It’s fine that the Maloofs get $100-million more than the original offer, thanks to the NBA commissioner’s deft negotiations between the owners and the competing cities. I guess it’s also fine that attendance will be further limited to the more well-to-do.

    But, the use of a quarter-million dollars of public resources in the hope that we might feel good about our Kings again seems a high price.

    The kind of public-private partnerships Davis would like to see receive similar emphasis are more worthwhile and would benefit more than a just a few “have’s” at the expense of the “have-not’s.”

  3. David M. Greenwald

    Don: I think you misunderstood the use of the term heroic in my usage. Heroic can mean: “Behavior or talk that is bold or dramatic.” Clearly this was both bold and dramatic. I simply chose to push him to use similar efforts in other areas as well.

  4. David M. Greenwald

    Just Saying: “The kind of public-private partnerships Davis would like to see receive similar emphasis are more worthwhile and would benefit more than a just a few “have’s” at the expense of the “have-not’s.”” I tried to play the point subtly here, but this is in the end what I was actually getting toward.

  5. medwoman

    Don Shor

    [quote]The mayor of Sacramento has wasted a considerable amount of time, effort, and political capital on a completely pointless endeavor.[/quote]

    I would at least partially agree with this statement except for the possibility of creating the potential for more productive endeavors in the future. I think it is important not to underestimate the power of image in our society. Kevin Johnson is in the process of creating an image a mayor who is capable of success. If he now chooses, as David is suggesting, to focus his efforts on a more substantive issue, and if his future success is even marginally associated with his image as a capable mayor, then it will have been worthwhile.

  6. biddlin

    I’m a sports fan and a Sacramentan. I have offered on a number of occasions to help the Kings pack . They are and will continue to be the greatest recipients of welfare in our city .
    Sacramento has always been a boxing and baseball town . Our Championship WNBA and WFL teams were largely ignored, in the shadow of the over-hyped Kings and most of our sports entertainment dollars went to Oakland and San Francisco.
    I cannot help but wish that KJ had spent his energy on Sacramento’s employment, homelessness, child and senior welfare and crime issues . Now even more of our resources and attention will be spent on these already over-indulged and overpaid fratboys .
    Biddlin ;>)/

  7. Don Shor

    [quote]Don: perhaps next time, you should just state you are not a sports fan and don’t understand why people are.[/quote]

    Actually, I’m not a fan of cartels getting taxpayer subsidies and creating poor urban planning decisions, among other issues.

  8. JustSaying

    Hadn’t thought about it before, but medwoman’s point regarding this success as transforming Mayor Kevin into can-do figure is an interesting one. And, it would be great if he uses this new “heroic” persona to take on the issues of true importance that David outlines here.

  9. Obamabinladen

    Personally, I believe that it is time to start adhereing to the Fact of Survival of the Fittest. It is not my job to assure that every person who has made the decision to or has had the unfortunate event to become needy gets to be saved. Instead, they need to learn to pick themselves up. I have no desire nor am I required to give my hard earned money or time to “save” them, and I will not feel guilty if I dont.

    I am gainfully employed and not “needy”. Save your tisk tisk holier than thou commentary. While the masses that have a desire to be helpful will cover me in the help category, Ill be looking out for #1 and trying not to step in #2.

    Oh, and Go Kings and God bless the 1%!

  10. JustSaying

    Are you suggesting that you wouldn’t have used millions of government money to “save” the needy Kings and the needy 1% Maloofs?

  11. Steve Hayes

    The huge effort to retain the Kings fits in perfectly with our current choice to pursue “Life, Liberty, and Entertainment” rather than “Life, Liberty, and Happiness!”

  12. Don Shor

    Here’s the bottom line:
    “City officials defend the $258 million figure and the analysis behind it, saying critics overestimate some numbers, take others out of context, and fail to acknowledge how the arena and nearby downtown development will produce more money for the city in the long run.

    They note that the arena term sheet guarantees the city an annual payment of at least $1 million for 35 years – even if the arena loses money – and more if certain profit benchmarks are met.

    At the core of the city’s arena plan is $212 million that it would borrow against future parking fees from its downtown garages and meters. The city would own the arena.”


    Mayor Johnson has mortgaged over $200 million in future parking fees to pay for a $250 million arena in exchange for $1 million a year in revenue.

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