SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson had a stern warning for Seattle SuperSonics fans who are excited about the prospect of the NBA returning to the Puget Sound next season.
"Don't celebrate too early," he said.
In front of a cheering City Hall crowd filled with fans and public officials Tuesday, Johnson introduced the first part of his four-step plan to keep the Sacramento Kings in California's capital city.
The three-time NBA All-Star turned mayor unveiled 20 local investors who have pledged at least $1 million each to be part of a group that would buy the franchise. Johnson said the major partner he hopes will anchor the last-ditch deal to keep the Kings from moving to Seattle will be revealed as soon as this week.
"We've been here before," Johnson said. "Our backs have been against the wall. They told us it wasn't going to happen. But each and every step along the way, as long as there is time on the clock, our community always finds a way to stand up for itself."
Unlike the last two years, Sacramento is up against a group that already has signed agreements to acquire the Kings and build a new arena for the franchise.
The mayor's announcement came a day after the Maloof family announced a deal to sell the Kings to a Seattle group that includes investor Chris Hansen and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer. The signed purchase agreement is still pending a vote by the NBA Board of Governors.
The group will buy 65 percent of the franchise, which has a total valuation of $525 million, and move the team to Seattle and restore the SuperSonics name, a person familiar with the decision has said. That means the group will pay a little more than $340 million.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal is waiting to be approved. Hansen's group also is hoping to buy out other minority investors.
The main stipulation Johnson is counting on is that the Maloofs are still allowed to receive other offers until the league approves the sale, which the mayor expects to take until at least April, when owners meet in New York. The deadline for teams to file for relocation for next season is March 1, though that has been extended the last two years for the Kings.
Johnson said he has spoken with more than one heavy-hitting investor to back the plan and produce a "fair and competitive offer" to the NBA. He also said prominent Sacramento-area lawyers have offered to work pro bono for the city's cause.