SACRAMENTO — The purple, black and white RV looks more suited for transporting a politician during a campaign in California’s capital city than for fans to use to petition fans outside an NBA arena.
“Fighting for our city, our fans and our Sacramento Kings,” reads lettering across one side.
Dave Weiglein, best known around these parts as sports radio commentator Carmichael Dave, has been leading grass-roots efforts for more than two years to keep his city’s only major professional sports team from leaving.
Once again, his latest plan could be his last.
Starting at Sacramento’s 116-101 home win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night, his “Playing To Win Tour” is scheduled to stop at games in around 20 NBA cities to campaign for Sacramento’s cause. He also plans to stop in New York on April 3 — when league owners will allow a Sacramento group to discuss a counteroffer to a pending purchase agreement with a Seattle group — and circle back to Manhattan when the NBA Board of Governors meets April 18-19. That’s when a vote is expected on the franchise’s fate.
“This is all we have,” Dave said. “I understand that we are not a destination city. Nobody wins the Showcase Showdown on The Price Is Right and gets an all-expenses paid trip to Sacramento. This is bigger than basketball.”
As much as the NBA has tried to steer the conversation away from a tug-of-war between cities, there is no denying what this fight feels like for fans involved: Sacramento vs. Seattle.
While billionaires bid on both sides and public relations strategists mix messages, the most ardent fans are rallying for civic pride and economic prosperity. About the only certainty might be in the words of NBA Commissioner David Stern during February’s address at the All-Star Game in Houston.
“I don’t see any scenario,” Stern said, “where both cities are happy.”
All of this sounds so familiar in Seattle.
Back in 2008, Clay Bennett moved the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City, tossing aside the green and gold to transform the team into the Thunder. The move crushed Sonics fans, many of whom are still stunned that the team left after 41 years.
Jason Reid, who was raised in north Seattle, can recall the slams Sonics great Shawn Kemp threw down in dunk contests in the early 1990s. He graduated from high school during the Sonics’ captivating run to the NBA Finals in 1996, won by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in six games. Gary Payton was Reid’s favorite player because “he didn’t take (anything) from anyone and he brought it every night.”
Those memories are all Reid has now.
Along with co-director Adam Brown, Reid chronicled the team’s departure in the critically acclaimed documentary “Sonicsgate.” The film ends with a quote from writer Sherman Alexie that speaks to the current Seattle sentiment.
“To get a team I’m going to have to break the hearts of people just like me,” Alexie said. “And that’s the only way we’re ever going to get a team.”
“The whole thing has been pretty bizarre for Sonics fans,” Reid said. “On one side, we desperately want the Sonics back. It’s everything we’ve been doing for the past 6½ years between trying to save the team, then trying to rally to bring a team back. At the same time, our wounds our very fresh. So we completely identify and sympathize with what Sacramento fans are going through right now. I think part of us, even though our end goals are opposing, are rooting for them as fans.”
Sacramento supporters argue that some Seattle fans are perpetuating the system they had long protested against after the Sonics departed. The debate has raged on across social media since the Kings’ pending sale agreement to a group that would move the team to Seattle was announced in January.
Dave called Seattle fans willing to take the Kings “hypocrites.” He compared the effort to a divorced man stealing his best friend’s wife and justifying it as “the only way I can get me a woman” after five years.
Even with those strong beliefs, he admits “if the Kings were to leave, the moment that another NBA team presented itself, you’ll see me all over the place begging for that team and not caring about that city,” Dave said.
The campaign for the Kings goes to the highest levels.
A Sacramento group called “Here We Buy” established a website to pledge to buy season tickets “to illustrate to the NBA that Sacramento is still a viable market, even in the face of adversity.” Hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen, who along with Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has the signed agreement with the Maloof family to buy the Kings, countered with “priority ticket waitlist” for his proposed Seattle arena as a way to show the NBA how much interest there is in bringing pro basketball back to the Emerald City.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star, has been announcing details of a counteroffer and pushing a new arena plan, which includes the backing of 24 Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, billionaire grocery tycoon Ron Burkle and possibly others.
Think Big Sacramento, Johnson’s task force, took the tussle even further earlier this month when it put out a report highlighting areas where Sacramento outperforms Seattle.
Among the contentions: Sacramento attracted more fans in 20 of the 23 seasons both cities had NBA teams. The NBA also would own a 100 percent market share in Sacramento, while the league would compete with the NFL (Seahawks), MLB (Mariners) and MLS (Sounders) in Seattle and possibly a future NHL team. According to the latest Nielsen ratings, the Seattle-Tacoma region is the 12th biggest television market in the country, while Sacramento-Modesto-Stockton ranks 20th.
David Carter, director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California, said all these efforts — whether by fans or professionals — might still be futile. He said the NBA will be focusing more on the long-term economic outlook, TV revenue and corporate contributions each city offers.
“I am not sure how much of a difference it will ultimately make if the business plan and strategy are sound and appear to deliver a profitable outcome, including the growing of franchise value,” Carter said.
At this point, its hurts for either side to even imagine losing out.
While Dave recognizes his trip may have minimal impact on NBA owners, he refuses to rest at home while there’s still a decision to be made.
“There is so much development and jobs in my city tied to this. If we lose this team, we lose the starting point,” Dave said. “We are willing to go out and kill ourselves to show other cities and other owners that this is more than just our team. This is our livelihood.”